How to Help Your Children With Entertaining Themselves

Don't entertain your bored child with electronics.

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The constant refrain of “Moooom! I’m bored!” is enough to make a parent roll their eyes and tense up with frustration. All you want to do is finish making dinner or get a small home project done, and all your kids want is for you to come up with an activity to entertain them.

Are you a bad parent if you make them beat boredom on their own? No—in fact, you’re quite the opposite. Learning how to battle boredom and find ways to occupy unstructured time is actually a vital life skill for children to master.

It’s important for kids to know that although boredom is uncomfortable, it won’t kill them. And feeling bored is a fact of life. After all, adults feel bored sometimes too. Sitting through soccer games and dance recitals isn’t always fun. But learning how to tolerate boredom in a socially acceptable manner is important.

Without learning how to get over being bored, kids will have a harder time finding anything to be interesting—and that’s been shown to lead to substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, academic problems, and vandalism. Does that sound a bit too much like fear-mongering?

OK, then consider this—kids who aren’t given the opportunity to experience unstructured time have fewer opportunities to be creative, learn problem-solving, and develop motivation skills. This unstructured time is when kids learn to explore their own passions, free from suggestion or direction. They’ll find out if they prefer digging in the garden or playing dress-up.

But, there are times when kids just aren’t going to be inventive enough to figure out entertainment for themselves. As tempting as it might be, the answer to boredom isn’t more TV or iPad time. When this is the case, have a few tricks up your sleeve to banish boredom without you having to drop what you’re doing to entertain the kids.

Help Your Child Tolerate Boredom

Teach your child that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable emotions and sometimes, (s)he may have to just tolerate feeling that way because it’s not appropriate to engage in an activity. When he’s shopping with you or when you’re talking with another adult, being bored is OK.

Explain that there are healthy ways to deal with feelings of boredom. Counting quietly in his head or making up a new song—as long as he’s singing the lyrics in his head—are socially appropriate.

But interrupting you while you’re talking to your mechanic or rolling around on the library floor while he or she waits for you to find a book isn't OK. Establish clear rules and follow through with consequences when (s)he breaks those rules.

Give Your Child Tools for Entertaining Themselves

Don’t entertain your child every time he’s bored. Otherwise, you’ll be taking responsibility for curing his boredom.

But, do offer ideas that could help him or her entertain himself or herself. Whether you’re waiting for your meal in a restaurant, or he’s struggling to find something to do on a rainy day, teach him or her how to deal with boredom effectively.

Younger children need more hands-on help when it comes to finding entertainment. But as your child grows older, (s)he should become less dependent on you for help banishing his boredom.

So, turn your child’s “I’m bored!” into a learning opportunity. Give him or her tools and ideas that will help him or her find ways to entertain themselves in the future.

Create an “I’m Bored” Jar

This is a two-parter: The first time your kid announces “I’m bored!” have her create the jar. This entails doing a little craft project to decorate a jar and then coming up with ideas to put in it. The next time he or she’s bored, he or she can pick an idea out of the jar. Some ideas could include:

  • Write a letter to grandma, grandpa or a cousin
  • Build a fort with blankets and pillows
  • Have a dance party
  • Find a magnet and then make a list of everyone in the house that’s magnetized
  • Brush the dog
  • Write down five things you love about each person in the family
  • Make a paper airplane that flies across the backyard
  • Play capture the flag
  • Build a castle with boxes
  • Write a story
  • Create a zoo for your stuffed animals
  • Make a collage with magazine pictures
  • Create a family newsletter to send to cousins
  • Make a bird feeder
  • Organize their clothes by color
  • Have a stuffed animal tea party

Break out the Craft Supplies

Craft projects can also be a good way to keep your child out of trouble if you’re working from home. Keep a basket full of craft supplies at the ready so you can pull it out when boredom strikes. In this basket, keep these essentials:

  • Markers/crayons
  • Construction paper/cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Stamps and ink
  • Cotton balls, buttons, and other embellishments
  • Old magazines

Notice two items prominently missing from this list: glitter and paint! Those are the two biggest mess-makers and can be saved for special crafting days with you.

When your little one proclaims to be bored, pull out the basket and set up on the kitchen table. Give your child free rein to paint, cut or stamp to his heart’s content. If (s)he needs a little direction, give him or her an assignment, like, “Make Grandma a card,” or “Create a butterfly out of buttons.”

Set out on a Scavenger Hunt

The key for this to work is to have scavenger hunt sheets ready in advance. During your downtime, create a few different hunt sheets for both indoors (for rainy days) and outdoors. When boredom strikes, you’ll have an easy activity that keeps the kids out of your hair for 30 minutes or more!

If you have an old digital camera—or your child has an electronic device with a camera and photo scavenger hunt can be lots of fun. Simply create a list of items for your child to find, like a butterfly, something red, and a rock that looks like a heart.

Read a Book

Schedule a trip to the library every week, and your child will never again say they have “nothing to do.” Instill the love of learning early, and he’ll likely always turn to a book when (s)he feels bored. If you happen to hear those words come out of his mouth, tell him or her that’s it’s reading time and (s)he has the choice of any book in the house.

Let Him or Her Help Out

If you have chores to get done, include your little one in the activity. Although it might end up making the chores take twice as long, you’ll be teaching your kiddo how to fold laundry, wash windows and sweep the floor.

If you’re doing something that your child can’t safely help with, such as making dinner on a hot stove, give him or her a safe alternative, like sweeping the kitchen floor.

Prepare a Performance

If you have a child who loves being in the spotlight, ask him or her to prepare a performance for you. They can go in their room and work on a song, a set of jokes, or a dance routine.

Schedule the talent show for an hour away, so you have time to finish up what you’re working on and (s)he will have time to perfect his act. Then, give all your attention to the talents of your child—don’t forget to record it!

Sometimes, a child isn’t really that bored but rather wants your attention. If you can manage it, stop what you’re doing for five to 10 minutes to give your little one your full attention, whether it’s to play a short game or just talk about his day. A little positive attention can go a long way to helping your child entertain himself or herself.

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Article Sources

  • Caldwell LL, Darling N. Leisure Context, Parental Control, and Resistance to Peer Pressure as Predictors of Adolescent Partying and Substance Use: An Ecological Perspective. Journal of Leisure Research.1999;31(1):57–77.

  • Miller, J. A., Caldwell, L. L., Weybright, E. H., Smith, E. A., Vergnani, T., & Wegner, L. (2014). Was Bob Seger Right? Relation Between Boredom in Leisure and [Risky] Sex. Leisure Sciences36(1), 52–67.