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July 28, 2013

Let kids own their boredom so they learn to alleviate it

Dear Doctor,

Our summer gripe is, “I’m bored.” This we hear constantly from two 10-year-olds, a boy and a girl twin. They both complain “there is nothing to do.”

I will admit I try to find things to keep them busy. When I do, they say they don’t want to do it because it is “boring.” I don’t remember being bored as a child. What are we doing?

Tired

Dear Tired,

I suppose we are rearing bored children, possibly as a result of being constantly amused, distracted, and entertained.

It was first evident to me some time ago with the TV program, “Sesame Street.” By the time a youngster went to first grade the teacher was a bore because she could not come out of a barrel, do a dance to the vowel sounds, or boogie through the alphabet. Now we have the electronic deluge with endless manufactured stimulation and amusement. What we don’t have is children who know how to amuse themselves creatively and all by themselves.

What your twins are saying is: “Feel sorry for me.” “Help me relieve myself of boredom.” Think about it. They will never fix their boredom unless it is squarely their responsibility. In the 1970s there was a school of parenting called “Transactional Analysis.” The proponents talked about “games” played in how we behave and communicate. This game,”I’m bored,” was called “poor me.” There were three possible responses: rescue, persecute and allowing the child to own it.

Rescue might be, “Have you thought about doing crafts, dear?”

Persecute might be, “I have heard enough of your complaining.”

The optimal response is allowing the child to own it. “That must be difficult for you.”

Children usually will try a few add-ons, such as “You don’t care.” If you allow them to own the problem and do something about it, you stop enabling by ceasing to be a programmer for summer entertainment.

Try this and see if it doesn’t get things moving one way or another. Send an email, and tell how things worked out.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. Email him questions or comments at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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