What is the best response when your child complains of being bored all the time and then seems to get in trouble just for amusement’s sake?
First and most importantly, remember that it is critical to avoid giving your energy in response to negative behavior. Effective consequences are critical, but they should be given without a lot of energy. Energy translates into attention, which can be reinforcing (i.e. entertainment for your child) even though it is negative. So when your child acts up and it seems he is doing so just to create a little excitement, don’t reward that behavior with a big response – but do respond immediately with an already established consequence consistent with your house rules.
Being proactive about giving your child something to do before she acts up out of boredom would be even better. Here are some tips to try during school breaks, those long summer months, or even just winter weekends when cabin fever has set in:
- Create a set of index cards with activities listed on each card. If your child can’t read, include pictures of these activities. When she says she doesn’t know what to do, encourage her to pick an activity out of her Activities Cards.
- Make a list of household chores that your child can do by himself, along with pictures if needed. Whenever he complains to you that he is bored, tell him he can do one of the things on the Chores List. If you are okay with the idea of rewarding a bit of work with an extra privilege, let him know that if he does a chore on the Chores List, he can get an extra 15-30 minutes of screen time (or whatever privilege makes sense for your family).
- Establish a schedule. This takes a bit of work on the front end, but some children really thrive with a predictable schedule and routine. You can have a review of the day’s schedule after Breakfast Clean Up, maybe Story Time, then an Arts and Crafts project, followed by Snack. Choice Time (choose between play “stations” or activities) and then Outside Recess are a good precursor to Lunch and then Nap or Quiet Time. This isn’t just for preschoolers – many older children respond really well to having this kind of consistency during their days off of school! On the other hand, some can get resentful, so your “routine” may simply involve guaranteed Quiet Time for 45 minutes in their room every afternoon at 4:00.
- Involve your child in what you are doing. Kids LOVE to help! Unfortunately, they don’t yet have the knowledge or skills to perform up to our standards, and so we often don’t even think of having them help. Providing kids with opportunities to help us with grown-up tasks is a wonderful way to build a sense of self-competence and self-worth, so do whatever it takes to find a way for them to lend a hand. If you need to “fix” what they did when they were “helping” you out, do that later when they aren’t looking. And don’t forget to thank them for being so helpful!
- Take the time to play with your child. Most of us don’t engage in play with our children as much as we know we should. Don’t let your other priorities get in the way of what should be your top priority, i.e. your kid. Let go, be silly, and have fun. Then you won’t feel guilty when you tell them it is time for them to go entertain themselves for a while…also an important skill to cultivate!
My final and favorite recommendation? Take a walk together. Not only do walks promote a healthy life-style, but this is a fabulous context for having conversations and connecting with one another and our communities in very special ways. Get out there and enjoy the burgeoning spring weather!
Dr. Teri Bullis, Ph.D., BCBAI believe that every parent I’ve ever worked with loves their child and is doing the very best that they can. But while parenting is the toughest job anyone will ever have, children don’t come with a “how to” manual. I can provide those “how to” directions, tailored for your unique child and family situation.