Boredom in Kids during Transition

Question from expat mom: So often when we’ve just moved… or I’m busy trying to get ready to move, my children come to me whining that they’re bored. What’s the difference between boredom and depression? What do I do with my kids’ boredom?

Answer from Becky:

Sounds like you’re hearing, “I’m bored” or “there’s nothing to do!” a lot lately! I remember these words from my children – and it didn’t matter the place – Cambodia, Indonesia, Kuwait or Canada! They came when I usually felt the most stressed!

Boredom is different than depression, though it can be one of many symptoms of depression. Children feel bored with a lack or decrease in stimulation from their environment. Or when they don’t chose to interact with their environment. It’s natural during expat transition to hear “I’m bored”. Think about it: new setting; unknowns; not a whole lot is familiar or safe; parents are busy settling in; no friends, only siblings, which is getting very “same old, same old”; they exhibit mixed feelings of excitement, then anger or sadness. As a result, there’s little inward motivation to ‘experience’, unless parents engage with them. 

From a parent’s perspective, boredom drives us nuts! Sibling rivalry ensues. We are followed like a shadow. Way too much whining! We feel responsible. We can’t keep them occupied. We want them to be happy. We feel guilty.


Take time to explore your child’s feelings. Don’t dismiss boredom. This teaches emotional intelligence, which is important. Validate where they’re at. What dMother and daughter talkingoes bored feel like to you? What is bored trying to tell you? What do you want to decide to do/or not to do from this bored place? Feelings help guide us. We feel tired, we rest. We feel sad, we cry. Let your child explore his boredom. It may be because he’s missing friends. Or finding school hard. Or feeling lonely. Be ready for sadness or anger. That’s ok. You’re giving them opportunity to process. Just talking about it may have your child move on.

Allow your children to be bored. Don’t rescue them, or they’ll expect it each time. Boredom is important for their well-being. It may mean they need to take time and space to grieve. Encourage journaling, drawing or sculpting with play dough at times like these. Listening to music is another idea. Explore with your child what works for them when they are grieving. None of us like being alone with ourselves because it’s so uncomfortable, yet a necessary part of transition.

Kids PlayingBoredom forces kids to get creative. This is important in their new setting. They learn to interact and play with what they have. They learn to engage without being rescued by their parents. This isn’t to say you can’t brainstorm together. Kids can use your guidance if boredom is to be constructive. Encourage them: ‘I’ve seen you be very creative when….(give an example from the past) I know you can come up with a creative, fun idea now”. Make an “Ideas When I’m Bored” list or grab bag so that they can draw from it at times like these.

In transition, children need our time and attention. In the midst of the busyness, take time for routine (a daily walk or time at the park, reading to them, playing games, etc.) as well as sitting around and talking. Physical touch is important – we used to give each other back or feet rubs (those tiled floors did a number on our feet when we were used to carpet!), wrestle. Have your children know you are there for them.

A valuable lesson can be learned by kids: Inventiveness and self-reliance come out of boredom!

If this article would be helpful for someone who you, please forward it.

Live with courage and love.

Helping you be strengthened to live your best expatriate life.

Signature of Becky Matchullis - Expat Family Resilience Coach

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