“I’m bored!” The complaint echoes through the house as your child finds themselves in-between activities. What do you do? Do you find them an activity and try to distract them? Or do you let them wait? What happens when we wait? What might they find to play with, what might they start to do? What could boredom transform into if we let it be? When children are given the space to make their own choices, they gain valuable problem-solving skills. Being bored can also lead to enhanced creativity and increased imaginative play. Maybe they are “bored” with their old toys. But what new uses for those objects can they find if given the space? Maybe they want to do something interesting, what could be more interesting than finding something that sparks their own curiosity?
We can get into patterns as parents by trying to offer plenty of “stimulating activities” for our children, wanting to make sure they don’t miss out on developmental opportunities or social events. Research shows that when children are “overscheduled” they miss out on valuable time to engage in imaginative play and creative play, or sometimes free play altogether. There are many amazing activities we can engage our children in, but we don’t want to miss out on the most basic, and often the most important…free time. In sum: It’s okay to let your child be bored.
To give kids some credit, boredom often feels really uncomfortable to children. Do you remember that feeling? Some of us might remember that discomfort, and attempt to “save” our kids from it. Try to also remember what good things came out of that bored feeling. We can gain tolerance of distress when experiencing these tough emotions, and we can also learn to rely on our own internal world and imagination, and creativity when we have the time to think.
Here’s another thing to remember about boredom; it comes in different forms. There’s the “lonely” kind, the “I’ve watched too much TV” kind, or the “I just ended something fun and now I’m looking for something new to do” kind. All of these are just different variations of emotions that children can begin to seek their own answers to. Helping a child tune-in to what exactly their brains and bodies are seeking can help them learn to meet their own needs. This is a vital and empowering lesson kids can learn at this early age.
So what can we do in these moments, when our children complain they are bored? Simple answer: Nothing. Allow your child to experience that feeling, and see how they choose to solve it. Schedule in “free time” if you have to. Make sure your child has plenty of time to play on their own throughout the week without adult leadership. If your child is in a moment of really begging you to solve their boredom dilemma: Here’s an example script of how to “allow” boredom and encourage your child to solve it on their own:
Child: I’m bored (in distressed voice)
Caregiver: Hmm, that can be a hard feeling
Child: yeah- what should I do?
Caregiver: Ah, you’re hoping I have some ideas for you. That’s for you to decide right now.
Child: Noooo, I don’t want to! You tell me.
Caregiver: It feels hard to decide what you want to do right now. I wonder what your body is telling you? What kind of mood are you in?
Child: I don’t know.
Caregiver: It can be hard to know sometimes. Hmm. (modeling, thinking, and checking in)
Child: I still don’t know what I want to do
Caregiver: Hmm…How will you figure out what feels right to you?
Child: Maybe I could color…
Caregiver: Sure, that’s worth a try. Maybe try some things out and see how they feel…I believe you can figure it out.
Some can benefit from convos like these, and others don’t need this much support. Just try not to take the bait and try to solve their boredom for them. This can get you caught in a cycle of your kids always coming to you to solve this problem. The Slumberkins Narwhal can help little ones develop growth mindset by teaching them how to make a difference in the world around them through problem-solving and recognizing when to ask for help. Allowing your child to be bored and figure things out themselves is so important for their ability to self-regulate, learn to trust their bodies and cues, and find creative ways to learn and grow. Kids are amazing—we can trust them to figure these things out.