No parent wants to hear it; but at some point, every parent will. Those two little words that could then lead in two very different directions. “I’m bored!” No worries Momma; it’s OK to let kids be bored.
Don’t fret, take this for what it is; an opportunity! By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you may look forward to hearing your children tell you they’re bored. (OK, that may be an exaggeration but you surely won’t cringe as hard when the words are spoken).
Yes, this is your opportunity as a parent to teach your child that they don’t need you for all of life’s little challenges. They are capable of creating a path out of their own boredom even without a single suggestion from you. Truly, some of a child’s best memories will be born out of being bored. If only we will quiet all the bells, whistles, dings, and chimes of our modern world long enough for the boredom to set in; our children will thank us for it later.
One of the problems with trying to entertain or occupy our children is the potential for overstimulation and loss of self-awareness. When our minds are constantly bombarded with stimuli, we find it hard to think clearly, focus and relax. Once we enter a state of boredom, all of the mental clutter begins to quiet down. Our brains are able to compartmentalize data we have absorbed so that we can retain that information better and begin to feel a sense of calm.
help them find calm
The reality is that parents have incredibly long task lists and there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get it all done AND entertain our children for hours on end. I’m in no way condoning ignoring your children all day long, however there is no need to jump from one structured activity to another in order for your children to have a rich childhood full of fond memories. Quite the contrary actually. When children become bored, their creativity is allowed to take over. This can lead to something that seems almost magical. Your child will create their own activities and games to occupy their time. What’s even better? They will love what they are doing!
Watch boredom turn into creativity
When I was a child, I spent a lot of time at my Great-Grandparents’ house with my sister and 5 of our cousins. The adults could often find us under the little overhang between my grandfather’s wood shop and the little stream that bordered their yard. We called it “The Hut” and we imagined we lived there. Making hot chocolate with some old jars, dirt, stones, and water as well as sharpening sticks and stones (sorry Grandpa) on his old sharpening wheel. We even altered the flow of the creek by creating a little island in the middle of it that we would jump to for even more adventures. No adult could have really suggested all of the things we came up with in The Hut but we sure kept ourselves busy for hours playing outside.
According to Birute of the blog playtivities.com, “given the freedom and independence to create activities on their own builds confidence.” I couldn’t agree more. My son attended daycare from the time he was 3 months old until he was nearly 3 years old. Once bringing him home with me, it took some time for him to figure out that he didn’t need mommy to occupy all of his time. Now, almost two years later, he is quite a confident adventurer and his little sister is following in those footsteps.
Now that I have children of my own, I have begun to notice and learn some things about children and boredom. As it turns out, more toys actually equal more boredom. Children and adults alike seem to have a hard time thinking and focusing in an environment that is cluttered and disorganized. Over the last year and a half, I have been simplifying our home and the toys have certainly not been spared. They still each have a few toys that I’m not fond of but they are still favorites of my children so I let them stay, for now.
Toys that have made the cut to remain here are Melissa and Doug wooden building blocks (we have 2 sets so they can build more), Picasso Tiles (lots of those too), legos, Kid K’nex, loads of books that I have divided into 2 groupings for rotation every 2 months or so, and a chest full to the top with costumes! It’s completely common to see my children change costume a few times throughout the day. Yes, I even let them run errands with me in costume because, well why not?
let them express themselves
With my son’s birthday coming up and lots of new costumes on his wish list, we will have another opportunity in the coming weeks to go through all of the costumes and pick out our very favorites. Just in time for Halloween, we should have several costumes and costume accessories ready to donate for others to enjoy.
The way we do this without tears is simple. I empty the costume bin and spread the costumes out all over the couch. The children then take turns choosing their very favorite costumes one at a time and putting them in the costume bin. Once the bin is full, we can part with the rest. It worked beautifully last time. I’m optimistic for a similar outcome this time. I could easily pick out half a dozen costumes they obviously use less than the others but it is far better to empower them to choose what stays and what goes. They may surprise me!
less really can be more when boredom sets in
Don’t worry that they will feel deprived if you reduce their toys. Many children don’t even notice the missing toys but what the do notice is the toys remaining…and they become better engaged with those toys. Once your child becomes engaged in play, wonderful things start to happen. They develop their creativity, their problem-solving skills, their independence, and if you have more than one child, their interpersonal skills, all while you get to enjoy that time working on the endless list of tasks to be done enjoying hearing them play. Bonus, since there are fewer toys, the mess after play time is more manageable and becomes a quick pick up even if they are expected to get it done without help from mom or dad…they just may need to be told to get it done a few times.
When children are left to play on their own, they come up with activities by themselves. The magic of that is that they start to discover what they like and what they truly love.Birute – playtivities.com
Look to the past for guidance
My grandfather used to tell a story that he only had one toy, a broken baby doll carriage. He would spend hours and hours playing with it creating different games and adventures. In recent years he told the story to make a point that children don’t need much. He never felt like he was missing out. He was a happy child and a contentedly wise man. I and my roughly 60 cousins miss him dearly.
My children are four, two, and nine months at the time I’m writing this. My infant has one fabric bin about half full of toys specifically for him. Naturally, he also plays with whatever else he can get his hands on that seems interesting (even a dust bunny the sweeper missed) but even he is able to play independently for periods of time while I’m working nearby. Checking on him often gives me peace of mind and he flashes me a happy smile when he sees me to assure me that he’s having a great time.
a few more tips from my home
Here are a few other things we have implemented in our own home that have been working out great for us so far:
- Involve them in your tasks as much as possible. If they are given a sufficient opportunity to work with you and have their cup filled, they are more prepared to go off and play independently.
- Bring a little helper ladder to the kitchen and let them mix the pancake batter or scramble the eggs
- Take a big bowl and a variety of nuts to the table so they can pour and mix up some healthy trail mix
- If you have hard surface floors, hand them the dust mop and let them go to town. I have now acquired 3 dust mops because my older children both really enjoy sweeping the floor with me.
- Hand them a shovel and some gloves to go work in the garden. My son doesn’t much care to pull weeds but he is an excellent seed planter paying great attention to spacing.
- If you have pets, have them help you feed them
give them command of the task
- Provide options of tasks they can do for you
- Hand them a damp cloth and let them wipe down surfaces (they enjoy this more than you might think)
- Put their clean laundry into containers they can carry and have them take it to their rooms to put it away.
- Make sure to have them clear their own dishes from the table and them hand them a dishcloth to go wipe down the table and chairs. My children often fight over who is going to wipe down which surface which is slightly comical but it gets done…eventually.
- Hand them a dust mitt (you may want to do this one before the damp cloth…muddy smears anyone?)
- Ask them to pick up sticks in the yard and put them in the fire pit so Daddy can more easily get the mowing done.
Get creative and let them try things that you aren’t quite sure they are capable of. Children are incredible. They want to do well and they want to see you happy and less stressed, even if they don’t know that’s what they want.
We like to keep electronics like the Kindle and DVD players at home. We allow our children to take a toy they can easily carry themselves for any car rides we go on. Sometimes they play with those toys, sometimes they make up songs to sing (that’s my favorite), sometimes they notice the things we are driving past and will ask questions. They recognize if I take a different route to go places that we frequent. I love that they are becoming familiar with the community we live in and how to navigate it. No screen zombies being teleported here!
send them outside
Trust them to stay within the boundaries you have designated but check often to verify they are safe. You may need to go out with them several times at first and check on them very often when they are young. Of course, also take into account your own property and any dangers specific to your circumstances.
There is no better environment to watch a child’s creativity and sense of adventure explode than outdoors. They can run, hoot and holler. Sticks become a great source of entertainment. The sandbox can occupy my daughter for an entire morning. We do also have a jungle gym they love climbing, a balance beam, a spring horse, and the neighbors’ swing set. It’s awesome to have great neighbors; it makes the backyard ‘playground’ more fun. Of course, we also have space for them to just run around and create their own play.
Having them play outside is my favorite solution to boredom. Yes, it gets them out of my hair a bit but there are so many benefits to them by being outside. The fresh air in their lungs, the freedom to run and move about as they wish, and when the go out barefoot, they also get the benefit of being exposed to the microbiome to help build their immunities. Walking around barefoot also helps them to become grounded, quite literally. There is a transfer of energy that takes place when you walk barefoot in your yard that can help bring you a sense of calm and reduce your stress level. I too, go barefoot anytime it’s warm enough to do so…as long as we aren’t going into the chicken pen (boots are required in there hahaha)
Letting children play independently outside does come with at least one big caveat no matter where you live but especially if you live in a populated or highly trafficked area…stranger danger, according to the team of moms at theschoolrun.com
teach them safety rules
Stranger danger is a very real concern that can be mitigated to an extent with some simple ground rules. For example, my children are not allowed to play in front of our house without either my husband or myself. We live on a highly trafficked road so the less visible they are to onlookers, the better. If they see anyone pull into the driveway, they know that no matter who it is, they are to get together and come inside the house.
As their mother, I keep as many windows open as possible so I can better hear what is happening outside and keep a very vigilant eye out while they are outside without me. That’s how I knew that we were getting a delivery from UPS recently while they both stood in the driveway. I was standing near them before the driver got out of the truck and asked them what they are supposed to do when someone comes in the driveway. My son (nearly 5) says “come inside” with that little grin that means he knew he wasn’t doing as he was told but figured he was getting away with it. I think the saying is ‘trust but verify’.
It’s important to give them freedom and space but it is also critical while they are still so young and don’t completely understand the potential dangers that we as parents still check in quite often and verify that everything is going as it should. The consequences of not doing so could be devastating.
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, your children won’t always be making happy sounds while they play independently. That’s ok too. Bickering and fighting is normal and helps children to form relationships. Unstructured play time allows children to develop interpersonal skills. They are able to collaborate and negotiate to figure out what to do so they can move forward. They have a chance to make eye contact and read body language. These skills may be missed if an adult is always intervening.
give them a chance
So, my next tip is to try not to interfere. Unless your children are about to hurt themselves or someone else, let them play without interrupting them. You want them to have freedom to explore, express themselves, and figure out interpersonal relationships (I know it’s hard when they are being mean not to step in but try not to…at least not every time).
I find sometimes it works well to let them sort through it and then ask some open-ended questions when they come inside to help me understand what happened. Admittedly, I’m not as great about letting them sort it out if it’s one of the neighbor friends they are having a disagreement with. I try to observe for a bit before intervening to see if it’s going to escalate or fizzle out but sometimes, I just don’t want to see what looks like my children being mean to other children. Try to keep the interaction brief and then let them get back to play.
The two children that I allow to go and play outside without my direct and constant supervision are just 4 and 2 years old. Already, they are creating games of their own. My son has created 2 games with sticks. He calls one long stick and the other game is short stick. While I’m not exactly a huge fan of the games themselves (and don’t quite understand the rules of play), I am thrilled to see that he is creating activities and that those activities include his little sister at least some of the time.
Failure is a good thing, say the moms at theschoolrun.com. Many parents want to help their children avoid the sting that accompanies failure but this can actually be quite detrimental. Some of the biggest lessons we learn in life are born out of trying something, having it fail, and then trying something else.
When we try something and fail, we learn to adapt and try something different until we find a solution we are happy with. “The workplace our children are going to enter is changing rapidly, and we don’t have the ability to prepare them for that world. It’s going to take a lot of creativity to adapt.” – Dad blogger at ParentCo.
All of this to say something simple but heartfelt. Take a deep breath momma. You’re doing great.
other articles for you
Get help working through the overwhelm of simplifying HERE
Recipe for a tastey (almost) guilt free snack HERE
Links in this post
Playtivities Blog https://playtivities.com/boredom-and-kids/
The School Run Blog https://www.theschoolrun.com/benefits-of-boredom-for-kids
Parent Co Blog https://www.parent.com/blogs/conversations/5-surprising-benefits-of-letting-your-children-get-bored
Sarah Ruganis says
What a wonderful, informative article! Truly an encouraging reminder of how kids learn so much when they are bored and to know that it’s ok for them to be bored! I loved this. Thank you, Brandi!
Hi Sarah! I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It’s hard sometimes because our society tells us boredom is bad but that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Be well!
How true this is!!! It is so important to nurture that creative independence. Plus I can remember as a kid, “I’m bored” usually resulted in chores. Lol
Thinking ahead to having children one day (Lord willing), I knew that I agreed that they could be bored and that it would be alright. But I didn’t think about the practical outworking of that, and I loved reading your stories and suggestions. I see now how it works and the benefits of letting them be bored and make their own life. I made a pin from your article to my Pinterest, to read this again later. Thanks for sharing!