For children with unlimited access to electronics, boredom is rarely an issue. Devices flash and ping and pull children in, providing hours of – dare I say – entertainment, along with just enough dopamine-driven fun to make them truly addictive. But for children not allowed to text and surf and Wii-ski on demand, expect to hear there’s nothing to do when faced with an afternoon to fill.
Unstructured time is a luxury, and learning to fill it an important developmental task. Children who are routinely shuffled from school to after-school lessons and sports lose the ability to create their own entertainment.
The same goes for children with overflowing toy boxes, children who demand – and receive – something new every time they set foot in a store. An abundance of devices, enrichment activities and "stuff" leads children to expect entertainment, something *fun* to do each and every moment of the day.
This causes problems on many levels from school, where teachers report the need to entice their students to work, to home, where complaints about boredom threaten to ruin even the nicest of days. What’s a parent to do?
- Make sure your child has unstructured time daily, or at least several times per week.
- Refrain from being a cruise director during these unstructured times.
- For kids who often complain of boredom, help them create an activity grab-bag.
Begin by brainstorming. Aim for a list of activities that take 15 minutes (or more) a piece, activities that don’t require complicated props or multiple people. Think outside the box, and encourage your child to do the same.
The list might look something like this: draw picture placemats for everyone in the family; teach Fido to roll over; create an outdoor obstacle course; rearrange the bookshelf, sorting books by size, genre or theme; create a display for rock/dinosaur/stuffed animal) collection; make a beach scene out of Lego; see how long it takes to walk up and down stairs 50 times; set up an animal hospital for stuffies; find empty containers and roll up socks for an indoor basket-toss; create a song and dance about macaroni and cheese.
Have your child include activities she already likes, and some she’s never tried. Include physical activities, artistic endeavors, activities that challenge the mind. Write each activity on a separate piece of paper. Have your child fold the papers and put them in a bag (decorating the bag can go on the list of things to do).
Whenever your child is bored, he can reach into the bag with just one rule: whatever activity he pulls out, that’s the one he’ll do. No throwing slips back in the bag to try for something better. If your child doesn’t want to use his bag, or if he complains about the slip he pulled, give him a 10-15 minute chore. After the chore, he can go back to the bag or find something to do on his own (without your assistance and without complaint).
The activity bag (used as described) cuts down on whining about boredom, and feelings of boredom, too. The novelty factor is fun, and the need to decide smoothed over by the single-slip rule. Amazingly, simple prompts (create 5 new hairstyles, build a tall tower out of blocks, make a duct-tape wallet) end up providing for hours of fun as children move from the initial task to, well, whatever occurs to them next which is, after all, the point.