It’s January. The glitter and excitement of the holidays are over, and the days are still short and cold. Parents, it won’t be long before you start hearing those six words that fill you with dread: “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!”
Okay, time to be honest. When you hear “nothing to do”, is your first response, “You can’t possibly be bored! Look at all these toys/games/books/etc. you have!” While understandable, take a moment to think of your own experiences when the winter blues come around. How often have you felt down and the thought of engaging in activities you usually find enjoyable just feels like a chore? In therapy, we call that feeling anhedonia, and it’s one of the hallmark signs of depression. In other words, the “I’m bored” dilemma is very likely a form of seasonal depression that your child is exhibiting. As such, telling your children that they “can’t possibly be bored” is a form of invalidation of this depression.
HOW TO VALIDATE YOUR CHILD’S FEELINGS
In therapy, emotional validation is the action of showing understanding and acceptance of another’s emotional state. It does not mean that you are showing agreement or approval of those emotions. Rather, that you can see how they might feel that way. The benefits of emotional validation include increased emotional regulation, strengthened relationships, and greater feelings of being valued by the one validating. Conversely, some consequences of invalidation are damage to the sense of self, low self-esteem, decreased ability to regulate emotions, and possible mental health issues in extreme cases of continual invalidation.
So, what does validation look like in light of the “I’m bored” blues? First off, just showing that you understand how they could feel that way is a HUGE step. Say things like “I get it! Sometimes I feel the same way!” Or, “I bet it feels pretty frustrating to be bored.”
This can go a long way in communicating that you hear them and validate where they are. Also consider the way you speak to them when you say these things. Using your voice and your body language to express empathy will help your message.
NEXT STEPS TO VALIDATION
A good next step from here is to express that you are interested in their thoughts. “Do you have a sense of why you are feeling bored?” This helps communicate that you are interested in helping, and you want them to be a part of the problem-solving process as well. The more you can facilitate having your child think through their feelings, the more you foster their emotional intelligence.
Another good question to ask would be, “What do you think would help you not be so bored?” If they have an answer, listen intently to it and see if it is something you could actually do. If not, you can still validate without giving into the request: “Wow! That would be so fun! I don’t think we can do that today, but how about we plan for it soon?” The key is that you are showing them that you understand how they feel and listening in a way that can help them process and problem solve.
As always, be sure to monitor your child if they continue to show signs of anhedonia. While it’s common for children in January and February to express that they are bored, they should be able to navigate it quickly with some help from you. If they continue to avoid activities and friends that they have enjoyed in the past, this could be a sign of a deeper struggle with depression. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s mental health during these months, we at Heartland Therapy Connection would love to help! Call us today at (816) 287-0252 to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists.