The back-to-school hype has died down, the holidays aren’t yet here, and your kid is hardly enthused. What’s a parent to do? An award-winning child psychologist weighs in on between-seasons boredom.
November is an interesting month. It’s not really fall anymore, but it’s not yet winter. It’s no longer the beginning of the school year, but we haven’t quite settled into a routine yet. It is not until the very end of the month that November takes on some character, as it marks the beginning of the holiday season.
The stretch of time bookended by the excitement of the new school year and the start of the holidays can feel long and boring for many kids, even though it is only a few weeks. Notwithstanding the brief respite Halloween offers, it is not unusual to hear a child or teen express a lack of interest in schoolwork, or dissatisfaction with friends. Of course, this may happen again in March or April, but it is less puzzling to parents at this time because we understand that the year is almost over and everyone is starting to feel a bit fed up.
It is true that November does feel a bit early on the school calendar for a child to be complaining, but in many ways our children are the product of a life driven by electronic stimulation (on screens of all sizes), constant socializing (in the form of playdates), and very involved parenting (are you a helicopter parent?). The majority of kids do not have a well developed ability to feel comfortable and happy when they are not being entertained—and, well, school is usually not all that entertaining.
Nevertheless, learning how to successfully negotiate the less exciting times in one’s life is an important skill for every child to learn. The ability to cope with a lack of stimulation will help your child do well in boring but necessary high school and college classes, stick out a monotonous first job, and wait patiently in long lines at a store or on a long car or plane ride.
Here are three ways to help your child learn to manage well when confronted with situations or times that aren’t terribly exciting. Working on these will make the boring times less unpleasant for your child and, perhaps more importantly, for you!
- Resist the urge to rescue. When your child is bored, don’t always volunteer to be a playmate. Sometimes it is best for your child to figure out how to occupy himself with toys, games, or his imagination.
- Cultivate independence. There is a direct correlation between contentment and independence. A child that has the ability to learn and use age-appropriate life skills (pouring milk, tying shoes, bathing, doing homework alone, calling a friend) will be much more likely to feel able to cope with down time and boredom.
- Limit screens. I know you’ve heard this hundreds of times, but here’s another reason to limit recreational screen time (TV, computer, phone, video games) to a total of no more than two hours a day. Kids that rely on screens to occupy themselves are much less likely to be able to manage well at a restaurant, on the beach, in a store, or any other time that screens aren’t available.
Once your child learns how to feel good even when life isn’t exciting, you will be surprised at how much happier and content she will be. And of course, this will have a direct impact on your contentment as well! Happy November.
Dr. Susan Bartell is a Long Island-based, nationally recognized child psychologist, speaker, and award-winning author. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. Read more of Dr. Bartell’s advice at nymetroparents.com/bartell.