Why Kids Get Bored at School—and How to Help

Student looking bored at school

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Many children struggle with being bored at school. The reasons for this vary: they are not being sufficiently challenged, they have a learning difference or mental health condition, or they are simply not motivated by the subject matter. Alternatively, it could just be that it's hard for them to sit through so much desk time.

For some children, being bored at school is an occasional occurrence, but for others, it's an ongoing complaint, one that causes real distress, apathy, or frustration, and can even lead to school avoidance or school refusal behaviors.

"This is a very common problem," says Natalie Gwyn, PhD, LCMHC, NCC, MEd, a school counselor, professor of school counseling at Walden University, and therapist in Greensboro, North Carolina. "I encourage parents and teachers to think about what can be done to help foster their engagement and learning."

In order to find effective solutions, it's key to uncover the reasons why a student is disinterested, says Dr. Gwyn. Many parents wonder whether their child is gifted and if the work is too easy for them, or the reverse—the material is too challenging. Other parents may question if the teacher is doing enough to present the material in a way that engages the students. While these are possible explanations, they are not the only ones.

It's important to consider an array of reasons for school boredom to get at the root of your child's lack of enthusiasm. Learn more about why kids get bored at school and how to help.

They're Not Sufficiently Challenged

Sometimes, gifted students are bored at school when the material can't keep up with their interests and ability, explains Dr. Gwyn. Students who don’t need a lot of instruction to master a skill, or who start out ahead of the class, often complain of being bored.

Students who are under-challenged aren’t always gifted (there are specific qualifications for giftedness), but they are typically very capable and very smart. When the material is too easy for them, they may end up bored in class and seem unmotivated, says Tameko Hairston-Piggee, LCSWA, MSW, MA, a licensed clinical social worker practicing in North Carolina and the Durham Public Schools Social Worker of the Year 2021-2022.

Many under-challenged students are sloppy in their work and don’t study much (though they still tend to get good grades). They tend to zoom through their work without editing or rechecking because they just want to get it done. They need help getting motivated and interested in the work in order to thrive, says Hairston-Piggee.

They Don't See Many Incentives

Under-motivated students also complain of boredom in class because they feel they already know what’s being taught or that it's not important. So, they don't feel any incentive to do the work to learn something new.

Often, “school is boring” is paired with “that’s why I don’t do the work” or “that’s why I don’t pay attention.” What this type of student might actually mean is that the work doesn’t engage them. They may not feel a positive connection to their school, their teacher, their peers, or the subjects they are learning about.

An under-motivated child is not the same as a lazy child. In some cases, the lack of motivation is tied to a feeling that what they're learning isn’t personally important—that the learning process has no meaning or relevance for them and their life. They may not understand why they need to learn this information—and the material isn't being presented in a way that resonates with them.

"The good news is that school boredom is something that can be resolved. There is not one approach to resolving the issue, but it takes creativity, patience, empathy, and flexibility," says Hairston-Piggee.

They Have Mental Health Concerns

When kids struggle at school, sometimes it's a sign that they are experiencing difficulties at home, such as divorce, moving, financial strain, or a death in the family. Additionally, they may have mental health concerns, says Dr. Gywn, such as childhood depression, anxiety, insomnia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are contributing to a lack of interest in school.

"My first step was to rule out if the student had any medical concerns that were causing them to fall asleep in the classroom, and to assess any changes in the home environment," says Hairston-Piggee. "Also, students could have unmet social-emotional needs such as trauma, self-esteem/confidence issues, or attention/focusing problems which could be perceived as not paying attention."

In some situations, a lack of motivation can be a sign of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Typically ADHD, which can present in a variety of ways, is diagnosed early on in elementary school, but sometimes it isn't diagnosed until later. The disorder is characterized by difficulty focusing, staying on task, and keeping organized, as well as impulsivity and needing a lot of physical movement,

They Haven't Connected With Peers or Their Teacher

Children who have trouble forging a connection with their peers, teacher, or larger school community may be bored in school because they feel isolated, or like they don't belong, or that they aren't accepted. If your child hasn’t built a comfortable relationship with anyone in their classroom, they may feel as though they have nowhere to turn when they need help with their work.

"With all students, the goal is to build positive relationships in and out of the classroom, create a supportive environment, and to operate from a strength-based perspective," says Hairston-Piggee. When that doesn't happen, kids can sink into feeling apathetic about school.

"A student may think a teacher doesn’t like them and have decided not to try," says Dr. Gwyn. "When that happens, we want to encourage the student and figure out how can we bring this child back into the fold, even if it's initially just getting them through the day."

That, in turn, can cause them to tune out or act out, making them feel as though they are “bored.” What they're really experiencing is the need for some encouragement to become a part of the classroom community. If they have poor social skills they may have trouble making friends, which can make them less inclined to follow along when all the other kids are doing their schoolwork.

Their Skills Need Bolstering

Not all students are comfortably at grade level or have the skills (academic, socio-emotional, physical, or practical) they need to be successful in the classroom. Some have learning deficits caused by a disability or lack the skills to properly study for a test. These kids may need more guidance and/or accommodations in order to succeed.

For example, it's possible that a child who could benefit from learning how to manage their time or create a plan for a long-term project might say "I'm bored" when they really mean “I don’t know how to do this, so I don’t even want to try.” Alternatively, a child who struggles with organization, following directions, or self-advocacy may also feel lost in class. Kids with vision, hearing, mobility, or memory issues may also end up feeling bored.

"Sometimes, the coursework is just really challenging and they are giving up. If that's the case, I encourage tutoring, extra support, or changing up their course schedule," recommends Dr. Gywn.

If your child has certain physical, mental health, socio-emotional, or learning differences, they may qualify for various programs and interventions that can help. This might mean going to the learning center, being a part of various pull-out groups, or qualifying for a 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Students with 504s and IEPs are entitled to certain accommodations, support, and/or adaptations to programming that can help make learning more accessible and equitable. If your child has a condition that qualifies them for either plan, talk to their teacher, school staff, and/or the special education department about adding services and/or goals that are intended to address boredom in class.

How Parents Can Help

There are many ways that parents and teachers can help kids who feel bored at school. First and foremost, it's important to unearth the underlying causes of your child's apathy. That way you can come up with solutions that truly address the problem. And you'll be better able to talk to your student and empathize with their situation if you really understand—and take seriously—what's going on and how they feel about school.

Additionally, note that the reasons children get bored at school aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have an under-challenged, unconnected child with poor test-taking skills just as easily as a child who is simply unmotivated.

The trick is to discover what your child is really telling you when they say “I’m bored at school” before jumping to conclusions. Also, resist discounting their concerns or telling them to just stop being bored. Whatever the underlying causes are, they need help to become interested in their schoolwork, not judgment for not finding it interesting.

Questions to Ask

Encourage your child to break down what they learned in class. Ask for the particulars of what they did for the lesson, and what exactly they found boring, interesting, challenging, and so on. Try to get them to answer questions, such as: Do you enjoy the topic in general? Did you follow the instructions? What did you find confusing? Was there anything you liked about the task?

Also, investigate whether they were done before the other kids, around the same time, or if they didn't finish. Find out how much (if any) extra help they got. Did they ask the teacher for any guidance? Did they want to ask for help but didn't either because they were embarrassed or didn't know how?

Additionally, ask what they liked or didn't like about the way the information was presented. What would they do differently if they were to teach that lesson or present that topic? Then, ask them follow-up questions about anything else that pertains to their specific situation.

Having these conversations can help you start to zero in on what about the class may be contributing to these feelings of apathy. You'll be able to see if any patterns emerge—and discover what kinds of lagging skills, emotional concerns, or other issues may be at the heart of their boredom.

"Students like to be heard and seen, and often when you have students with needs that are unmet, the result will be disengaged students," says Hairston-Piggee. Once you tease out what the unmet needs are—and begin addressing them—the student will often begin to feel more engaged and less bored at school.

Involve Both the Teacher and Child

Speak to your child's teachers and let them know what seems to engage your child and what doesn't. Talk to them about what your child is conveying to you without laying blame on the teacher. Try to curb any negativity and offer constructive feedback about what your child needs.

Consider involving your child in the process. "It's vital to not dismiss the child's concerns. Believe them when they say they're bored and work together to solve the problem," says Dr. Gywn.

Sit down together with the teacher to brainstorm and come up with solutions to keep your child engaged and excited about their daily school life. "The student is your best source to make a good assessment of the reason for disengagement," says Hairston-Piggee.

Sometimes, when the child is included in finding solutions, they become more engaged just because they are given more agency and have had their concerns respected and considered, says Dr. Gywn.

"It’s really about being creative, giving them a fresh start, and identifying those school adults who can be encouraging and make that connection with that student to build engagement," says Dr. Gywn.

Think Creatively

When you brainstorm solutions, don't be afraid to think outside the box, says Hairston-Piggee. Maybe your child needs to take exercise breaks to run off some steam. If a child is gifted in math, it may help for them to do math at a different grade level. Maybe it would help for them to have a fidget, do their quiet work in the learning center, watch movies about a subject rather than read the material, or act as a mentor to younger students.

There are many different learning styles. Maybe your child struggles with boredom because the material is presented in a way that doesn't mesh well with how they learn best. Discuss this possibility with your child's teacher and/or school administration to find possible solutions. For instance, they may need visual aids, tactile stimulation, or hands-on experience to feel engaged rather than just hearing the information via a lecture.

Maybe online school is a better match for them. Maybe they need to take more frequent breaks to calm their mind. Maybe they need to have less homework (or more). The point is that each child may benefit from different interventions, so think creatively and with curiosity about what might help your child become more engaged. Then, advocate for those solutions to be put in place.

A Word From Verywell

It can be worrisome, frustrating, confusing, or upsetting if your child complains about being bored at school. Not everyone loves school—or responds well to traditional teaching methods. Listening to your child with a compassionate ear and honoring their feelings will go a long way toward finding solutions that can help them become more interested and motivated in class.

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