When your child says 'I'm bored'
All of us can recall moments we were beyond bored in school and during summer. Maybe it was when your long-winded fifth grade teacher read from the earth science textbook with a monotone. Or during that math unit on measurement conversion remember convert 67,000 kilometers to inches? How about ended days without structure? However, if your child whines "I'm bored," the b-word may not be the real issue at all.
Sometimes boredom masks disinterest, academic struggle, lack of challenge, or conflict with a teacher. Such obstacles to learning may trigger underachievement, low grades, or a diminished self-image.
Exploring the real issue
*True disinterest? Many students of the digital age crave constant stimulation and shut down for dull topics. It is important that kids play an active role in the partnership of learning. Explain it is not the responsibility of their teacher or anyone else to keep them entertained.
*Academic struggle? Boredom at times masks feelings of failure. When a child falls behind, it may be easier to fake disengagement than claim defeat. If the demands of school weigh on him, offer encouragement and work with teachers or a tutor.
*Conflict with a teacher? Sometimes a student may be overly sensitive to a teacher's approval, or the teacher-student "fit" is less than perfect. Ask whether a misunderstanding has occurred which may be reconciled with a conference or phone call.
*Under- challenged? If boredom disguises lack of challenge, you've sort of hit the jackpot! Frequently teachers have suggestions for keeping your child engaged.
Tips for parents
1. Be honest with teachers. Approach the matter as a friendly investigation, not an interrogation. Calmly express your concerns and share any changes you have observed in your child's attitude and behavior. It is perfectly acceptable to ask whether there may be a personality clash or misunderstanding. Most teachers will appreciate your sensitivity and respect your intentions when you remain upbeat and pleasant.
Experienced teachers are often armed with effective strategies you may not have considered. One of schoolteacher Jane Klein's secret weapons is to offer choices. "If I can think of two or more choices that I can live with and present them to the student, they feel empowered by having the responsibility of choice, and I get what I want." Do be prepared to hear the truth from the teacher. Teacher Laurel Bryan indicates, "Some kids use 'bored' as an excuse to be lazy when they need to be empowered to do more."
2. Stay positive about what brings your child joy. Your developing student is likely involved in a variety of activities. Continue to actively support and encourage those passions which bring enjoyment. Since their interests will likely change as they mature, you can be a cheerleader as they explore new territory.
3. Find connections outside of the classroom. If your son cannot get revved up while studying the Revolutionary War, go beyond the textbook to expand his perspective. While it may lack historical accuracy, depending on his age and maturity, your student could view the DVD "The Patriot" or a documentary. Does the "boring" topic have specialized vocabulary? Encourage your student to create flashcards on bright neon index cards to make preparation for an exam more stimulating and pleasant. There are wonderful math help sites on the web (try www.AAAmath.com) if the sight of math fact flashcards reduces them to tears. Visit museums and the library, and do not forget the power of your own enthusiasm and energy for a topic. Be a model of joyful learning.
Bryan wisely recommends explaining that not every subject in school will be their favorite, "but it is their challenge to find the interesting hidden within that subject, be active participants in the process, and take ownership for their learning."
4. Keep your academic expectations in check. This is especially important if you are a perfectionist. Is it possible your child feels overly burdened for not bringing home "A" work despite concerted effort? Make sure your comments and actions are not sending the message that anything less than perfect is fail. You should expect your child to work hard and strive for high marks, but we all have weak areas. Stay positive, sharing experiences from your own life which demonstrate how through perseverance you found success.
Michele Ranard is passionate about helping students engage in the learning process. She is a professional counselor, academic tutor, and a freelancer. You can read her blog @micheleranard.blogspot.com.