What To Do With a Fidgety Kid When There's Nothing to Do

Emergency time-wasters for planes, cars, lines, and waiting rooms

Mother and son arm wrestling.
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Forgot to toss toys in your purse? Carry-on consigned to the cargo hold? Long waiting-room stay used up all your distractions? No matter how organized the parent, there will always come a time when your child will rely on you for amusement, just you and you alone. What do you do when you're stuck without props? Here are 101 informal activities that use nothing more than your clothing, your accessories, and whatever wits you have about you.

If your child has a particularly short attention span or low tolerance for boredom, you may have to run through a whole string of these -- but finally, the time will pass.

  1. Play "Rock, Paper, Scissors"
  2. Arm wrestle
  3. Thumb wrestle
  4. Push palms together to see who can push the hardest
  5. Stack hands one atop the other, pulling out the hand at the bottom and bringing it up top
  6. Stack fists, using same rules as above
  7. Stack arms, similarly
  8. Play with your child's hair
  9. Let your child play with your hair
  10. Draw a letter on your child's back with a finger and see if he or she can guess
  11. Draw a letter instead on your child's arm
  12. Have your child draw a letter on your arm or back, and you do the guessing
  13. Take off your shoe and have your child practice shoe-tying
  14. Take off your child's shoe and find a different way to lace it
  15. Take off your child's shoes and socks and use the socks as puppets
  16. Use your wristwatch to give a lesson in telling time
  1. Use your wristwatch to time things going on around you
  2. Let your child try on your wristwatch
  3. Let your child try on your jewelry
  4. Count by twos, threes, fives, tens
  5. Count backward from 100
  6. Pick a number between one and 10
  7. Teach the 9 times table trick
  8. Give a math equation for your child to figure mentally
  9. Give a string of math equations and ask for the answer at the end
  1. Make up math story problems
  2. Say words to spell
  3. Say words to rhyme with
  4. Play "I Spy"
  5. Try some tongue twisters
  6. Play "I Went to ..."
  7. Sing some silly songs (softly)
  8. Do songs with hand motions, with and without the words
  9. Play "20 Questions"
  10. Look for things out the window
  11. Play paddycake
  12. Teach your child some clapping games
  13. Have your child teach you some clapping games
  14. Whisper secrets, silly and serious
  15. Say "Tell me three things you did today"
  16. Tell a story, taking turns one sentence at a time
  17. Write a poem, taking turns one sentence at a time
  18. Hide something (even just your thumb) in one fist -- guess which hand?
  19. Count your change
  20. Count your currency
  21. Make a stack or a snake with loose change
  22. Fold or roll up currency
  23. Make a pattern, train, or house out of credit cards.
  24. Show your child the pictures in your wallet (yes, even your driver's license)
  25. Try to remember one of your child's favorite storybooks; let your child correct your mistakes.
  26. See how your child looks in your glasses
  27. Give an invisible manicure
  28. Give an invisible pedicure
  29. Get an invisible manicure or pedicure
  30. Have your child name all his or her classmates
  31. See how many people your child can name in your extended family
  32. See how many birthdates of friends and family your child can recall
  1. Name a relative's birth year and have your child figure out how old; invent relatives if necessary
  2. Guess what the people around you do for a living
  3. Make a Christmas or birthday wish list
  4. Count how many words you can spot -- on signs, posters, clothes
  5. Make faces
  6. Play Straight Face
  7. Try to make each other laugh -- last one wins
  8. Have a staring contest
  9. Have your child narrate a favorite movie
  10. Interview your child for a TV news show
  11. Speak Pig Latin
  12. Play "Truth or Dare"
  13. Make up your own secret code
  14. Think of rhyming words for items around you
  15. Take turns naming words for a letter of the alphabet; last one to think of a word wins, and you move to the next letter
  1. Same as above, but with rhymes
  2. Same as above, but with entries in categories
  3. Explain the meaning of various figures of speech
  4. Make up silly similes
  5. Make a puppet face with your fist, with your thumb as the lower jaw
  6. Flip a coin
  7. Do "This little piggy" on feet or hands
  8. Give a backrub
  9. Get a backrub
  10. Crawl fingers up your child's back or arm like a spider
  11. Make up an acronym for your child's name, and the names of other family members
  12. Ask for favorites: TV show, movie, book, color, game, animal, friend
  13. Play peek-a-boo
  14. Give your child the name of an object and ask what color it is, what letter it starts with, what shape it is, if it's heavy or light
  15. Go on a "hike" with your two fingers walking over your child's arms, shoulders and head
  16. Break an egg over your child's head by rapping it gently with your fist and then opening your hand to make the egg roll down the face
  17. Do charades
  18. Be mirror images
  19. Play "Simon Says" on a smale scale.
  20. Throw an imaginary ball
  21. Blow imaginary bubbles
  22. Blow a raspberry on your child's arm
  23. "Steal" your child's nose
  24. Be a little goldfish
  25. Do "Here is the church, here is the steeple," or make your own version for another building
  26. Try guided relaxation
  27. Practice breathing techniques
  28. Repeat what the other person says; repeat what the other person says.
  29. See who can go the longest without talking.