What My Kid Really Means When He Says He’s Bored

He's speaking in code.

Parker Barry

“I’m bored.”

This, to me, is a very strange statement coming from a kid with thousands of LEGOs, overflowing bookshelves, creative supplies for days, a vivid imagination, a sister — the list goes on.

But it’s something my 9-year-old son had started saying pretty regularly.

At first, I typically responded with one of the following:

  • “Go clean your room.” (This would usually result in him finding something to do very quickly.)
  • “How can you possibly be bored with all the books and toys you have?” (Too judgmental.)
  • And, eventually: “It is not my job to entertain you.” (Not recommended.)

Then I started noticing a pattern. “I’m bored” was really his way of asking to have screen time — specifically console video games — without actually asking.

So I tried to get to the bottom of this. I asked his dad about it.

Does Sonny tell you he’s bored at your house?


What does he mean when he says that?

“He usually means he’s out of ideas to entertain himself. And that he wants help figuring out something interesting and fun to do next.”

Makes sense…

“And sometimes it is just code for ‘Can I play a video game?’”


So in Sonny’s ideal world, the appropriate parental response to “I’m bored” would at least some of the time be “Why don’t you play some video games?” I’m guessing that would be a lot of kids’ desired outcome, and I totally get it.

But I want him to be mindful of his actual feelings, instead of just using feelings as code for something else. He’s that kid who sees you eating candy and says, “I’m hungry,” when he really means, “Can I have a piece of that candy?” To me it’s important that he’s aware of what “hungry” feels like, so he can decide whether he’s actually hungry or he just wants the candy.

So rather than going to one of my old fallbacks, I started becoming more intentional in my responses. I wanted to let him know it is OK (even good!) to be bored sometimes, and that it’s also OK (even good!) to want to play video games — and while it’s possible to feel both things at the same time, they are not actually the same thing.

I think it worked. Sometimes he really is bored, and I try to support him while leaving space for him to reap some of the benefits of a little boredom. And the other day he said to me, “Remember when I used to say I’m bored when I wanted to play Wii?” We kind of chuckled about it — and then he asked to play the Wii.


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