No really, my kids need to be bored.

When I posted my simple summer rules for a saner household, I included the statement “my kids need to be bored.”

I made some artwork to reflect the thought and pinned it onto Pinterest.  Apparently, it struck a nerve.   That pin generated a lot of traffic for my blog.

my kids need to be boredHonestly, that excites me.

As I shared in a post about screen bans and pink tv, I sometimes think I’m a better mom when my kids lose access to all those digital sitters.  I’ve noticed we tend to have unexpected adventures and live life a little more fully when we are all unplugged.

Why? Simple.

Boredom leads to creativity.

I could bore you with references to all the clinical research about how our children need to be bored.  I could give you link after link after link on the benefits of unstructured, unplugged play.

But I won’t.

I read a lot of them.  They didn’t tell me anything my gut didn’t already tell me.

Basically, my kids need to be bored.

my kids need to be bored more often

The problem is that boredom is hard work.

Parenting my kids through the boredom stinks.

Inevitably, it involves whining, complaining, pouting, and picking on siblings.

Standing my ground until they find something to do is hard.  It requires effort.  It takes my focus off of important stuff (like um… Pinterest and Twitter and Facebook and that stupid Candy Crush game).

bored for 20 minutes

But if I stick to my guns, eventually the magic happens.

The kids drift off and find things to do.

What kind of things? In the past month, it’s included

  • voluntary reading
  • voluntary writing
  • building a trap to catch the stray cat in the back yard
  • sweeping the front porch without prompting
  • sorting the socks (there’s no way i can explain this!)
  • going to bed early
  • building a Lego tower
  • playing Pokemon cards
  • riding bikes
  • playing catch outside
  • drawing dragons

Did you notice the word voluntary?  The child got a book off the bookshelf and sat down in a chair to read.  An hour later, he was still there.  It wasn’t even my suggestion.

boredom leads to creativity

How to create boredom without tears.

I’m not an expert.  I think I mess this up as often as I get it right. But here’s what I’ve figured out.

1.  Help them expect it.  What seems to work best is to build it into the weekly routine.  Depending on what’s going on inour lives, it can be a two hour quiet time in the middle of the day, a morning of independent play, or an after dinner reading hour. Just make it happen regularly.

2.  Limit it.  From experience, it doesn’t work to announce your kids will stay bored until they learn to enjoy it.  That freaked my boys out.  They could handle a two hour window.  Granted, sometimes they become clock watchers, but they’ve mastered a lot of math skills in the process.

3.  Don’t announce the end.  Inevitably, when the boredom window ends, my kids are immersed in something cool and amazing.  When that happens, I leave them alone.  When they’re done, they come ask if they can turn the television back on (or whatever).  Yes, I figured this out the hard way.

4.  Capture the moments.  When my kids discover something amazing or creative, I snap a few photos.  In the event of a boredom temper tantrum, I can show them the photos and remind them of all the cool stuff they come up with.

5.  Expect tears.  Recognize that they will test you, repeatedly.  If you give in, it will make it worse.  Just hang in there.

6.  Play with your kids.  If they’re struggling, help them. Remembering how to play isn’t easy.  There’s nothing that says you can’t help them by initiating a water gun fight or building a giant tower out of all that stockpiled toilet paper.  I have.

My kids need to be bored.

When I can remember this, they are happier kids.

That makes all the hard work totally worth it.

Susan Baker
I have a passion for encouraging weary worn out mothers to find joy in everyday motherhood and peace in unlikely places. I have two elementary school boys, one nerdy husband, and two cats. I have a strange fascination for bad puns, the color pink, socks, and books. I worry about running out of toilet paper, wine, and chocolate.. I serve an amazing God. I live an ordinary life filled with wonder.
Susan Baker
Susan Baker

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  1. I totally agree (again)! My two youngest spent a good half an hour today making lego boxes and putting ants and spiders in them. They were completely focused and content. If there had been the option of TV, the 6 year old would never have done anything else. Sigh.

    I hear people say that once you give kids unlimited access to electronics that they eventually realize how boring those things are and go off and do real stuff but I’ve never seen this happen with my kids. So I have to be the screen police. It’s not a fun job 🙁 I guess that’s why they pay us the big bucks, huh? 🙂
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    • I remember building pyramids with Legos when I was a kid. My brother and used one to hold a pet lizard for over a week. Much more fun that watching cartoons.

      As adults, we have unlimited access to electronic gizmos and screens. How many adults do you know that have realized how boring those things are? Most of us turn the screens off because we know what’s good for us and because we’ve developed self control… otherwise we’d just watch Netflix marathons all day while playing on Pinterest. Since I recognize I struggle with this as an adult, I figure it will be an issue for my kids.

      Being the screen police ins’t a fun job, but it is an important one.

      Wait… you get PAID to be screen police? I need to talk to my employer.

  2. Totally agree. When my kids were younger I never thought it was my job to entertain them 24/7. I wanted them to entertain themselves, and sometimes, like you said, that started with boredom. My kids learned early on not to tell me they were bored because I would find them things to do. It was better for them to figure something out on their own than for me to do it for them.
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  3. You are absolutely right…when the kids get bored, its frustrating for a little bit and then eventually they find something to do that inevitably keeps them occupied for hours! Love when they invent things!

    • It’s that period where they get frustrated and start whining that I find challenging to handle. If only they could skip right to the inventing phase.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. I see this with my Littlest Boy ALL THE TIME! When I tell him to figure his way out of it, before I give him something to do, he usually grabs his wrestlers and use his imagination.
    He has yet to grab a book. Hopefully that’s coming soon!

  5. Nice post! I Think you are doing all this thing for kids
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