Let Them Be Bored
If you’ve spent any time around kids, you’ll be familiar with the all too common “ I’m borrrrred” complaint. Believe it or not, boredom can actually help them develop skills, creativity, and self-esteem. Instead of fearing boredom, help them embrace it and work through it.
Outside of the structure that school provides, boredom gives kids the chance to develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility and organizational skills they might otherwise not have the opportunity to cultivate. The act of being bored itself doesn’t develop these skills, it’s what they do with their boredom that does. The goal is to help kids manage their boredom so they can develop independence and feel in control over their own happiness and well-being.
To get ahead of the inevitable boredom complaints, and the back-and-forth discussions of what they could do, set aside time with your child to create a list of activities they enjoy and some fun-sounding challenges or longer-term projects. Use the list you come up with to create an activity chart they can refer to when they’re bored instead of immediately coming to you with expectations of being entertained.
Some activity suggestions for younger kids include:
- Teddy bear breakfast or picnic
- Bug or nature hunt
- Build and play in a fort
- Legos or other building toys
- Coloring or craft project
- Call a relative
Activity suggestions for older kids and teens include:
- Board games
- Drawing or other art projects
- Read a book from a favorite series
- Start a garden or another outdoor project
- Plan out a scavenger hunt the whole family can enjoy later
- Create a podcast or website
- Learn a TikTok dance
- Work on sports skills
Encourage them to refer to their activity chart for inspiration instead of coming up with suggestions for them when they come to you. If you always come up with activities for them, they won’t have the chance to come up with their own ideas or learn how to entertain themselves.
Sometimes when kids refuse every idea, they just want your attention. Start by giving them two options to pick from. If they don’t like the options you give them, suggest they pick something else. If they don’t pick something else within five minutes, tell them you’ll pick for them. Let them know when you’ll be available to give them attention but encourage them to find something to occupy their time until then.
Remember, no matter how robust your activity chart may be, it won’t fill your child’s time for the entire day. Be realistic about how long you can expect them to play independently. A good frame of reference is to base it on how long your child can sit still in a classroom. For preschool age, that’s usually about 15 minutes. For middle school, it’s around 50 minutes. Don’t forget to factor in your child’s usual activity level as well. Very active kids may need a break every 20 minutes to run around outside, while others have no trouble sitting still for two hours. Once you learn how long your child is able to occupy themself, check in before that time is up and reward good behavior so they feel proud of accomplishing something on their own. Rewards could include praise and encouragement, earning points towards a fun activity together, a water gun fight, or screen time.
Help your child view boredom as an opportunity for them to do something. The next time your child comes to you saying they’re bored, simply reply with “That’s great! I can’t wait to see what you’ll do!”