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What to Do When Your Child or Teen Says “I’m Bored!”

13 great boredom-relief ideas that do not involve screens.

Key points

  • When a child is bored, start by assessing whether or not they need some quality time.
  • If a child's generally OK, put together an activity toolbox to help them manage the times they feel bored.
  • Make a list of boredom chores, send them outside, create a music center, assemble a drama box, and more.
Painting rocks

Sometimes “I’m bored” means “I’m up for some challenge and excitement, and I want you to make that happen,” but it can also mean, “I have a problem.”

First, check in with your child or teenager and make sure they’re OK.

If your child or teenager lets you know they’re bored, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and ask them how they’re doing. Slow yourself down, and take enough time to find out if they need to talk. Once you’ve made sure their physical, social, intellectual, and psychological needs are being met, help your child welcome their downtime as an exciting opportunity for discovery, creativity, and fun.

Then help them take the next step in finding the fun possibilities in boredom.

If your child seems emotionally OK, here are some constructive non-screen responses for when they look bored or tell you they are:

  1. Ask what needs doing. Sometimes just asking if there’s anything that needs doing (e.g., cleaning their room, brushing their hair, painting a picture) is enough to get a child or teenager thinking creatively. If not, move on to one of the other items on this list, depending on whether you think they need a job to do, they need some help getting started on an activity, or they need some attention from you.
  2. Make a list of boredom chores. Working together with your child, make a list of age-appropriate household chores for when they’re bored. From the right perspective, chores can be fun, so in addition to emptying the dishwasher and cleaning the bathroom sink, the list might include sorting out their books, walking the dog, or making decorations for the next family gathering.
  3. Help your child get started. Maybe your child needs a hand getting out the art supplies or the sports equipment, someone to take them to the park or library, or some other materials or support in order to do something they’d like to do.
  4. Make a great boredom ideas jar. Brainstorm activities your child or teenager enjoys doing, things like reading, playing cards, and listening to music. Write each one down, or get your child to do that, and put it into a jar labeled “Great Boredom Ideas.” Whenever they’re looking for something to do, they can reach in and see what idea they randomly pull out or poke through the jar until they find something they want to do.
  5. Tell your child to go outside and play (or take them there). Spending more time outdoors, preferably in natural settings, can be the healthiest boredom solution of all, especially for kids who spend a lot of time indoors. Even the same-old neighborhood park can have a new feel at different times of day—in the evening, during a drizzle, or when the sun rises.
  6. Suggest your child read a book or review one. A trip to the public library can be an investment in many happy reading hours during the week. You might also set up a family reading time, suggest that your child set up a kids’ book club with friends, or write book reviews for kids’ journals.
  7. Create a home science corner. You can find many ideas for simple home science experiments online.
  8. Put together an artist’s activity box. Collect odds and ends for pictures, cards, collages, rock paintings, and other works of art: glue, colored paper, smooth rocks, ribbon, wine corks, cardboard, wool, popsicle sticks, paper clips, sprinkles, cotton balls, scraps of fabric, tin foil, etc.
  9. Create a music-making center. Your child can make musical instruments out of paper tubes, wax paper, and a rubber band or with sticks, tiles, wood, plastic, or different-sized pots. Put a kazoo, harmonica, or recorder in the box. Ask your child for ideas of things that rattle, ring, or make other interesting sounds, and throw those in, too. Encourage them to create and perform their own songs.
  10. Make a puppet show kit. Include old socks, buttons, felt, feather boas, and big picture frames.
  11. Assemble a drama box. A carton for theatrical productions might include old hats, make-up, shoes, scarves, shirts, sheets, purses, gloves, and props.
  12. Create a writer’s activity box. Include here the essentials for creating a journal, newsletters, joke books, short stories, poetry, scripts, and letters.
  13. Make a bookshelf for activity books. Include crossword puzzles, games, Sudoku, brainteasers, treasure hunts, and how-to basics on topics like drawing cartoons, building birdhouses, and decorating cupcakes.

Now carry on with your own life and activities.

Once your child is past the toddler years, you’re no longer responsible for their every-minute entertainment. You are responsible for doing your best to create an environment where they can develop into a healthy, capable, confident, and resilient adult, but as they get older, it’s increasingly important to release control and let them find their own interests. Learn to welcome your child or teenager’s boredom as an opportunity for self-discovery, creativity, exploration, imagination, and restoration of equilibrium.

More from Dona Matthews Ph.D.
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