Have bored kids in the house? Here’s how to stop the complaining and promote independent play.
Every summer it happens.
In April or May, the excitement builds in my mind: “soon the girls will be off from school,” “soon we’ll do whatever we want every day,” “soon we won’t need to follow a schedule or rush around after school!”
The first few weeks of school vacation are fantastic. We’re living the dream – we have no commitments and are free to take part in the joys of summer. We go swimming in a pond, visit a few playgrounds, take in a museum, and even do nothing for a couple of days.
And then it happens.
The mood begins to shift.
One morning, one of my daughters walks into my home office with a solemn look on her face and declares: “I’m bored.”
“But the weather is beautiful, why don’t you play outside?” I ask.
“I already did that,” she replies.
“Well, how about doing an art project in the playroom?” I suggest.
To which I’m likely to hear: “I don’t want to do that.”
The next 10-20 minutes are then spent trying to figure out what she can do. “Draw with chalk on the driveway?” “Play a board game with your sister?” “Read a magazine?” Most of these suggestions are rejected (most likely because I suggested them) until she finally comes across something that holds her interest.
With that triumph, I scurry back to my office and try to check a few more items off of my work to-do list. Until it happens again.
The door creaks open and a little voice states: “I’m bored.”
The cycle repeats. I try to help her think of what she can do and she rejects 99% of my ideas. Often I wind up telling her that she just needs to find something to do on her own — which means she’ll be back in my office in ten instead of twenty minutes this time.
With that, the summer glow begins to fade. All the excitement and eager anticipation I had begins to morph into the realization that a large majority of my summer will be spent trying to help my kids determine how they can occupy their time.
Having kids at home with us during the summer, especially when we’re working from home or are a stay-at-home parent, can be challenging — and certainly makes eight weeks of summer camp all the more attractive!
Why kids should be bored in the summer
But not everyone can afford multiple weeks of camp. And even if you can, a number of psychologists actually recommend that children be allowed to get bored in the summer.
Boredom, they explain, develops kids’ creativity and imagination. Boredom can also help kids discover what truly interests them.
But as my story illustrates, it can be challenging for parents when their children are constantly asking for help to find something to do when they feel bored.
So what’s the solution?
How to find a balance between letting kids be bored but not letting them drive you crazy
Confirming what the experts say, over the years I’ve heard a number of parents remark on the creative magic that happens when kids are left to struggle with their boredom. And I’ve seen it firsthand, too.
Sometimes during moments when my kids are left to figure out what to do on their own, they invent wonderful imaginary games or design crafts that I never would have anticipated.
As much as I want to let these magical moments occur, there are days when putting up with the half-hour of whining and complaining it would take to get to that point is too much to handle, alongside everything else on my to-do list. And makes the thought of simply plopping them in front of a screen all the more enticing.
Which made me wonder – is there a halfway point between enduring the complaining that comes with leaving my kids to entertain themselves and taking the easy way out with electronic entertainment?
What I found is that the same experts who suggest letting kids be bored during the summer also recommend exactly the kind of middle ground solution I was hoping for: help kids come up with lists of activities they can choose from when they’re bored.
At the beginning of the summer, the experts recommend, sit down with your children and create such a list together. That way, when your child comes to you with the “I’m bored (what are you going to do to fix it?)” remark, simply point them to the list to help them come up with an idea.
Making a list with your kids doesn’t mean you’re taking away the benefits of boredom, since kids still have to decide which activity they’re going to do.
But it does make it less likely that your children will come to you with complaints since the list serves as an idea generator.
101+ fun summer activities for kids to fend off boredom
To make this process easier, I’ve put together over one hundred cards, each with a suggestion of fun outside and indoor activities kids can do during the summer when they feel bored.
To see a list of the outside activities included click here.
To see a list of the indoor activities included click here.
On each card is a single activity idea, like “play a board game” or “draw with chalk outside.” Altogether, these activities provide many options for wholesome fun, each of which encourages kids to go outside, be imaginative & creative, practice life skills, or simply have fun in another way.
Other reasons why I like these cards:
- None of the activities involve screens. While there’s a time and place for screen time, I try my best to avoid screen time as a way to overcome boredom.
- All of the activities are low-cost and require no more than common household items that most families already own.
- The blank cards allow kids to add activities that are specific to their interests.
How we use the cards:
Kids love surprises, so I’ve found that having these cards in a bowl and letting children pick them out one by one is often a game unto itself.
While my kids may not do the activity listed on the first card they choose, it can be fun for them to be pleasantly surprised by what the card says. And since the suggestion comes from an impersonal card and not a parent, the appeal of trying a new or forgotten activity is greater than if I were to suggest it.
Teaching kids to be self-sufficient when they feel bored
Not only do the activity cards, or even just a list, help parents by keeping kids occupied, they also teach kids how to be self-sufficient when boredom sets in.
It can be all too easy for children to want their parents to do the work to help them overcome boredom. But giving them the tools to come up with an activity on their own – even if it does come from a list – teaches them that they can overcome boredom on their own.
Getting back to the joys of summer
The other day my daughter came into the kitchen and once again told me that she had nothing to do.
“Did you remember the activity cards?” I asked.
“Oh yes!” she exclaimed as her eyes lit up. Ever since introducing the cards to her and her sister they’ve had fun pulling out cards to see what come up next.
And I’ve enjoyed being able to allow my kids to be “bored” while also not drowning in an ever-increasing list of to-dos.
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