Tackling Boredom – PediaCast 486

Show Notes


  • Dr Parker Huston visits the studio as we tackle boredom. A parent’s instinct may be to step in and solve their child’s boredom, but this may do more harm than good. Boredom provides a blank canvas for discovering the creativity that lies within. We share tips for nurturing creativity so children can solve boredom on their own!


  • Boredom
  • Creativity
  • Unstructured Play




Announcer 1: This is PediaCast.




Announcer 2: Welcome to PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. And now, direct from the campus of Nationwide Children's, here is your host, Dr. Mike.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to PediaCast. It is a pediatric podcast for moms and dads. This is Dr. Mike coming to you from Nationwide Children's Hospital. We are in Columbus, Ohio.


It's Episode 486 for April 7th, 2021. We're calling this one "Tackling Boredom". I want to welcome all of you to the program.


So, we have a terrific show for you this week, if you have kids at home who complain about being bored from time to time. Or sometimes, maybe you have kids at home who complain of being bored all the time, but just sometimes. It's a common occurrence.




So, if it happens to you, you are certainly not alone, especially in this age of COVID-19 pandemic when we're all stuck at home and there's only so many things in the house to do. It's easy to become bored. But what is a parent to do when our children complain about this often? How do we tackle boredom?


That is our topic today. And we'll start with the definition, what exactly is boredom? And then, we'll take a peek inside the brain and discover what is happening there when we feel bored.


Turns out we're experiencing a big psychological term called cognitive dissonance. And that's when our brain expects one thing but the world around us is not meeting that expectation. In the case of boredom, our brain is craving stimulation and engagement, but the world around us is not pulling through.




Now, from the parents' point of view, we see our kids often surrounded by toys and books and games. Yet, these things are not meeting the brain's demand. The brain wants different stimulation, different engagement.


And our response often is to fix it, we want to erase the boredom. We want to give our kids something new and exciting to do. But we may actually do them a disservice by stopping in too quickly because it turns out that boredom, well, at least temporary boredom, can be a very good thing because it represents a blank canvas on which our kids can practice being creative.


So, if best practice for parents is patience, as we refrain from stepping in and solving boredom, how can we instead nudge them into discovering the creativity that lies within? Because our kids might need some guidance, especially in the beginning, a little nudge, a little push in the right direction. But how is that best accomplish?




Well, we have some ideas for you today, ideas for encouraging creative unstructured play which is sure to tackle the age-old problem of boredom. We'll talk about tackling boredom in young children, those in elementary school and our tweens and teens.


We'll also consider very young children, what age can we expect them to play independently and for how long? And what about kids without siblings? How can we best nurture creative engagement when there are no brothers and sisters to play with?


Answers to these questions and more for you this week, as we tackle boredom and help us walk through the topic. We have a terrific guest joining us, Dr. Parker Houston. He is a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital.


Before we get to him, a few quick reminders. Don't forget, you can find PediaCast wherever podcasts are found. We are in the Apple and Google podcast apps, also iHeartRadio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Amazon Music and most other podcast apps for iOS and Android.




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So, let's take a quick break. We'll get Dr. Parker Houston connected to the studio and then we will be back to talk about boredom. It's coming up right after this.






Dr. Mike Patrick: Dr. Parker Houston is a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. He's visiting today to talk about boredom and best practices for tackling that feeling when it shows up in our kids and even in ourselves.


So, let's give a warm PediaCast welcome to Dr. Parker Houston. Thanks for being here today.


Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Really appreciate you stopping by. So, let's begin with just a definition. I think we all have an idea of what boredom is. Is there an official medical definition of boredom?




Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, perhaps not a medical diagnosis but there are certainly scientific definitions that people have come up with. And despite boredom and what boredom is, it's not really a boring topic. It's actually a really interesting topic.


And when we think about boredom as more of a scientific or psychological term, it's all about being a temporary state. Meaning, that it can come and go, which is really important because people aren't bored by nature. They're bored as part of a situational issue going on and it's related to cognitions or thoughts in the brain that trigger an emotional response.


So, boredom is a temporary state of being. Some people even call it an emotion, the emotion of boredom or feeling of boredom. But it can come and go and we can learn to manage it in different ways. And we can sort of train our brains to respond to boredom differently.




Dr. Mike Patrick: And it's sort of an eye of the beholder, too. So boredom is not necessarily the same for everyone. What may cause you to feel boredom may be completely different from what causes me to feel boredom. And then that makes it difficult as we deal with it in our kids because we may think, "Wow, I would have fun playing with those bricks." And my child's surrounded with the tunnel Legos may say, "I'm bored."


Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, as a parent, I think it's hard for us to understand sometimes how an hour of quiet time by ourselves would be such a bad thing, because we would absolutely love that and that's the idea of a vacation for us. So certainly, it's related to the way that you're thinking about your current situation and the way that your brain is responding to the environment. So absolutely, what one person thinks might be a boring situation is another person's relaxing space or mindfulness space or something like that.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. One of the reasons that we are talking about boredom is because and we're going to get more deep into this as we move along, but to some degree, boredom can be good for kids and we'll explain exactly why that is. But for parents, sometimes, it's tempting to intervene or to try to prevent from even happening.


And especially because we want the best for our kids. We don't want them hurting. Just like we don't want them in physical pain, we also don't want them to feel boredom. And so it's easy for parents to maybe overdo it a bit.


Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, I think the biggest misstep that we make after all the research that I've done, and by research, I mean reading all of the literature that I could find on boredom, but also, my kids, ages eight and five are my guinea pigs at home. And so I've tried out a lot of things with them.


And what I've realized is the biggest misstep we make is trying to intervene all the time and trying to prevent boredom from happening. Because as I was saying, it's sort of like trying to prevent sadness from happening. There's no way that you're going to accomplish that.




And so, when it does come about, all of a sudden, they find themselves unequipped to manage it. They find themselves relying on other people or reacting poorly to it or feeling really frustrated and upset by it. And so, instead of trying to prevent it all the time, it's good for them to learn how to manage it, how to be self-sufficient, how to think of boredom in a different way.


So that's one of the most important things to keep in mind as a parent or as a teacher is that a little bit of boredom is a good thing. If we teach them how to redirect it, teach them how to be constructive with it and how to respond differently.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Absolutely. Describe what is happening in the brain when we experience boredom. So kind of dig down a little deeper. What's happening there?




Dr. Parker Houston: Well, in short, something called cognitive dissonance. It's the idea that the expectations that your brain is creating and the environment are not matching up. Well, first of all, that causes frustration. Cognitive dissonance always causes frustration, whether it's our expectations of what a friend is going to do versus what they actually do, or what the relationship is going to be like versus what it's actually like.


We're constantly trying to resolve those things. But in the case of boredom, it's that my brain is wanting a lot of stimulation. It's wanting an activity to do. Or it's wanting something to engage in and the environment isn't providing that naturally right now.


So when we think about a solution to that problem, there's two, actually three ways to do it. One is for the environment to move closer to my expectation, which is that issue that you just mentioned. As parents, we try and modify the situation to meet their expectation or demand.




The other thing is to change our expectations to meet the environment. So. "Wow, I find myself with an hour of quiet time. Am I going to complain about the quiet time? Or am I going to find the quiet activity to do that is really positive for me?"


And I guess the third thing would be for us to meet in the middle, which also has to happen sometimes. And as parents, that's probably the most likely outcome is that instead of us going all the way to where they are and meeting their expectations, we just need to have sort of a middle ground.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that is maybe thought of as a quick fix is to turn a screen on. So for kids to say that they're bored, it's easy enough to find something on TV for them to watch or get them engaged in a tablet or iPad, in an activity. But that's not necessarily the kind of stimulation that the brain is craving when you feel bored, is it?




Dr. Parker Houston: No, that actually can create more of an issue because it's what we call shallow engagement. And shallow engagement is the idea that you're kind of being fed a stream of information that your brain doesn't really have to do much with. Watching TV is a very passive, or most screens, it's a very passive activity. Even social media is passive for most people.


And so, when we do those things, our brain gets satiated, it gets satisfied in the short term because ooh, there's some shiny things and there's some moving images and there's sound coming at us. So we don't have to experience the boredom. But as soon as that screen turns off, we're immediately back to that state of, "Well, what's the world going to do for me next? What's the environment going to provide for me next?"


Whereas, every parent knows that state that sometimes happen by accident where your kids get engaged in something. Or even as adults, I still do this with work some days where you look down at the clock in an hour and a half as past because you've been really deeply engaged in an activity or reading something and time just sort of flies by. 




And that's different than a couple of hours passing with TV and then all of a sudden, you realize it's dark out, and you should go to bed. Your brain isn't really satisfied with that kind of engagement.


Dr. Mike Patrick:  Absolutely. As you mentioned, you turned the TV off and then you're back to that boredom. And so you may be tempted just to turn the TV on. And once you've done that a few times, you just leave the TV on. And so, you quench your boredom through that mechanism. But as you say, it's not really satisfying in the end.


On the other hand, not all things on the screen are passive. If you're painting or creating something that is more complex and maybe is engaging your brain a little bit more. So we don't necessarily want to say all screen time is bad, correct?




Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, correct. There are great examples of apps, especially these days, that do get your brain engaged in certain activities. It's one of the reasons why there's that movement towards all kinds of apps that claim that they can improve your brain power and that they can exercise your brain. Because people are looking to screens and looking to devices to provide them entertainment and help pass the time.


Especially, I would say this past year, parents have really wanted to turn to something to occupy their kids at times, knowing that watching a TV show isn't the best for them, but sometimes, not having many other options when you have a meeting or other work to do. But for my kids, for instance, we've really tried to find ways to engage them even at young ages in different apps that require creative problem solving or to do puzzles or that help them learn reading. Some of which you have to pay a few bucks for, others are free.




But just sort of thinking about what's their brain actually doing while they're using the screen. And if it's something where it's difficult for them or it's a problem to solve, then that's certainly better than passively watching a cartoon or a TV show or scrolling social media.


Dr. Mike Patrick: What are some tips for both kids and adults on how we can start to really tackle boredom? We don't want to just flip the TV on. What are some other things that we can do to encourage kids to engage?


Dr. Parker Houston: I think I have a list of seven things that I'll go through really quickly. Because they all kind of go together. So the first one is to schedule unstructured time. Sometimes, it's hard to have that in your mind, that there's just going to be some time where we're not going to provide you a tailor-made activity.




The thing that I hear the most, especially from parents that I know personally is if I plan out an entire day of activities, by 9:30, somehow, they've worked their way through all of them. And then, there's this period of, "Oh no, what are we going to do the rest of the day?"


So just schedule, we're talk a little bit about later, I think, about different age groups because, of course, it's variable by age group. But just having some unstructured time in the way you're not going to plan something for them can be helpful.


When you're going into that, try and stir them in the right direction. Try and give them some ideas, not feed them the activity but maybe say, "Hey, I saw yesterday, you were doing this. And that looked really interesting. Maybe you could continue or maybe you could add on to that. Or maybe you could do it a different way today." So that you're kind of trying to re-engage them in some things that they find entertaining or stimulating.




Sometimes, we use a timer to say like, "We're not going to provide an activity for the next 20 minutes for a young kid or for the next hour," or something like that. It becomes subjective so that if they come back and start asking for things, "Oh, this is still time that you're entertaining yourself. Remember, I want you to go find an activity and the you can come back and tell me about it. Or when the timer's off, I'll come find you and you can tell me what you're up to."


And that's a really good limit to set that parents can feel good about the passage of time. It's not something they have to control or make a decision about. But then, going along with that, you're going to have to tolerate their frustration because this might be a new thing. In my house, it was definitely a new thing where all of a sudden, I was refusing to entertain my kids for periods of time and they were frustrated and angry about that and complaining and whining.




So that's another one of the things is, don't plan this when you have your annual review with your boss, or when you have to be out of the house at a precise moment. This is something to try and do when you have a little bit of time to tolerate that frustration and to ignore them and not be concerned about it.


And then, the last two things, one is to let them make a mess. I found myself, one of the things I really corrected about myself is I found myself hovering. And as soon as a mess started to happen, I would say, "Oh, no, no, no! Let's clean that up." Or, "Let's keep that over here," because I don't want to have to clean later.


And I realized that that was a point where they would disconnect. And they would clean and then they wouldn't want to go back to it. And so I was kind of ruining it for myself and for my kids. And so now, I try and set them up in a place where, "Go ahead and make a mess. We got to get the mop out later. No big deal. Here's one of my old t-shirts. You can get paint all over it. Just have a ball." And they're likely to stay more engaged.




And then, the final thing is just to praise them in a genuine way when they do something like this. Because it's easy to say, "Oh yeah, cool, that's great." But if you really genuinely praise them and say. "Tell me about that, I'm really proud of you for doing that all by yourself. Look at you," you'll see in their eyes that, "Okay, this was a good thing for me to have accomplished and I would like to accomplish more of these things." Those are some tips that I have that have worked well for me so far.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, I would suspect that with setting the timer, that that's something you could probably wean off of pretty quickly.


Dr. Parker Houston: Oh, yeah.


Dr. Mike Patrick: You have to do that in the beginning. But then, as it becomes more normalized for kids to participate in unstructured play and have to figure out what to do on their own, suddenly, the timer's going off and they want to keep doing what they're doing.




Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, that's the ideal situation, right? Is that the timer goes off and they're nowhere to be found. And so you go down and you say, "Hey, guys, what are you up to down here?" Or, "Tell me about what you're into." And it's just a way for them to stay engaged and then you could even give them advice.


I've tried to do this quite a few times and my wife does as well. They'll describe something and we'll say, "Oh, I wonder if you could do this next." And then they'll look at you and go, "Yeah, we could." And then, you disappear again. And they're left to continue the process that they're in.


And certainly, one of the impetus for doing this in my house was that I found myself working at home and needed time and space to do work. And so now, I can just say, "I have a meeting for an hour. I'll come find you when I'm done. I need you to find something to do in the meantime."


And they understand that. And with rare exceptions, they don't come and try and get me to feed them an activity anymore.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Definitely a good skill during a pandemic. And it's a great skill at any time, but when you're working from home and need your kids quite in another room, it definitely helps.


You mentioned unstructured play. So give us an idea again. What exactly is that? And then, we'll kind of break it down into various age groups and talk more about some ways that we can encourage unstructured play. What exactly do we mean by that term?


Dr. Parker Houston: Unstructured play does not necessarily mean putting them in an empty room and telling them to figure it out. Unstructured play really is more of you have these things around you, whether you live in a home where there's toys in every room or whether you live in a home where there's a few toys and a few specific places for your kids. It's more about the idea that they are creating the activities for themselves, that they are engaging in the activities in a way that is not being fed to them.




My favorite example is with Legos. Legos are awesome for lots of reasons. But there's a structured way and an unstructured way to play with Legos. The structured way is you get a new box. It comes with directions and instructions and the exact pieces you need.


That's a structured activity, right? You're following a list of instructions but for my kids, they'll build the thing and then they'll look at me, and go, "What do I do with this now?" It's cool and everything, but now what? Versus a big bin of Legos where you say, "Build stuff." That's where they have to use their… "Oh, where does this piece go to? What could this be? How could I make this thing that's interesting? How could I make a city?"


And so, that's the unstructured way to play with Legos. And both are good for different reasons, but the unstructured way is more likely to get them moving in a direction where they'll just get lost in the activity in a good way. And that their brain will be really engaged and they'll want to come back to it multiple times.




Dr. Mike Patrick: So if we're talking young kids and talking three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds, how can we best encourage them to play with something in an unstructured way?


Dr. Parker Houston: Well, I think the first idea and the first concept would be to start slow. If you haven't expected this before or if this doesn't come naturally to them, don't expect it to start off and trust them to be able to entertain themselves for an hour at a time. You might need to start off with, "Hey, I'm going to give you ten minutes. I want to see what you can do. I've got to do this other thing upstairs and then I'll come check on you."


And if you have to use a timer or you have to use something else structured, that works, too. But just giving them the expectation that all of a sudden, they're going to responsible for something for a short period of time is a shift for them in a lot of ways.




But you also typically have to create a space to them. So whether it's not necessarily a whole playroom or a whole floor of the house or something like that, but just, "Here's an area where you can do this activity. Here's a little corner of the room where we can set this up for you to do." Whether it's a little art area on the table where they can draw some pictures or whatever that might be.


And then, encourage them to find alternate uses for things. My favorite activity for this age group, this really young age group is like a boredom bin, where you put things in there that either they don't normally play with or that aren't necessarily toys at all. And when they talk about being bored, or when you need this to happen, have them pick a few things out of there and just say "What could you do this? How could you use this differently?"


And if they really struggle in the beginning, maybe give them some gentle guidance towards, "Ooh, you know what a toilet paper roll could be? That can be a tunnel for cars. Or that can be, if you get two of them and tape them together, they can be binoculars," or whatever it might be.




And all of a sudden, you opened those creative juices as they say to "Oh, this could be other things." And that's part of managing boredom a little bit better for the younger kids.


Dr. Mike Patrick: And rotating things in and out of that boredom bin. And that little nudge, just that little nudge of ideas and then who knows where that goes.


Dr. Parker Houston: Absolutely.


Dr. Mike Patrick: And then, as we move up and we get in to elementary-aged kids, the boredom bin will only go so far with it. How can we really encourage them to be creative and start to use things maybe in a different way?


Dr. Parker Houston: I think the two main things to keep in mind with this age group is that they're starting to develop their own interests. They're starting to sort out, "What am I good at. What do I like to do?" And it's more than just playing with the toys that are just in front of them. It's as they're entering that school age, they start to learn, "Oh, I actually really like doing art." Or, "I like music or I like sports," or something like that.




So capitalize on those interests and make sure there are opportunities for them to do things related to their interests. And then, instead of a boredom bin, a lot of times, I switch that to a boredom jar, which is little strips of paper. Write down an activity or a challenge or something to do on there.


And if they come to you complaining of you of boredom or that they need an activity to do, "Oh, let's pick something out of the boredom jar today." And it can be anything. It could be try creating art, using only supplies you can find in your bedroom, right? Or whatever you might think would work for your family. And it does take a little creativity on the parent's part.


And then, the last two things are just to make sure they have supplies. If there's an activity that they like to do, make sure they have the supplies and are allowed to use them. And that you're not overmanaging the use of papers or scissors or glue or something like that and then going along with that.




Really try not to get in the way of that creative process. It's going to be messy. They're going to get glue on something that they shouldn't. But as long as you give them washable kid-friendly things, the house will survive and you can always clean up later as a team.


Dr. Mike Patrick: You could make the boredom jar itself sort of an activity on a rainy day, spend an hour with some strips of paper and write down some things that you think would be fun to do. Maybe you come up with a couple first, like making a fort or having a tea party or building an obstacle course, or whatever it is. But then, have them write of them as well and stuff them in that jar for another day.


Dr. Parker Houston: I love that idea. That's absolutely fantastic. I'm going to use that at my house.






Dr. Mike Patrick: And then what about our tweens and teens? How can we encourage them to do unstructured activities?


Dr. Parker Houston: Well, the bigger challenge I think at that age is the activities that they want to gravitate towards. And as anyone who has parented or is parenting a kid that age or works with kids that age knows what I'm talking about. When they get down time, it's almost always going to be geared towards screens, media, watching something, things like that.


Now, certainly, there are kids out there who aren't gravitating towards those. But that's the kids who parents are worried about, that's what they're gravitating towards much of the time. So I would say the first thing to do is just to set good limits for how they're spending that free time. Because the first thing that they'll want to do is say, "Oh no, I'm good. I can entertain myself." And they'll disappear into their room with any number of screens and it's more about getting them off the screens and doing something that engages their brain a little bit more.




So, first of all, setting those limits, how much screen time do we get during the day? How much time do we get to play our games? Or things like that. But then, following up with that, trying to make it a pattern where they're doing something that's productive as a routine.


So whether it's we're going to read a book for an hour every day after school or over the summer, we're going to read for a couple hours every day. At my house, we do like crafty Sundays or something like that where every Sunday, we're going to try and set up to do something artistic whether it's inside or outside.


But then, you can also help them create a list of things that they want to accomplish because kids in this age start being able to form long-term goals. The older they get, the more they're thinking about the future and thinking about their life and their identity. And so, you could think what's something big that you want to accomplish?




How can you break it down into some small pieces that you could do in your free time? Like you want to learn a language, how can we help you learn a language that you're not taking in school? Or a skill for sports, like I want to learn to dribble left-handed or I want to figure how to kick a soccer ball left-footed and I'm right-footed.


I want to create a new dance routine that my friends and I could do as part of our dance troupe when we're able to get back together and do those performances. Or I want to write a piece of music and learn how to write music. So how do I get started learning about writing music?


Some of them can even include technology. So we mentioned that before. I knew one kid who decided during the pandemic. He wanted to learn how to do computer coding. So he actually spent more time on the computer but he also was reading books and articles about different coding languages and how to create an app and all of that stuff. And so it was very engaging for him intellectually and much different than video gaming and watching TV and things.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Scripting out a scene, a play, and then filming it, then you can combine the creativity and the technology and have a finished product.


Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, that's great. And I've heard great stories about parents helping their kids get involved in ways of being socially creative even when they weren't together.


Technology has really allowed for you record the flute part of the song, I'll record the violin part, and our friends are going to record the cello part. And then we'll splice them all together. And all of a sudden, we've recorded the song together from our iPads and  cheap microphones that we have in our house. And so there are ways of helping them capitalize on those interests to be creative.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Let's keep going with some examples. Because in the summer time, when kids are outside and playing and maybe seeing friends that they haven't seen in a while, it's a little easier I think to be active and maybe not become bored.




But when you're stuck in the same house with the same people which we've all been dealing with for the last year now, how can we tackle boredom when we're stuck inside? What are some specific examples that maybe you thought of, but maybe they haven't, and can breathe new life into their solving boredom problem?


Dr. Parker Houston: When it comes to those times of year, I think it's easy to gravitate towards, "Well, it's just a rainy day so we're going to throw the TV on and watch movies today."


And that is great every once in a while. I will certainly prescribe to that. Our family does that and we love those days. But when it becomes a pattern or a habit of every time we're not outside or every time we're not otherwise engaged, that's our go-to move, it's easy to get into a rut.


So the best way to keep from doing that or to try and get yourself out of that is to have some ready-made things that you can do, that you can enact. Because when it's too difficult to do, you'll fall back on to an existing habit.




And that's sort of the power of habits which I think you and I have even talked about before, Mike, is the idea that our habits govern what we do when go to our default.


And so, my suggestion would be keep things around if you're a family that likes cooking or baking for instance. Keep things in the pantry that are non-perishable but that you could cook or bake with or keep a recipe on Pinterest. Or print them out and keep them in a safe place, where on a rainy day, we can cook something new as a family and learn how to do that.


Or same thing with different types of art projects or team family challenges, if there's more than one kid, you can get them both involved. But even if you have a singleton or an only child at home, it's about as a family, we're going to see if we can build something together or we're going to create something together.




It's about having those activities ready to go so that when those days come up, you don't have to think of it from the start, go shopping, create a list. It's just already existing there.


And then, also, when it comes to more prolonged throughout the whole winter, I've started learning how to adapt to being outside in the cold. What can we do on a cold day when we don't want to go outside? What could we do?


And for some people, they like being out in the cold more than others. But living here in Ohio, at least, it would be hard to stay inside every time it's rainy or cold, because that's a good portion of the year.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. We are going to provide resources in the show notes. And I know the On Our Sleeve site, we'll talk more about what that is in a couple of minutes. But we do have a list of ideas in case maybe you're having trouble coming up with some things on your own. Or you get bored because you have the same five things.






Dr. Parker Houston: Right.


Dr. Mike Patrick: So you want to put something new in there. And just some examples, if you're thinking about physical activity, inside, designing obstacle courses or doing treasure hunt or scavenger hunt, playing hide and seek. And even if you do have the TV on, you can use commercials as an opportunity to get some exercise in. Tell us about that.


Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, this is one thing that I like doing at my house, that commercials are not always on every channel anymore. You have to think about that. Maybe if it's if you're kids are watching episodes that are 15 minutes long or 12 minutes long, it's in between episodes.


But have them get up and do some jumping jacks or have them run in place. Or have them run through the house if you're allowed and able to do that. But it's more just to keep the blood flowing, keep the blood  pumping a little bit when they're a little bit more sedentary for a day.




And the obstacle course is a great thing because it's also a challenge for them. Use a timer if they're old enough and say, "How quickly can you get through this?" and make it a challenge.


And we've also done family exercise routines where we find a kid's yoga video on YouTube. Or we find a kid's high intensity interval training video. And we'll all put on our workout stuff and do it together.


And the kids think that's a blast. And it's something that we don't have to create, someone else has created it. But we're just participating and making it fun and exciting. And it's also a way of giving exercise.


Dr. Mike Patrick: And dance parties, kids love to dance. And we have a Spotify playlist, that the Kids' Dance Party Playlist. And we’ll put that in the show notes too, so folks can find it. And don't forget about animal races.




Dr. Parker Houston: Yes, absolutely. This is a great one for young kids, if you have a hallway or even a garage that you can clear the car out of or something like that. We're going to race, "Here's a bear walk is. Here's a what crab walk is. Here's…"


Think back to our own childhood as parents and what we used to do for entertainment before there was Nintendo Switch and PS 5 and all the channels that we could ever have on one device on our hand. So harkening back to those things that keeps us entertained when we were children is a lot of fun, too.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, one of the go-tos in our house is board games. And there's so many different ones out there now. It used to be, when I was a kid, there was just a handful of boardgames. But now, there's just so many. And that's been kind of a recurring sort of family gift around the holidays, like what new game can we get and now play together? So that's another option.




Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, I love that idea, too.


Dr. Mike Patrick: What about really young kids? So we talked when we were discussing unstructured play, we sort of started with the three-year, three to four, five-year-old group. What about really young kids? When can you start expecting them to be able to developmentally able to play independently?


Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, that's a tough one because kids in the zero to two age range are often pretty highly dependent on others. And so, as parents, if they are your first child or your only child, it's often going to fall back on to you to at least stay, passively engaged with them. Their attention span is going to be quite short in the seconds to minutes range, rather than minutes to hours range for some of the older kids.




And their engagement is usually going to be a little bit more shallow. They don't really plan ahead for much. They don't think of a project and step one, step two, step three. It's kind of this rattle makes noise, so I'm going to shake it until that's boring and then I got to find the next thing.


Now, one thing you can capitalize on would be if there are older siblings in the house. That can be a great resource of "Hey, could you read this book to your little sister for the next ten minutes and I'm going to come back and check on you guys."


If they're of that age, then that can work out. But that is a tough age to try and expect. So usually, around three or four is when they start to be able to do some planned activities, which not coincidentally is when they start in preschool and start being able to do some of those more structured activities like that.




Dr. Mike Patrick: You mentioned siblings and earlier, you said if you have a singleton, you only have one child in the house, it is a little bit more difficult when you're an only child.


Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, the old adage, the old research was that single children were spoiled and lacks social skills and lack frustration tolerance and didn't know how to share. We've learned way more about the fact that single children benefit in a lot of ways from the child-rearing environment that they find themselves in.


But just like we have to teach kids who have multiple siblings certain skills related to independence and privacy and things like that, we have to teach single children some skills too. And one of them is their independence and being able to entertain themselves when there aren't people around. So it's important that they don't rely too heavily on other people for engagement all the time.




And so, if you have a kid who enjoys solo activities. If they're a reader, if they're an artist, if they're into those kinds of things, you're probably not going to be as concerned. It's the kids who really crave that social engagement constantly who as a single child might present an issue for parents.


And then, you have to really think about, number one, do I want to foster that independence where they can be by themselves and learn to tolerate being by themselves? Or do I want to figure out ways that I can have them be social, more of the time than they are right now? Whether it's through virtual means or involvement in clubs and other activities in the neighborhood.


But I would argue for teaching them how to tolerate some of that frustration and just say, "I understand this is frustrating and uncomfortable for you. That's something that we have to learn how to manage. We can't always have people around us. We can't always have socialization to do."




"So I know being by yourself isn't your favorite, but let's think of some things you do like about being by yourself and what we could have you do around the house here until it's the time to play with your friends next."


Even though I have two kids, one of my kids is in school and the other is not, and the minute that my older daughter leaves the house, my son is bored because they play together constantly. And if there isn't a friend to be with, he's really upset about it. He does not like playing by himself.


So we are really having to work with him on, yeah, your friends aren't available right now and your sister's at school. So what can you do yourself? How can we get you engaged through some activities?


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, he's lucky enough to have a pediatric psychologist actually living in the house. But that's not the experience of most families. When does boredom issue get to the point where maybe a family would need to seek some outside help for this?




Dr. Parker Houston: Well, a lot of times when I hear about it being a clinical issue, it's more related to perhaps the attention and concentration system. Because for kids who are really not very well able to engage in this persistent attention activities, we start thinking about that system, which is people might automatically go to attention-deficit disorder or some of those related conditions. But there are other reasons why some executive functioning deficits and things like that.


And so for some kids, it really is more of an exercise of a clinical practice that they need to do. And so, if you find that your child just really is unable to occupy themselves and it's been going and you've tried the strategies that you can find and you've tried some of the strategies we've talked about today, it might be time to talk. And I would start first with a school or a primary care provider before you jump straight to a mental health provider.




Sometimes, we'll hear teachers report back and say, "Well, that's strange because at school, they sit at their desk by themselves., And they do their work when everyone else is quite and they don't seem to have a problem persisting." And then we just think about, okay, what kind of environmental manipulations do we need to do at home?


Same thing with the primary care physician who they take into context all the kids that they might work with and they could ask you some pointed questions about it to see is this a concern that rises to a clinical level? But there are definitely cases where that system just isn't fully functioning and we need to do some more specific interventions.


Dr. Mike Patrick: One of the things I had mentioned earlier was On Our Sleeves. We have a terrific movement here at Nationwide Children's Hospital, the On Our Sleeves movement. Tell us about that.




Dr. Parker Houston: The On Our Sleeves movement is really great. I'm the clinical director so I'm biased. But what we're really working towards is providing people across the country with education and resources and activities for parents, teachers, anybody who works with kids to be able to be, number one, more informed about children's mental health and mental wellness. But also, we love to give action steps.


And hopefully, that's come through today in talking about boredom, that it's not enough to just know that something could be a problem. We want to provide some basic solutions for people, some things to practice and things to help kids out.


So you can go to onoursleeves.org and you can sign up. We send out an email about every week or every two weeks, but there's also tons of activities. You can download everything for free on there. It's all openly accessible. You can share it with friends, schools, teachers. Teachers use it in classrooms all the time.




And we're partnering with a lot of organizations around the country too, like boys and girls clubs and GoNoodle to create really easily accessible and down-to-earth mental health stuff for kids.


Dr. Mike Patrick: And we have Your Guide to Boredom and it goes through a lot of the things that we've talked about today in some more detail. And we'll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode over at pediacast.org.


And then, remind our listeners about the Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children's Hospital. You guys are a very large division.


Dr. Parker Houston: Yeah, last I heard, we're the largest pediatric behavioral health provider in the country. We have about 1,500 employees in the Behavioral Service line here at Nationwide Children's Hospital. And our mission is not necessarily to drive more traffic to our services. We're trying to meet the needs in the community. We have the Pavilion which opened this past year which is an incredible resource that is the first of its kind in the country, and we're hoping that other people replicate it.




But really, our mission is to share the knowledge that we are gaining and have gained, to share the expertise here at Nationwide Children's Hospital with as many people as possible.


And so, this research and knowledge should be free. It should be something that everybody can access. And so we're engaged in research findings, but also training the next generation of mental health providers and training people in the community, to better respond to mental health concerns for children, both here locally and Columbus but Nationwide as well. And that's really our passion and something that we feel like is necessary for us to do.


Dr. Mike Patrick: We'll have a link in the show notes to the Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children's for folks who would like to learn more about that and see all the different things that you folks do. Also, again, a link to On Our Sleeves, Your Guide to Boredom, the Kids Dance Party playlist on Spotify.




And there's even a TV commercial's exercise game that you can play with your kids if you are watching something with commercials, where each child takes turns picking what the whole family's going to do during the commercial. So that can be sort of engaging and interactive during passive screen time. So lots of resources there in the show notes over at pediacast.org.


All right, once again, we just love it when you stop by. And I'm sure you will be back again soon to talk more about pediatric mental health topics. So Dr. Parker Houston, pediatric psychologist here at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Thanks so much for taking time to visit us.


Dr. Parker Houston: Always a pleasure, Mike. Thanks for what you do. This is a great podcast.






Dr. Mike Patrick: We are back with just enough time to say thanks once again to all of you for taking time out of your day and making PediaCast a part of it. I really do appreciate that.


Also, thanks to our guest this week, Dr. Parker Huston, pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital.


Don't forget, you can find us wherever podcasts are found. We are in the Apple and Google podcast apps, iHeartRadio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Amazon Music and most other podcast apps for iOS and Android.


We also have that landing site over at pediacast.org. You'll find our entire archive of past programs there, along with show notes, our Terms of Use Agreement and that handy Contact page if you would like to suggest a topic for a future episode of the program.


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Also, don't forget about our sibling podcast, PediaCast CME. It is similar to this program. We turned the science up a couple of notches and offer free Continuing Medical Education Credit for those who listen, including not only doctors but also nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers, even dentists.


And since Nationwide Children's is jointly accredited by many professional organizations, it's likely we offer the exact credits you need to fulfill your state's Continuing Medical Education requirements. Shows and details are available at the landing site for that program, pediacastcme.org. You can also listen wherever podcasts are found, simply search for PediaCast CME.


Thanks again for stopping by. And until next time, this is Dr. Mike saying stay safe, stay healthy and stay involved with your kids. So, long, everybody.






Announcer 2: This program is a production of Nationwide Children's. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time on PediaCast.

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