What to do when your child says they are bored at school

'I'm bored': when should you do something about school boredom?
'I'm bored': when should you do something about school boredom? Photo: Getty Images

They say being bored occasionally is good for kids, but does that also apply to when they're at school?

It's certainly common for kids to come home from school saying they've been bored. As a parent, it's hard to know what to do about it, or in fact whether to do anything at all.

What does "I'm bored" mean?

Retired K-6 Principal, Denyse Whelan, says it's important not to take the expression, "I'm bored", at face value. It can take a little investigating to find out what's really behind these words, and we can narrow their meaning down to a few possible alternatives.

1. They don't like something

You might be familiar with the boredom complaint that happens at home, and which often occurs when your child has been asked to clean their room or when they need to entertain themselves. School boredom can happen in similar situations, and your child may not be able to describe it clearly.

"If a child is saying they are bored, do they actually understand what that means?" questions Whelan. "It can sometimes be used as a description for not liking an activity or not wanting to ask the teacher if they're not sure how to do something."

2. A learning issue

Boredom may also be a clue that something is legitimately awry. "It may mask a learning issue," Whelan explains, "or could even be related to not hearing or seeing properly."

3. A lack of challenges

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When a child is skilled in an activity or subject, they can experience a case of boredom due to already knowing the topic. This is a real concern; one in five children is disengaged with school, which can lead to losing interest in their schoolwork and a drop in academic results.

If this is the case, Whelan suggests, "The teacher may not truly understand the child's capacity and needs to update that knowledge."

Should you take action?

It's important to listen to your child's concerns about school, and decide what the right actions are for them.

Below are some actions you might like to try:

  • Ask yourself if this behaviour is something you already know about your child. "You may need to work on your child's initiative and self-directed activity – at an age-appropriate level – within the home environment," says Whelan.
  • Ask your child some targeted questions. "If your child is already resourceful and loves learning but this boredom complaint is becoming more frequent, ask him/her a few questions," Whelan suggests.
  • Speak to your child's teacher. "Ask the teacher for an interview," says Whelan, adding that telling the teacher that your child is bored is a no-no. "Say something like, 'Our child doesn't seem as keen on learning' rather than 'Our child is bored', as the latter is more likely to set up a barrier between you and the school."
  • Depending on your child, their age and stage, sometimes it's worth standing back and letting them figure out their own solution (as long as you're sure there aren't any serious reasons – like hearing or sight challenges, or learning difficulties – behind their boredom).

How can you work with the teacher to solve the problem?

Working together with your child's teacher is an important factor in solving – or preventing – any issues, including boredom.

This cooperation is about communication and being as present as possible. "Supporting your child's school in whatever way you can is the best way to show your interest," says Whelan. "It cannot be more emphasised than by showing up to see how your child is going."

Showing your interest and being approachable means you and your child's teacher need some contact. That might mean going to scheduled parent-teacher meetings, school drop-offs and pick-ups or even some email communication, or you could take this further with some volunteering in the classroom or at the school canteen.

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