Children complain about being bored a lot: after school, on weekends, and on those long days of summer vacation. Having downtime can mean your children come pestering you for things to do. Sometimes as a parent, you might feel obligated to help your child stay entertained. But before you break out the Pinterest board of activities, remember that boredom can be good for your children. Lean into it; don’t fight it!
Boredom is…boring. Boredom makes us feel restless and dissatisfied with whatever we’re doing in the moment. People are motivated to find something else to do rather than let feelings of boredom stick around. When a solution for something new to do isn’t obvious, it can force us to think harder, more creatively, and to learn to sit with feelings of frustration and irritation. For kids, that can translate to building some great life skills. Research suggests bored kids tend to engage in more creative play, learn how to regulate their emotions better, have better long-term concentration, and think more flexibly.
Some ways to make the most of boredom:
- Limit screen time. Screen time is okay, even when we’re bored. But having “bored time” without a screen can help foster more creative play.
- Come up with a grab bag of activities before boredom hits. Help your children write a list (or draw pictures if your little ones aren’t reading yet) of activities they can do on their own, things they can do with friends/siblings, and things you can do as a family. This helps kids learn how to problem-solve themselves and saves you from having to constantly give them options.
- Take yourself away as a solution. Help facilitate your child’s problem-solving skills by having them figure out what to do.
- For younger children, offer them two choices (or help them pick two activities from their grab bag list!) and have them choose. If they don’t like either of those choices, then you can leave it up to them to come up with another idea. For example, try saying: “That’s fine! But I need to do [activity] for 10 minutes, so I am not going to be able to help. I bet you can find something you like on the list!”
- For older children, it is even simpler. When they tell you they are bored, try to resist offering a solution. Instead, you can say something like, “I wonder what you’ll find to do next!”
- Or, do what my mom did: Offer a boring task. Some of my strongest memories from childhood are telling my mother I was bored only to have her say, “Great! The bathroom needs to be cleaned.” I stopped pestering her about boredom quickly and found some great, creative ways to keep myself entertained. Worst case scenario, as she would say, you get a kid who actually helps clean up!