As a parent, “I’m bored” might be a common refrain from your child. Sometimes, it’s more than typical childhood restlessness. It’s incredibly common for children with ADHD to struggle with boredom intolerance.
Your child’s struggles with boredom can be draining for you as a parent.
You may even feel that you’re “falling short” in some way in catering to your child’s needs.
But boredom is a complex issue. Over time we need to help children find the best ways to manage this feeling, even get comfortable with it.
We also need to teach them what to do about it, so that video games or social media don’t always become the default.
When they’re very young, children will need a lot of help with both these things – managing boredom and getting comfortable with it. This can be a hard time for parents as it can feel very intense.
I’m a child clinical psychologist and I work with children and teens with ADHD. I’ve written this article to talk you through how to handle ADHD boredom intolerance best from a psychologist’s point of view.
ADHD Boredom Intolerance: What Is it?
The Feeling of Boredom and ADHD
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, can create a significant challenge in managing boredom.
In an ADHD brain, a lack of stimulation can quickly lead to overwhelming feelings of boredom. It’s not uncommon for children to have difficulty tolerating situations that others can easily endure, such as waiting in queues, attending lectures, or completing lengthy paperwork.
To understand your child’s susceptibility to boredom, it’s important to recognise that their ADHD symptoms contribute to this intolerance.
For example, difficulties in sustained attention can make it hard to remain focused during monotonous tasks, consequently leading to boredom.
For someone with ADHD, extended periods of boredom can develop into chronic boredom. In other words, your child may feel almost permanently boredom.
This can lower your child’s mood and it can cause them to seek stimulation in negative or problematic ways (more on that later).
Chronic boredom can make it hard for ADHD children to be around. It can feel exhausting and, quite frankly, unpleasant.
People with ADHD tend to display a higher level of boredom proneness than those without ADHD.
Boredom proneness can often correlate with other issues, such as Internet addiction.
In an attempt to cope, children and young people may find themselves seeking short-term stimulation through activities like excessive internet use or engaging in risky behaviours like substance abuse.
Understanding and acknowledging your child’s ADHD boredom intolerance is the first step in developing strategies to help them manage it effectively.
By helping them develop techniques to stimulate the brain and maintain their focus, you can improve their tolerance to boredom and enhance their overall quality of life.
Boredom and Creativity
Boredom and creativity are often seen as two opposing forces. However, research has shown that boredom can actually lead to increased creativity.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that boredom is vital to creativity, which my kids have heard me tell them 1000 times!
When we are bored, our minds are seeking stimulation and new experiences, which can often lead to creative insights and innovative ideas.
When we are engaged in a task that is too easy or repetitive, our minds can become disengaged and lose focus. This is where boredom can be a catalyst for creativity.
One reason why boredom can lead to creativity is that it allows our minds to wander and daydream.
When we are not actively engaged in a task, our minds are free to explore new ideas and connections. This can lead to creative insights and breakthroughs that we may not have otherwise discovered.
By embracing boredom and allowing our minds to wander, we can tap into our creative potential and generate new ideas and insights.
Boredom at School
Maybe your child is bored because the lesson isn’t being taught in a way that is engaging for them?
Or it could be that they are unable to engage with the lesson for another specific reason. It could also be that your child is bored because they’re not feeling challenged.
Inattention in class often follows suit.
The ADHD struggle to stay focused can mount.
ADHD can cause focus to waver and boredom to set in more quickly. This often creates challenges for academic success, self-esteem, and life quality.
Boredom is negatively associated with academic performance in students with ADHD.
It affects not just school performance, but social relationships and overall well-being too.
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The Brain and ADHD Boredom
Dopamine Levels in ADHD: The Connection With Boredom Intolerance
One of the reasons your child with ADHD experiences boredom more frequently than neurotypical children is due to differences in dopamine levels in their brain.
ADHD is associated with lower levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in the nervous system and affects motivation, attention, and the reward system.
Lower dopamine levels cause your child’s brain to constantly seek stimulation, making it harder for them to maintain their attention on tasks that they perceive as monotonous or offering low stimulation.
This can result in a persistent state of boredom and restlessness.
ADHD and Boredom Intolerance: The Role of The Prefrontal Cortex
Another factor that contributes to ADHD boredom is the prefrontal cortex, an area of human brains responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, problem-solving, and attention regulation.
In children with ADHD, the prefrontal cortex is often underactive, which affects their ability to stay focused and resist distractions.
When tasks or activities fail to capture your child’s attention or offer an immediate sense of reward, their underactive prefrontal cortex struggles to maintain focus, leading to a higher tendency to experience boredom.
Consequently, they may seek out alternative activities that provide instant gratification and stimulation, further exacerbating their boredom with the original task.
ADHD Boredom Intolerance and The Reward Centre of the Brain
Children with ADHD typically have an under-responsive reward system, which can contribute to their struggle with boredom.
The reward centre of the brain is linked to motivation, and it depends on dopamine to function effectively.
As the brain’s reward centre is underactive in ADHD, children find it difficult to experience pleasure or satisfaction from activities that are not immediately gratifying or stimulating.
This can make it difficult for them to remain engaged in tasks that demand sustained attention or effort, causing them to feel bored more frequently and intensely than neurotypical children.
ADHD Boredom Intolerance: Summary of Brain Differences
Neurobiological factors can affect your ADHD child’s experience of boredom intolerance.
These include dopamine levels, prefrontal cortex activity, and reward centre responsiveness.
Understanding these can help you empathise with their challenges. It can also support you in helping them find strategies to help manage ADHD boredom effectively.
ADHD, Boredom Intolerance and Technology
Video Games and ADHD Boredom Intolerance
You might find that your child is more inclined to rely on technology, including video games, than neurotypical children.
This is because the constantly interactive nature of video games can engage them, provide immediate feedback, and offer a sense of accomplishment which is specifically helpful for children with ADHD.
These features can actually make gaming a calming activity for kids with ADHD, as they can channel their energy into something that captures their attention and maintains their focus.
The difficult part is helping them balance their time. Sure, gaming may have lots of benefits for your child, but too much time gaming is a bad thing for a number of reasons:
- Physical Health: Excessive gaming encourages a sedentary lifestyle, leading to health issues like obesity.
- Mental Health: Over-gaming can cause social isolation, depression, and anxiety.
- Sleep: Late-night gaming disrupts sleep patterns, impacting health and school performance.
- Social Skills: Over-reliance on gaming can hinder the development of important face-to-face social interaction skills.
- Academic Performance: Long gaming sessions can compromise homework and study time, potentially lowering grades.
So my message is that children with ADHD may benefit from gaming, but you need to set some strong boundaries around it.
What you allow, and when you allow it, will depend on your child.
Social Media and ADHD Boredom Intolerance
When it comes to social media, it’s a double-edged sword for children with ADHD. It can be both a source of distraction and a useful tool for managing the symptoms of ADHD.
On the downside, social media can create an unending thirst for new content. It’s easy for a child to get sucked into an endless scroll, losing hours or even an entire day.
This continuous intake of information can overstimulate the mind, intensifying the symptoms of ADHD.
The constant need for instant gratification and the rapid switch between topics can also mirror and reinforce the impulsive and hyperactive behaviors associated with ADHD.
Yet, there’s another side to social media that can be incredibly beneficial. The sense of community that social media fosters can be a lifeline for young people with ADHD.
It provides them an opportunity to connect with others who are facing similar struggles. They can share experiences, trade coping strategies, and offer each other encouragement.
This sense of belonging can boost their self-esteem and reduce feelings of isolation or misunderstanding that often accompany ADHD.
However, as a parent, it’s crucial to supervise and put a time limit on your child’s social media usage, even when they are teenagers, whilst respecting their increasing need for privacy as they get older. This is no mean feat.
However, encouraging your child to use these platforms thoughtfully and purposefully can help ensure they reap the benefits without falling into the trap of constant scrolling and overstimulation.
Time Limits on Technology Use For ADHD Children
Setting time limits on technology use is an important first step in helping ADHD children manage their time and find balance in their daily routines.
Establishing these boundaries is essential, as spending too much time with screens can have negative consequences on attention and focus.
Consider implementing strategies such as:
- Using parental controls to limit screen time.
- Encouraging outdoor activities and exercise to break up periods of screen use.
- Allocating specific times in the day for technology use, and ensuring adherence to those limits.
Impacts of ADHD Boredom Intolerance
Family Life and ADHD Boredom Intolerance
ADHD boredom intolerance can significantly influence family life.
I have seen this time and time again over the years in my work supporting neurodivergent young people.
Children and young people with ADHD often find it challenging to engage in what they perceive as mundane tasks or conversations. This can be frustrating for both the child and their family members.
It might include daily chores, homework, family meals, or casual discussions.
Children with ADHD often crave stimulation, and when that is missing, they may quickly lose interest, become restless, or exhibit problematic behavior.
In turn, this behavior can lead to tension among family members. It can cause misunderstandings, as it may be misinterpreted as laziness or a lack of care.
It’s crucial for families to understand that this is not an act of defiance. Instead, it’s a part of the ADHD condition that the child often can’t control very well.
If your child is constantly seeking novelty and excitement, this can disrupt the family routine and can be draining. It can be really stressful when you’re trying to maintain a balanced home environment.
The unpredictability of a child’s level of engagement can also make planning family activities or outings more difficult.
However, remember that with patience and adapting your parenting strategies over time, you can begin to manage these situations in a way that works for everyone.
It’s crucial to maintain a good understanding about the condition within the family. Make sure all family members are aware of what ADHD entails and how it can affect behavior.
Friendships: The Impact of ADHD Boredom Intolerance on Children
The effects of ADHD boredom intolerance can also extend to your child’s friendships. Symptoms associated with ADHD, including boredom intolerance, can present unique challenges in maintaining and developing friendships.
Children and teenagers with ADHD may have a harder time engaging in activities that their peers find interesting, especially if those activities lack the novelty or excitement they often crave.
For example, a casual hangout, such as watching a movie or having a simple conversation, might not be stimulating enough for them, causing them to become restless or disengaged.
This lack of engagement can lead to misunderstandings. Peers might misinterpret it as disinterest or rudeness, which can strain friendships. It’s also possible that your child’s impulsive behavior, a common symptom of ADHD, could lead to social missteps, further complicating their relationships.
On the other hand, children with ADHD can often be very creative and energetic, traits that can make them exciting and fun friends.
The challenge is to find a balance that allows them to harness these positive qualities while managing the potential social pitfalls of their ADHD symptoms.
Encouraging your child to participate in structured, high-energy activities like sports or clubs can provide a suitable outlet for their energy and creativity. These environments also offer natural opportunities for interaction and bonding with peers.
ADHD Boredom and Risky Behaviours
Boredom in children and teens with ADHD can sometimes lead to them making risky decisions or engaging in risky behaviours as a means to seek stimulation.
This might include, for example, jumping off high walls or experimenting with substances.
As a parent, you may have to monitor your ADHD child much more than other parents with neurotypical children, to keep them safe.
Consider exploring healthy high-energy and exciting hobbies to keep your child engaged, especially during the summer months or other periods of decreased structure.
Managing ADHD Boredom Intolerance With Your Child
The Importance of Boredom
Despite the challenges that come with it, boredom has a significant role in your child’s development. As a parent of a child with ADHD, recognizing the positive aspects of boredom can be as vital as managing its negative impacts.
As I have already mentioned, boredom can be seen as a signal that pushes your child to explore, innovate, and engage with the world in new ways. Keep reminding your child of this.
It provides an opportunity for them to learn how to motivate themselves, sparking their curiosity and driving them to seek out activities that satisfy their need for stimulation. This process can enhance their ability to self-motivate, a critical life skill.
The challenge is helping them direct their boredom towards creativity and innovation rather than destructive, dangerous or unhealthy activites. You could try a strategy which offers a wide range of choices of positive activities, such as a “randomiser”.
I have found randomizers very helpful both in my own family and with families I work with in my clinic. I explain all about randomizers later in the article.
ADHD Boredom Intolerance and Self-Regulation
Self-regulation is another crucial skill that can be developed through encounters with boredom.
It refers to the ability to manage our emotions, behaviors, and thoughts in the face of challenging situations.
When children experience boredom, they learn how to control their impulses to immediately seek out novelty and instead, patiently find meaningful ways to engage themselves. Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. In fact it takes many years. But bit by bit and day by day, learning to deal with boredom is also helping build emotion regulation skills.
Boredom Intolerance and Creativity
Boredom also paves the way for creativity. The quest for self-entertainment can lead children to think outside the box, developing creative problem-solving skills.
They might invent new games, explore new hobbies, or delve into imaginative play. These activities not only alleviate boredom but also promote creative thinking and innovation.
Maybe that’s why it’s a well-known fact that many successful entrepreneurs also have ADHD!
ADHD and Learning to Tolerate Uncomfortable Feelings
For children with ADHD, tolerating uncomfortable feelings like boredom can be a significant challenge. It can result in a pattern of seeking immediate satisfaction through constant entertainment or activity, creating a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.
Helping your child learn to cope with difficult feelings including boredom intolerance is a crucial aspect of their growth and development. It’s a key feature of resilience, a characteristic that enables individuals to recover from setbacks, adapt to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.
As they learn to sit with their feelings of boredom, encourage your child to spot and reflect on their feelings of boredom.
Instead of jumping to the next attention-grabbing activity, they can learn to identify what they’re feeling, understand why they’re feeling it, and consider how best to respond. This mindful approach can allow them to develop a healthier relationship with boredom.
Practicing mindfulness techniques, like body scans or grounding techniques, can be particularly useful in managing uncomfortable feelings. It can help your child become more aware of their emotional state and learn to sit with their feelings without immediately reacting.
Encouraging problem-solving activities that require patience and persistence can help children learn to tolerate discomfort. This could be as simple as a puzzle, a game of chess, or a complex Lego set.
Remember, these are skills that take a long time to develop. Celebrate your child’s progress, no matter how small, and reassure them that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable sometimes.
Leveraging The ADHD Brain’s Strengths
Every child with ADHD has a unique set of strengths, often stemming from the same neurodiversity that makes handling boredom so challenging. By understanding and leveraging these strengths, you can create an environment that allows your child to thrive.
Engaging your child in activities that pique their interest and sustain their focus can help utilize their ADHD brain’s unique characteristics.
Look for tasks that provide an optimal balance between challenge and achievement. These activities should be demanding enough to keep them engaged but not so difficult that they lead to excessive frustration.
Children with ADHD are often creative, innovative, and brimming with energy. Helping your child harness these qualities can yield positive results.
Stimulating activities such as arts, sports, or community projects can be particularly beneficial. These activities keep their minds active and provide opportunities to learn from others and collaborate, improving their social skills and boosting their self-esteem.
ADHD and Success
It’s crucial to remember that having ADHD doesn’t limit a child’s potential for success. Some of the world’s most successful individuals, including entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes, have ADHD.
For instance, the Broadway actress turned pop singer, Renee Rapp, known for her role in Mean Girls, has openly discussed her ADHD and how she uses it to fuel her performances.
Similarly, many successful entrepreneurs have ADHD, their innovative thinking and boundless energy driving their business ventures.
With the right support, children with ADHD can not only manage their boredom intolerance but also thrive in numerous aspects of life.
ADHD Boredom Intolerance: Managing Daily Routines
Creating and maintaining daily routines can make a significant difference in managing ADHD boredom.
The predictability and structure that a routine provides can help children with ADHD stay engaged and build their capacity to manage tasks independently. However, the repetition can also feel boring to them. It’s a tricky balance.
Begin by setting specific, manageable tasks for your child to complete each day. These tasks might include making their bed, setting the table, or participating in family chores.
It’s important to be realistic about your child’s abilities. Start small and gradually increase their responsibilities as their confidence and skills grow.
Consider breaking larger tasks into smaller, more manageable parts to prevent overwhelm.
For instance, instead of a broad task like ‘clean your room,’ you could specify tasks like ‘pick up the toys,’ ‘make the bed,’ and ‘put dirty clothes in the laundry basket.’
This approach can make the chores seem less daunting and more achievable.
Involving your child in the creation of these routines is really important. When they have a say in the process, they’re more likely to feel a sense of ownership and commitment towards their tasks.
You can use visual aids, like charts or boards, to map out daily or weekly routines. This visual representation can help reinforce the structure and predictability that routines provide.
Specific Strategies For Managing ADHD Boredom Intolerance At Home
To help your child become less dependent on you for “entertainment” and more autonomous in managing their boredom, I recommend several specific strategies.
- Activity Randomizer: An excellent tool to promote independence and self-direction is the creation of an activity “randomizer”. Fill a cup with lolly sticks, each inscribed with a different activity. When your child feels bored, prompt them to pick a lolly stick and undertake the written activity. This method enables your child to decide their next step without depending solely on you for stimulation, fostering decision-making and independence.
- Pairing Tasks: Try combining something your child finds boring with something they find exciting. For example, if they’re passionate about music but struggle with maths, creating a maths rap can make the subject more engaging. This approach can transform a tedious task into an enjoyable one, making it more likely that your child will engage in the activity.
- Getting Started: Sometimes, the hardest part is just getting started. You can help your child by sitting with them at the beginning of a task or guiding them through the initial steps. Once they’re involved, it may be easier for them to continue independently.
- Breaking Tasks into Small Steps: Large tasks can feel overwhelming. Break them down into small, manageable steps to make them less intimidating. This approach can help your child focus on one thing at a time and celebrate small victories along the way.
- Removing Distractions: Creating a conducive environment for focusing can make a big difference. Keep distractions to a minimum during task time. This could mean turning off the TV, creating a quiet workspace, or ensuring they have everything they need before they start.
- Meeting Your Brain Where It’s At: This strategy involves recognizing and working with your child’s natural inclinations. I use it myself and find it very successful. I think about what state of mind I’m in, and then choose a task that fits best with this. If I’m feeling quite energised and focused, I try to harness that by making progress on a bigger piece of work. For your child that could be an essay, for example. If I’m feeling tired or less focused then I acknowledge that the bigger piece of work isn’t going to get done right now, so I’ll wait until another time. Instead, I’ll pick something that doesn’t require so much intense brain power. For your child, maybe that means doing a couple of maths questions, or simply organising their workspace or creating a study plan.
Summary and Conclusions
Understanding ADHD and boredom intolerance is the first and most important step in supporting your child’s successful development.
You can help your child navigate their boredom and harness their ADHD in productive ways. From establishing consistent daily routines to promoting independence through activities like the “randomizer”, these methods can empower your child to manage boredom intolerance more effectively.
It’s crucial to adapt strategies as needed to fit your child’s specific needs and strengths. Celebrate your child’s victories, no matter how small, and reassure them that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable sometimes.
Boredom is not necessarily a negative experience; in fact, it’s a normal part of life and can serve as an essential stepping stone in your child’s journey towards resilience and independence.
With the right support and resources, your child can not only manage their ADHD boredom but thrive in their personal growth and development.
ADHD doesn’t limit your child’s potential for success. With the right strategies and a supportive environment, they can channel their unique strengths into fulfilling and productive activities, and they can have a bright future.
Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.
Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.
Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.
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