Don’t feel the need to entertain your kids when they’re bored. See why boredom is good for your child and why it’s actually essential.
We hear it a million times: “I’m bored.” And when we do, we’re compelled to engage with our kids. It doesn’t matter whether we work outside the home (I hardly see them enough!), or stay at home (Isn’t this why I left work to begin with?). Somehow, your child will make it known that she has nothing to do.
The worst part? She expects you to fix her dilemma. Despite her many toys and options, she’ll continue to whine until you offer a solution to her boredom.
No wonder “I’m bored!” can trigger an emotional response.
But here’s what I learned: Boredom is actually good for your child.
Or rather, the opportunity to overcome boredom will offer your child so many benefits than if you simply entertained her all the time.
Because while boredom itself is a challenging circumstance, it can be one of the greatest gifts you can give her.
Why kids get bored
But first, let’s talk about why some kids tend to feel bored quicker than others. You might have one child who can occupy himself all day without your help, while another seems to need you every minute of the day.
And it’s hard to resist that obligation to entertain and save her from her boredom. Never mind the many toys, books, and opportunities she has—she can’t seem to figure it out without your help.
Why is that? What are the most common reasons kids get bored easily?
1. Too much structured time
Does your child participate in many sports, classes, and activities? Despite their many benefits, these activities can easily eat up the little free time your child has to herself. So much so that too many things to do can lead to boredom.
You see, with a packed schedule, she has grown to rely on the events that fill her day for entertainment. When she finds herself with a free block of time, she hasn’t had plenty of practice to figure out how to entertain herself. Boredom can creep up, especially compared to the usual hustle and bustle of her days.
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2. Too many toys, books, and gadgets
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Have you ever wondered how your child can feel bored with so many items to entertain her at home? It turns out that having too many things can lead her not to have fun, but to feel bored.
Having too many choices doesn’t make it easier on her—or on anyone—to make decisions.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz says in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, that this can paralyze us into inaction. We mull over what we passed up, analyze our decisions, and feel dissatisfied with what we eventually chose. The over-stimulation can drive us to feel distanced and unfocused.
The same is true with your child. By displaying so many options for her to choose from, she’s weighed down from having to make one decision after another.
3. Too much screen time
There’s a reason experts recommend capping screen time—a habit in front of these gadgets make your child rely on them for entertainment.
Screen time becomes an even bigger reason he can’t entertain himself without a gadget. Whether handing him your phone at a restaurant or watching television in the van, the message is clear: screen time alleviates boredom.
4. Not enough attention
When your child says she’s bored, sometimes it’s not because she’s out of ideas or she needs something to do. Instead, she could be craving your company and wants to spend time with you.
She could be using the word “bored” because she’s not sure how to best label the feeling of wanting your attention. This is especially true when she seems to follow you around the house—she could simply be hoping that you’d hang out together.
Why boredom is good for your child
It’s normal for anyone to feel bored, and even more so to feel uncomfortable with boredom. No one likes twiddling their thumbs, waiting instead of doing, or feeling like time is one big void. Boredom itself isn’t what’s beneficial for your child—it’s what she does to manage it that helps.
With the opportunities to get bored, she’ll develop critical skills that will serve her well down the line. Take a look at these important benefits of being bored:
I read on many occasions that the youngest child in the family is the most creative. Why? While her parents may have fawned over her older siblings, she instead was left alone.
There’s not enough attention to go around when you have five kids instead of one. And when you’re the youngest, your parents are done hovering over your every move. They assume you’ll figure things out on your own, and realize that it’s okay for you to play independently.
In short, you had to deal with your boredom. And that’s fantastic news for you and your creativity.
As the youngest in my family, I can remember the many times I played by myself. I still sought other people’s company, but I also entertained myself, playing with open-ended toys and art supplies.
Creativity isn’t only defined by the arts, either. A bored child learns problem solving as well as how to find joy and entertainment from within (instead of searching for external sources). She’ll tinker with the toys she has, find a new game to play, or immerse herself in a project she otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to.
One of the biggest reasons kids need to feel bored is they develop the ability to manage boredom.
You see, we have to wait—none of us can avoid this in life. But kids who can wait reap the benefits of delayed gratification, which researchers have linked to success in later life.
When bored, kids learn to distract themselves. They play games, twiddle with their shirt or hands, or hum a tune—activities that make the waiting game less awkward. They’re also less likely to whine and complain when they can entertain themselves. They don’t look to external sources to fill their void.
But of course, they’ll only learn these skills if they’re given the chance to be bored and tolerate boredom in the first place.
3. Internal sources of joy
A friend of mine had to care for two kids separately. One child could entertain himself with a handful of toy soldiers and a box of crayons and paper. The other child—given the same items—scoffed and laughed. He defined entertainment as amusement parks, movies, or outings—not a box of crayons.
The more jam-packed their entertainment, the more kids will rely on grand things to meet their needs.
Boredom forces your kids to enjoy simple pleasures and requires them to turn inward to find joy. Over-the-top entertainment turn them into passive recipients instead of creators or givers.
Given the opportunity to feel bored, they’ll create a solution to that problem, even if it means finding joy in a game of toy soldiers.
The next time your kids are bored, consider yourself their guide, not their problem solver. Provide the tools and environment to avoid boredom, but don’t rescue them from it. They’ll be happier with simple pleasures instead of the latest gadgets and entertainment.
4. Willingness to try new things
My husband remembered how he got started playing guitar as a child. “Someone had given me a guitar,” he began, “but it just sat there for the longest time. Then one day, out of boredom, I picked it up. And that’s how I realized how much I liked playing guitar.”
Boredom can be so uncomfortable that it pushes us to try new things we would otherwise overlook amid schedules and screen time. Things that seem better than nothing, until we realize how much we love it.
And even if we don’t, we would have at least tried something new. That says something, right?
The same is true for our kids. Desperate to escape boredom, they’ll try anything, resume an old project, or rekindle an interest in an old toy.
Boredom encourages your kids to play with one another or with other children. They’re more likely to invent a new game out of an old birthday balloon or play tag in the yard. And the most likely reason they thought to start? They had nothing else to do.
Being entertained isn’t bad, but do this too often and they won’t have many opportunities to socialize with one another. Think of how they behave when you’re watching a movie compared to when they’re waiting in line with you at the grocery store.
More than likely, they’ll socialize and engage with one another when they’re bored.
6. No burnout
I have this rule that if we have plans for the day, we shouldn’t squeeze in other plans for the same day. Instead, we’ll relax during the remaining hours of the day, whether it’s staying home, walking to the park, or running our usual errands. The ordinary moments.
As simple as these activities may be, they also prevent them from burning out with too many to do. Thankfully, I don’t worry if they feel bored. I’d rather lessen their outings so they can find something entertaining to do on their own.
Things kids can do when they’re bored
It can seem unfair to leave our kids hanging when they’re bored. You shouldn’t “save” them from boredom, but you can give them opportunities to cope with it. Below are a few things they can do when they’re bored:
- Turn on the radio and dance to the music
- Play with old toys
- Dress up in pretend clothes
- Do a jigsaw puzzle or brain teasers
- Play with play dough
- Make a macaroni necklace
- Go for a walk
- Play with wooden blocks
- Cook with you
- Read books
- Create items from arts and crafts
- Draw on a chalkboard or dry eraser board
We expect to entertain our kids, placing that responsibility on ourselves. We hover over them even when they’re already over-stimulated, and scramble to fill their days with activities. We’re compelled to entertain them 24/7 even though they should be playing independently.
None of us actually like boredom. It’s not pleasant, and it leads to listlessness and lack of motivation.
But that’s the point: We can’t always save our kids from life’s duller moments. Doing so doesn’t allow them to develop the skills to overcome boredom.
Through boredom, they’ll learn creativity and patience, and find joy within themselves. They’re more willing to try new things, have more opportunities to socialize with one another, and avoid burning themselves out.
So, the next time your kids say “I’m bored,” think of it as a blessing in disguise.
p.s. Take a look at this wonderful children’s book, National Regular Average Ordinary Day. Written by Lisa Katzenberger and illustrated by Barbara Bakos, Peter learns how to deal with boredom and enjoy the ordinary days:
Get more tips:
- 12 Ways You’re Already Practicing Montessori Parenting Without Even Realizing It
- The Benefits of Open Ended Play and How to Encourage It
- The Downsides of Having Too Many Toys
- What to Do when You’re Stressed about Money
- 4 Reasons Kids Need Downtime
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