What Does It Mean When Your Gifted Child Says She's Bored?

The phrase “I’m bored” sends waves of panic through some parents. When a parent's child says he’s bored at home or at school, the immediate impulse is to do something about it. But, what does it mean to be bored? Often we assume that a child is not being challenged and it is the job of adults in her life to remedy that.

In the 1950s, when children did not have all the current technological devices to keep them occupied, youngsters engaged their natural creativity to busy their minds. I grew up in the 50s and remember an ongoing dialog with my father. I would say, “I’m bored,” and he would reply, “Carol, you’re always bored.” He didn’t say this in a mean way. It was just an acknowledgement that he had heard me. I cannot once remember him coming to my rescue, though. He would just let me wrestle with that boredom. Pretty soon, I would find something interesting to do.

So, what does the term bored really mean? My guess is that it has different meanings to different people and at different times. It could mean that the material a child is being taught is not challenging. It could also mean that she’d rather be playing with friends than doing schoolwork, that he is not in his comfort zone, or that she has no clue how to direct her mind to something that really grabs her. It simply could mean that the child wants permission to play his new computer game.

As adults, we have to be careful not to jump to conclusions. It would probably be helpful to ask your child to tell you what it means to be bored. Ask probing questions, like “Can you tell me more about that?” or “How would you make things different if you could?” or “What would the perfect day look like?” Don’t put words in the child’s mouth such as “Are you not learning anything new at school?”

There are actually good things that can come from a lack of engagement. It can lead to periods of creativity, giving the mind time to wander and the time necessary to put those thoughts into action.

When my kids were young and misbehaved, I’d send them to their rooms as punishment and to “cool off.” When I’d finally open the doors to tell them they could come out, they would each greet me with excitement over the things they had done while in solitary. They read books; or they took their books and built houses with them, stacking them like cards; or they made a fantasy world with their stuffed animals.

I am not implying that there is never a legitimate reason for a child to be bored in school; that the work is not challenging. I just want to encourage you not to jump to conclusions.

If your child has legitimate reasons for being bored in school, there are a couple of routes you can take. Try approaching the problem from all angles. Talk with the teachers and or administrators at the school about ways that your child might be more challenged. But because you cannot always control the school environment, also help your child to learn to challenge himself at school. How can he go more in depth with a subject or go in different directions with it? By moving toward these alternatives, you will help your child become responsible for her own learning, which is a very empowering skill.

Check out the book The Survival Guide for Parents ofGifted Kids: How to Understand, Live With, and Stick Up for Your Gifted Child, by Sally Yahnke Walker, Ph.D. The author explains that children need to understand that life isn’t always fun, that everyone gets bored occasionally—or dislikes the task at hand—and that we all have to do things that we’d rather not. She also gives tips on dealing with boredom.

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