As a parent, hearing the refrain, “I’m bored” makes us want to leap into action to figure out an activity to keep our kid entertained. But, it’s more than okay for your kid to be bored. In fact, kids need to have unstructured time.
Because their (and our) lives are filled with external stimulation — electronics, extracurricular activities, video games— they rarely have to tap their inner resources. All of the screens they’re glued to (computers, iPads, phones, etc.) produce a small dopamine reward inside their brains. That dopamine “rush” means that other kinds of experiences just aren’t as enjoyable and don’t measure up. All the more reason to leave some of your kids’ time unscheduled. Rather than feeling that you always need to keep your kids interested, let them find out what interests them, other than screens.
The human brain is not wired to be constantly in “go” mode — daydreaming and letting the mind wander is a good thing. Being still allows your child to figure out what she’s thinking and feeling. Having “nothing to do” means she turns to her own creative resources to figure something out.
When they were younger, I remember my kids inventing their own wacky games and making an astonishing variety of things by cutting and folding plain white paper. What did you do when you were bored, back in the day? Read. Listen to music. Play in the dirt. Play a card game. Build a fort with your brother.
So, even though it can be a bit like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard, do your best to wait out the “I’m bored!” complaint. More times than not, you’ll find that your kid will zero in on something to occupy them. If you feel like you’ll pull your hair out if you don’t intervene, Care.com has a list of 101 activities to suggest.