My oldest will be 7 soon, and it’s interesting to me that it wasn’t until recently that I started to hear the phrase, “Mom I’m bored”. Especially during quiet time when he was tired of reading or playing alone. He’d slump on a chair and look as though I should offer my pity. But of course none of my suggestions seemed fun. That’s when I realized a nugget of truth.
It’s only after kids sit in that rock-bottom-nothing-to-do-around-here boredom, sometimes for a whole day, that they can tap into their own creativity.
It’s called imagination, and boredom is a tool that helps bigger kids find that. So how do we help them be kids? And what things might we be doing that hurt their ability to imagine and play make believe?
Why I don’t feel sorry for my kids when they are bored
It is not my job as a mom to entertain my kids. I do it sometimes because I enjoy it, but I don’t believe it’s a requirement that makes me a good mom or a bad mom.
In fact, my job is also to help my kids deal with boredom and not feel entitled to entertainment.
Being bored isn’t something I’d seen in my toddlers because they are too busy getting into things, building towers, coloring, and using their imagination. Even my 5 year old rarely mentions the term “bored” because she’s always busy.
I just cannot (and don’t need to) prepare 10 activities a day! 1 or 2 is plenty. Taking care of a family is my job. Play is their job. And it’s something they’ve got to learn how to do when I need space or don’t want the T.V on.
So it’s 100% ok for your child to stare out the window aimlessly, walk circles around the house going nowhere, or to sit on the steps and watch the birds go by. That’s where the true fun begins…
Don’t be resentful or take it personally
It’s my choice to be with my kids so much (I stay at home and homeschool), but I tend to feel resentment when they complain of boredom because I put in so much effort as a mom and homemaker.
When they tell me they are bored, I get snarky thinking, “O ya, really? I’d love some free time to be bored. How about you come over and finish cooking dinner and then clean up the boy pee all around the toilet and then…”
And then my sense comes back and I realize it’s just easier for kids to be entertained than it is to go make their own fun!
So offer a less-than-fun chore for them to assist you with or give them the option to find something else to do.
If your old enough to be bored, your old enough to be a good helper
Toddlers are rarely bored! They play, chat with mom, and take naps which help the days go by much more smoothly.
So my philosophy is that if your old enough to express the phrase “I’m bored”, then you are old enough to hang out with me and be a helper.
More responsibility may be what your kids actually want! Especially if they just thrive with quality time with mom. If it’s not, then you’ll probably find they quickly slip away from the line of duty and find something to play.
Helping with laundry? Snapping green beans for dinner? Tidying the living room with me? O great, stick around! Here’s 15 chores for 5 year olds that are actually helpful if you need a few ideas.
A few boredom busters my kids like
Hear me out. I am not saying to keep your kids from being bored, you need to go out and gather x,y, or z. But I do want to share a few things that my 5 and 6.5 year old kids gravitate to often, when they don’t know what else to do. The point of these activities is that they can do them with no help from you.
It rekindles my artsy one’s love of coloring to get new supplies. These are our current favorite fancy marker set. I also got her a clip board so she can color outside.
Alternate which bins go in which rooms
For some reason, when the Legos stop getting played with, I put the bin in a new room, and suddenly it gets played with again! I don’t know why.
Have a “create bin” handy
We have a metal push cart on wheels. So my kids know to make anything, they go check there. Tape, kid scissors, glue sticks, watercolor paints, and activity books all go here.
Sugar free popsicles
In the spring and summer, it breaks up the day. We make them all the time using a sugar free fruit punch. These are the mini popsicle molds we have, which are the perfect small size for kids.
We are working on my kids learning one basic fold. But until then, just taking the 5 minutes to make 2 planes means they’ll spend 30 minutes outside.
Magnifying glass and bug catcher. If you have a special spot for their cool nature finds, it can inspire them to go looking for pretty leaves or rocks or whatever they like.
My 6.5 year old spends at least an 1-2 hours a day reading, and it’s a huge blessing to me and to him. He’s learning and giggling and enjoying books! I have more time with the younger 2. For reading help, check out how we taught my son to read.
Why kids tend to be bored in the first place
They may not be used to playing alone
I was practically an only child. My brother was 5 years older than me, and imaginary play was my strength.
But that’s not the case for my own kids. They are not used to playing alone very much, and often find themselves bored if they are.
With siblings, there’s no excuse to be bored. But playing alone can take some practice and gets easier with time.
Loss of activities spoon fed to them.
It can be really tricky for kids who are used to a lot of planned activities to suddenly know what to do without them.
Do activities with your kids YOU enjoy, include them in your daily responsibilities, and let them figure out their own entertainment.
On a side note, I’m a huge fan of open ended activities. Where there’s nothing specific to be created, but materials are there.
A lot of times I’ll tell the kids to head outside with tape, paint, a brush, and the recycling bin. I tell them to come show me what they make (so they’ve got a goal for some approval).
They don’t want your suggestions.
Ouch. I know it hurts.
One thing I’ve found that helps is to lay something out on the kitchen table. They “find it” while browsing bored. Since they have nothing better to do…AND…I didn’t suggest it, it often gets played with.
Transitioning home from school.
This can be especially hard if your kids are used to a school schedule and then summer or winter break starts and they don’t know what to do with all the hours of extra time after a few days.
They’ve been watching too much T.V.
There’s a definite relationship at our house between T.V. time and the ability to create their own fun. The more T.V. goes up, the worse my kids play when it gets shut off. And yes, I know all shows are not equal so it’s not just about minutes.
Here’s what happened when we went one month T.V. free. It was so hard at first and then my kids were the most self entertained I’ve ever seen them for weeks afterwards.
They miss their friends
If your kids are used to seeing friends often, then a break from that can make them feel a little lost.
We encourage our kids to see each other as life long best friends, but they truly do love outside interaction. Even just seeing someone once a week does wonders! I’m sure this is different for families of different sizes and circumstances.
The surprising thing you’re doing wrong and why boredom busters aren’t the answer
Kids get bored because they can’t think of anything to do. So we give suggestions. But they are turned down, right?
Here’s a typical example at our house. It’s 2 pm. My youngest is napping, the middle is having quiet time in one room, and the oldest is allowed to go out and read books outside or play alone. He comes in, bored because he can’t find anything to do. He’s not used to being alone except during quiet time. But he doesn’t want my suggestions, so he says no to them all. A show would be his dream come true.
Kids often don’t want suggestions. They want pity. Or for you to do something with them. Or if they’re like my kids, they are testing to see if I’ll let them watch a show or not.
So instead of suggesting fun things to a kid who says no to them all, let them know it’s their job to play. And set the boundaries for them when you need to rest.
How to set up boundaries when you need a break
Ever feel like your kids just wont leave you alone? Chatted out by about 2 or 3 pm? That’s a compliment, because you’re their favorite person. But it doesn’t make it easy.
That’s why it’s really important to have some boundaries set for down time.
Set up a quiet time every day
A few things that work well for me are to have a nap time or quiet time every single day. That alone takes time to just figure out how to enforce. It’s ok to say “This is mom’s quiet time too, and you need to stay in your room and not talk during this time.”
Make them go outside for at least 30 minutes each time
I also tell the kids about twice a day that they have to go outside for 30 minutes. This usually lasts a lot longer if the weather is nice. Often times I’ll send them out with a snack and even a towel to go out and sit on.
Sometimes they don’t want to (hungry, have to pee, there’s nothing to do, etc), but most the time they are happy to go out. The change of scenery is what helps.
Sometimes if there’s resistance I’ll set a timer so they know I won’t forget about them out there.
Turn on an audiobook for a brain break
One new thing we started this year in kindergarten is audiobooks. It brings a sense of calm and quiet to the day while being engaging.
I’ll play something for a small chunk of time (20-30 minutes up to an hour), but the rule is no talking while it plays so that everyone can hear.
The 3 year old plays, the 5 year old colors, and the 6.5 year old engages his brain in the story while snacking. It’s a win win.
Should you play with your kids when they are bored?
Most times, I’d say you shouldn’t need to do anything if your kid is bored.
But there are days if I’m honest, when I’ve been on my computer too much, pushed the kids away constantly, and haven’t actually spent as much time paying attention to them as I feel I should. Days when being a stay at home mom is just overwhelming.
And on those days, if my kids say they are bored, it does a healthy dose for our relationship to drop what I’m doing and do something together. Read a book. Play the board game Trouble. Color a picture with my daughter. Or even sit outside with them while they play.
So ask yourself, how much time have you spent with your child that day? Or have you pushed them away, pushed them away, and pushed some more? Sometimes they’re not bored, they’re lonely.
And that can be a little bit different.
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Jo (A Rose Tinted World)
Friday 8th of May 2020
Some great advice here. And another vote for LEGO. My 4 year old loves it, and she has made and remade so many things over the past few weeks. I totally agree that you should let them play alone sometimes, as that's when they discover themselves.
Saturday 2nd of May 2020
Such great advice. We definitely need to cut down on our t.v. consumption. LEGO has been our go-to boredom buster.