All of us can recall moments we were beyond bored in school. Maybe it was when that long-winded science teacher with a monotone read directly from the textbook. Or during that math unit when associative, commutative and identity properties failed to thrill you. Remember? Exciting stuff! Of course you can relate. But if your child is whining, “I’m bored,” it’s possible the B-word may not be the real issue at all. Sometimes boredom actually masks disinterest, academic struggle, lack of challenge or conflict with a teacher. In turn, such obstacles to learning may trigger underachievement, low grades or a diminished self-image.
Exploring the real issue
True disinterest? Some students of the digital age have an appetite for constant stimulation and simply shut down for dull topics. It is important for kids to play an active role in the partnership of learning. Sensitively explain to them that it is not the responsibility of teachers or anyone else to keep them entertained.
Academic struggle? Boredom can at times mask feelings of failure. For example, when a child falls behind in understanding or achievement, it may be easier on the psyche to fake disengagement than claim defeat. If the demands of school weigh on your child, be sure to offer encouragement and work with teachers or a tutor.
Conflict with a teacher? Sometimes a student will be overly sensitive to a teacher’s approval and/or the teacher-student ‘fit’ is less than ideal. Make sure to ask your child whether a misunderstanding has occurred with a teacher. Sometimes these scenarios are easily reconciled with a conference or phone call.
Under-challenged? If boredom disguises lack of challenge, you’ve possibly hit the jackpot! Perhaps, your child has been placed in the wrong reading or math group for their ability level. Frequently, teachers have suggestions for keeping under-challenged kids 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 students 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 what they need is 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 child cannot get revved up while studying the French Revolution, go beyond the textbook to expand their perspective. While it may lack historical accuracy, depending upon their age and maturity, your student could view a documentary or even a Hollywood film on the topic.
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 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.
Laurel 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 stellar work despite concerted effort on their part? Make sure your comments and actions are not sending the message that anything less than perfect is a 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, M.Ed., has tutored children privately for 10 years. She has two children, a master’s in counseling and a blog at www.cheekychicmama.com.
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