Complaining about being bored from time to time is just part of being a kid. But for kids with ADHD (also known as ADD), boredom can be an ongoing challenge.
Here’s what you need to know about why kids with ADHD often feel bored, and how you can help your child.
What boredom can look like in kids with ADHD
Boredom isn’t a symptom of ADHD. It’s a common result of having ADHD, though. And it often leads to behavior that can be confusing.
Here’s an example. Joseph, a grade-schooler with ADHD, keeps disrupting the class. The teacher thinks Joseph is intentionally acting up and sends him to the principal’s office. Joseph tells the principal that it’s boring or even stupid to “just sit there” in class.
What that really means: “I can’t just sit there. I need to find something that really interests me in order to sit still and stay focused.”
Most kids can stick it out until class ends or the teacher moves to a new subject. But kids with ADHD often can’t. When boredom sinks in, they might have trouble with self-control. Or they might seek out attention in inappropriate ways.
Keep in mind, too, that kids with ADHD often complain about being bored even when they’re free to do what they want. You might hear your child say “I’m bored!” all the time on weekends and school breaks.
That doesn’t mean your child is lazy or is trying to be a pain. Kids with ADHD often just don’t know how to keep themselves from being bored.
Boredom and the ADHD brain
Kids with ADHD are primed for excitement and newness. They may constantly seek stimulation. This isn’t just a personality trait. Research suggests this happens because of the structure and chemical makeup of the ADHD brain.
Consider a typical middle school English class that’s learning about Shakespeare. A lot of kids may find the lesson a bit dull, but they know they need to learn the material and can make the conscious decision to sit tight and listen.
Many kids with ADHD don’t have that kind of control. This may be because the parts of their brain that help them stay focused and not get bored are “under-aroused.” They don’t fire as efficiently as those of their peers.
The brain may also not properly activate certain chemicals that make activities satisfying, so they feel less encouraged to stay focused on them. This, too, can be read as “boredom” for kids with ADHD.
There’s another important factor at play when it comes to boredom and the ADHD brain. Kids with ADHD
have trouble with executive functioning skills, or the brain’s management system.
Kids with ADHD often brim with big ideas about all kinds of exciting things they want to do. But they struggle with the planning, organization, and problem-solving skills to carry them out.
Let’s say Leah, a 12-year-old, is fired up about building a go-cart this weekend. All week, Leah goes on about the color she’ll paint it, what the frame will be made of, and who’s going to help her.
Come Saturday, she finally gets out of bed at 11:00. She hasn’t called any friends in advance, and everyone is busy. She also realizes she doesn’t have any materials to build it.
Unable to figure out a new strategy or activity, Leah slumps down on the couch and spends the day “bored” and bummed out.
What to do when your child complains of boredom
Boredom isn’t always a bad thing. It’s actually important for kids — including kids with ADHD — to learn to deal with it to some extent.
It may take kids with ADHD a little longer, though, to figure out something to do. So give your child time before jumping in with ideas. Your child may come up with a fun way to spend time without your input.
At the same time, there are things you can do to minimize boredom and help your child manage it:
Provide structure by scheduling afterschool and weekend activities.
Encourage your child to plan in advance. Help your child map out plans, make to-do lists, and use a calendar as a visual prompt for structuring time.
Don’t drop everything to rescue your child from boredom. Try inviting your child to join in on what you’re doing — like weeding the garden or getting dinner ready.
Set strict guidelines for screen time, and try not to use it as a refuge when your child says “I’m bored.”
Tackling boredom at school and with schoolwork
It’s unlikely that teachers will change what they’re doing mid-lesson to recapture the attention of a student with ADHD. So that child may very likely seek out new stimulation — with typical ADHD behaviors. That child might:
Get distracted by something in the hall, outside the window, or elsewhere
Horse around or interrupt
Squirm in the chair or ask to go to the bathroom
Ask the teacher about possible classroom supports. Your child could try using a resistance band on his chair, or sitting near the teacher, for instance. This can help keep your child stimulated and engaged.