How to Teach Your Kids to Entertain Themselves

Don't entertain your bored child with electronics.

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While you might love playing with your kid⁠—whether you’re all about LEGO constructions or creating characters with the dress-up box⁠—it’s also good for your child to know how to entertain themselves. All parents need a break from time to time, and it's a beneficial and necessary part of your child’s healthy development. 

Here’s how to help your kid learn this skill (as it doesn’t come naturally to everyone) and why it’s important. 

Why It's Important for Kids to Learn to Entertain Themselves

Kids need to learn to entertain themselves for a number of reasons, including supporting their overall development. “Being able to entertain themselves means kids are practicing problem-solving, creativity, and being part of a community,” says Anna Falkner, PhD, assistant professor of elementary education at the University of Memphis. 

Playing by themselves also might mean that your child is practicing independent inquiry, such as a toddler rolling a ball down a ramp over and over again. “They’re testing out hypotheses and building theories about how the world works,” Dr. Falkner explains.

Cindy Kim, PhD

It’s important for kids to learn how to be patient and to tolerate moments where instant gratification and attention are not always feasible.

— Cindy Kim, PhD

The activity may involve trying out new skills, like playing a new puzzle game or building on skills they already have, like re-reading a book or using art materials in a different way. Independent play fosters confidence, creativity, independence, and patience, says Cindy Kim, PhD, a pediatric psychologist with Children's Health of Orange County (CHOC).

“It’s important for kids to learn how to be patient and to tolerate moments where instant gratification and attention is not always feasible,” she says. 

And you can check another box: preparing your child for school. By allowing your child time apart from you, you help them learn how to keep themselves calm and engaged without the need to rely on others. “This helps to build patience and emotional control,” Dr. Kim explains. 

Then, there are the social benefits. “Learning to be alone, to find someone else to play with, or to figure out how to spend their time independent of an adult is a key part of being part of a community,” says Dr. Falkner. It's a skill they will take with them through childhood and adulthood.

Why Boredom Is Good for Kids

It's common for parents to feel responsible when their kid says they are bored. “We want to listen and respond to that feeling by offering them the opportunity to find ways to entertain themselves,” says Megan Ledet, LCSW, vice president of adolescent services at Lightfully Behavioral Health.

The easy solution to boredom nowadays is to put kids in front of a screen. While this might solve the boredom conundrum in the short term, it fails to offer children real-world solutions for how they can respond to boredom in an effective and autonomous manner, explains Ledet.

Megan Ledet, LCSW

The major caveat to teaching kids how to entertain themselves is that we must think beyond the use of technology.

— Megan Ledet, LCSW

Some amount of boredom and downtime time isn’t just good for kids, it’s recommended by experts. “Kids can benefit from this unstructured time to support independence, creativity, and self-agency,” says Dr. Kim. “Teaching them to tolerate boredom and downtime directly lends to their ability to develop frustration tolerance and patience.” 

A little bit of boredom can push kids to try something new, or return to an old activity in a new way, adds Dr. Falkner. “They are more likely to engage in creative and imaginative play, like inventing a game to play,” she explains. 

Teaching Your Child to Entertain Themselves

While it's good for your kids to experience boredom now and again, there are ways for you to teach them how to entertain themselves. Here are some expert tips you might want to consider.

Don’t Leave All the Toys Out

Resist the temptation to give your child every single toy they own, in the hope that something will hold their attention. "Rotating toys helps children not feel overwhelmed with choice, and lets them engage longer and more deeply with the materials," says Falkner. Make sure they know where the rest of their toys are, though. Once they become "bored" of the current plaything, you can teach them to independently seek out a new one.

Provide Open-Ended Toys 

Open-ended toys can be used in lots of different ways. Kim recommends pointing your child to creative toys such as LEGO, crayons, building blocks, dollhouses, etc. to encourage free and independent play. The possibilities with these activities are endless, and they allow your child to express their creativity and continually come up with new ways to use the same materials.

Make Your Space Accessible 

If kids have access to the materials they need or want, they’re more likely to act on their own to use them. As Falker points out, that doesn’t just include toys—it also includes healthy snacks, art supplies, and basic, safe cleaning supplies.

Make sure everything they can access is pre-approved and safe. If your child is unsure what they can or can't use, let them know that they can always approach you to ask questions. There is a difference between encouraging free solo play and not tending to their needs and questions.

Say No

Not all time needs to be structured, and not all activities (like screen time) need to be available all the time. "Setting clear limits and following through on them lets kids know what to expect and generates regular opportunities to practice their boredom-busting skills," explains Falkner.

Limit Screen Time

Setting limits on electronic time is a great way to increase free time that is unstructured and encourage your child to use their imagination and creativity.

“The major caveat to teaching kids how to entertain themselves is that we must think beyond the use of technology,” says Ledet. “The benefits outlined above really don’t apply when screens are involved—it could actually be argued that screens produce the opposite effects!”

You may be amazed to see what your child's brain is capable of with a little encouragement and a framework that is focused less on technology and more on what already lies within them, Ledet adds. 

A Word From Verywell

As parents, we often feel responsible for keeping our kids entertained all the time. This is natural, but it's actually good for your child to feel bored sometimes, and to figure out how to entertain themselves! With that said, there are ways to help them learn this skill, such as limiting screen time and providing open-ended toys, like building blocks and art supplies, in an accessible space.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Healthychildren.org. The power of play - how fun and games help children thrive.

  2. Barragan-Jason G, Atance C, Kopp L, Hopfensitz A. Two facets of patience in young children: Waiting with and without an explicit reward. J Exp Child Psychol. 2018 Jul;171:14-30. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2018.01.018

Additional Reading

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more. Claire is passionate about raising awareness for mental health issues and helping people experiencing them not feel so alone.

Originally written by
Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Learn about our editorial process