Parent, not entertainer: Why parents should not respond to bored kids' demands

  • Family
  • Thursday, 31 Aug 2023

Boredom can be good for kids. Having nothing to do makes them creative and helps them learn to deal with frustration. — ANASTASIYA AMRAEVA/Westend61/dpa

“I DON'T know what to do!”

Boredom can frustrate kids and set them whining. So should parents rush to the rescue? Absolutely not, says psychologist and author Rüdiger Maas, founding director of the Institute for Generation Research in Augsburg, Germany. The title of one of his books translates as “Happiness via Frustration: Why Boredom and Obstacles Make Our Children Strong.”

In an interview with dpa, Maas advises parents of bored kids to relax and take a wait-and-see approach.

Why can boredom and frustration do kids good sometimes?

Maas: Boredom is very important because it makes them creative and they can learn to help shape their environment. Many parents nowadays feel the need to entertain their children, especially when they’re bored. This eventually causes them to expect people around them to play with them. If this doesn’t happen, they’re quickly frustrated and fault their environment.

Yes, frustration is basically something negative. Nevertheless, parents would do well to let their kids deal with it alone sometimes so that they learn they can.

Besides, if they’re never really allowed to experience frustration, they’ll be less prepared to handle more serious things that come along – and come along they will. We see today, for example, how adolescents are shattered by lovelornness – by something, that is, no longer influenceable by their parents or other people in their orbit.

What’s the best way for parents to respond to a child’s boredom and frustration?

Maas: When a child gets bored, parents first of all have to understand that it’s the child’s problem, not theirs. They’re not responsible for dispelling the boredom. All they actually need to do is to let five to 10 minutes pass, in which time the child will usually find something to do. If parents make suggestions or take action instead, it can even increase the child’s dissatisfaction.

Parents can definitely expect things of their children. They don’t have to drive them to school just because the weather’s bad, for instance. Behaviour like this can teach kids they don’t have to face up to anything, since there’s always someone who will take care of it for them. By the same token, parents should say “no” now and again.

Do you have a tip on how parents can take the edge off boredom-induced whining?

Maas: Yes. It’s called cognitive reframing: changing the way you view the situation. Be happy that your child now has the chance to make something out of nothing. Take a step back and encourage the child, perhaps by saying you’re eager to see what he or she comes up with. Then be patient. Remember: You’re a parent, not an entertainer.

Maas says boredom is very important because it makes children creative and they can learn to help shape their environment. — PixabayMaas says boredom is very important because it makes children creative and they can learn to help shape their environment. — Pixabay

Does this apply to planned activities too? Less is more?

Maas: Of course! Many parents think the more they invest in their child – time and education, for instance – the greater the results. Or on weekends they try to make up for the time they can’t spend with their child during the week. But kids often can’t handle the abundance and constant pivots.

More of everything doesn’t automatically make kids happier, despite the fact that in our modern world everything’s supposed to increase and be immediately available. There are hardly any more situations when we have to exercise patience and bridge time. Learning to do this at a young age is very important.

How can parents provide situations like this?

Maas: Allow children time to be bored. Don’t compensate for everything. Be observers instead, or let them discover something all by themselves. Don’t try to top their schoolmates’ birthday parties. Eight-year-olds are capable of playing alone on occasion – you don’t always have to give an impetus.

This may sound extreme, but my advice to parents is: relax. You can’t really go wrong by simply doing nothing. Children can occupy themselves and have got to learn how.

Rather than play entertainer all the time, you urge parents to periodically give children their undivided attention. How can they do this in our era of multitasking?

Maas: The overlaps aren’t good – we need work- and smartphone-free time with our kids. It’s better to work intensely for some time and then focus fully on your child. Don’t try to do everything at once.

A structured daily routine can help. For example, turn off your smartphone when you come home and eat with your family. Instead of going digital, you can read to your children in the evening from a book. Adults need routines to unwind too. If you constantly fire yourself up, it will carry over to your kids. – dpa/Christina Bachman

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