Bored Kids, Busy Parents

The child supplies the power, but the parents have to do the steering.
—Benjamin Spock, pediatrician

One of the biggest tensions between parents and kids is that sometimes kids don’t have enough to do, while parents have too much to do. It’s difficult not to cringe when your child complains about being bored when you wish your life didn’t have so much responsibility and activity. Instead of getting exasperated, consider these ideas.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Know that your kids will get bored. It’s part of growing up. As their brains go through changes, children go through periods when they are able to easily find things to do—and times when they aren’t.
    • Avoid “fixing” your child’s boredom. Even though they complain about boredom, most kids can find something worthwhile to do.
    • Create a “beat boredom” box with your child. Together, brainstorm activities he enjoys doing. Write each on a separate piece of paper and fill up a box. The next time your child gets bored, pull out the “boredom box” for ideas.
    • Kids will get bored if the programs they attend aren’t interesting. Look for high-quality programs where kids are learning new skills, developing close relationships with peers and adults, feeling safe, doing something they feel passionate about, helping others, and getting opportunities to make decisions.
    • Find interesting books for your kids to read. To find ideas for each age group, visit “The Best Children’s Books by Age”: from Parents magazine.
    • Monitor your activity level. Yes, you will always have a long to-do list. Discern what really needs to be done—and what can wait (so you can spend some time with your child).
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Young children may complain about boredom when they want to spend time with you. When you hear their complaints, spend a few minutes with your child (if you can). Ask what she would like to do with you. After awhile, your child will usually be more content to continue the activity with you close by.
    • Keep young children stimulated with everyday, household items. Have them make a tower with tissue boxes. Pull out pots and pans and let them bang away. Pour uncooked rice into a pan and let your older preschool child drive small cars through it.
    • Visit the library and have your young child find interesting books. (Poke around for others that you may think will interest your child.) Frequent trips to the library often will beat the boredom blues.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Invite your bored child to help you with household chores, such as doing laundry, cooking a meal, setting the table, or dusting. Make a game out of the chore, and soon you’ll both be having more fun.
    • Introduce your child to new activities. Sometimes children at this age get bored because they are no longer interested in playing tee ball (or whichever sport or activity your child takes part in) and want to try something else. Kids at this age typically don’t know about other options, so help them find some.
    • Visit some of your child’s favorite places, such as the zoo, the library, the children’s museum, and the playground. As children get older, they often find new wonders that amaze them.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Some kids at this age get bored easily—and often. Many feel that they’re stuck in an in-between stage. Introduce them to new books, movies, and activities that may capture their interest. (A librarian will often have good tips for book ideas.)
    • Monitor what your child does when he gets bored. Some kids download inappropriate movies and TV shows from the internet. Be clear that this is not acceptable. Steer their energy in another direction.
    • It’s normal for kids at this age to explore many different interests and activities. Because they can quickly change their minds, it’s often better to sign them up for short-term activities. Otherwise, you and your child could get stuck in power struggles if you want her to keep going to an activity only because you paid for it.
    • Make sure that kids continue to stay engaged in school. Some get bored at this age and begin to detach. Tap into their curiosity about subjects that fascinate them, such as growing mold on bread (this may be happening in their rooms or lockers, anyway), researching why people burp, or learning pig Latin (and teaching it to their friends).
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Teenagers can become bored with their daily schedule, particularly if it’s not stimulating enough or too intense. Help them find a balance.
    • What really gets your teenager excited? Sports? Music? Art? Mechanics? Fashion design? Encourage their passions. To learn more about this, read Sparks and Thriving.
  • Ask your teenager which friends and adults they enjoy being with. Friendships can shift during the teenage years, and it’s helpful for teenagers to see that spending time with fascinating peers and adults can make their lives much more interesting.

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