I used to be convinced that as soon as my oldest son could produce a gummy smile, it was my job to be his personal entertainment director. All the time. I felt guilt—immense guilt—when I thought I wasn’t doing enough.
Carol Nama, a mom of three (ages 10, 7, and 3) in Willow Grove, Pennyslvania, can relate. Even though her older boys tend to be super busy during the school year with sports and activities, summertime—and its lack of structure—is a different story.“ A nice, slow day to me is like the kiss of death to my kids,” she says.
Contrary to what most kids believe, no one has ever died from boredom. Being able to cope with an unscheduled day—or hour—is a critical life skill, says Eileen Kennedy- Moore, Ph.D., co-author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. “Parents often see boredom as their responsibility to fix or think it means they’re not doing a good enough job,” she says. “I disagree with that.”
Facing down boredom can spur creativity and play, and helps kids learn to motivate themselves. That’s a skill they’ll need throughout life, not just on quiet summer days, but in school and, someday, at work.
Here’s how to help a bored kid—but not too much:
Preschoolers: Help them plan ahead
When you know you’ll be in a boredom-inducing situation, it’s okay to help your child plan for it instead of working out what you’ll do to keep him happy. For instance, if you think he’ll get bored watching a big sib’s baseball game, ask him to pick out two or three special activities to bring along.
It also helps to acknowledge your child’s feelings. You might say, “You’re feeling restless right now,” or “I know it’s hard to wait while grown-ups talk.” This’ll help him see that it’s normal to feel bored sometimes—but that it doesn’t mean you’ll swoop in to save the day instantly.
Talk about it
How do you handle your child’s boredom—swoop in to entertain or let her figure it out on her own?