Let Kids Be Bored: It's Good for Them

Let Kids Be Bored It's Good for Them

A message to parents navigating summer: Boredom has its upsides.

Vivid memories of my childhood summers include barbecues, cicada calls, and…intense boredom. While I had a structured schedule and summer camps, there were weeks when my working parents didn’t fill my days. They weren’t worried if I was constantly entertained.

This lingers in my mind as my own sons navigate summers with camps, babysitters, and grandparents. It’s expensive yet feels insufficient.

Many parents feel obligated to pack their children’s days with activities and learning. A 2018 New York Times article discussed the relentlessness of modern parenting. It found that regardless of background, parents believed bored kids needed extracurricular activities. As a psychology professor explained, there’s a cultural stigma against boredom, especially in the US.

The saying goes, “Only boring people get bored.”

But boredom is “normal, natural, and healthy,” says the professor. While research on childhood boredom is limited, she believes moderate boredom offers valuable lessons. It sparks creativity, problem-solving, and the motivation to find meaningful activities.

“Shielding kids from boredom is like shielding them from sadness, frustration, or anger,” she says.

Boredom has its upsides. 

What you and your children can learn from boredom:

  • Boredom is informative. It’s an emotion, like a car’s dashboard light. Boredom signals that what you’re doing isn’t working. It could be too easy, too hard, or lack meaning.

Parents can help younger children manage boredom by developing “emotional granularity.” This means helping them distinguish between boredom and other feelings like sadness. Experts recommend “naming it to tame it” to identify feelings.

Kids might say “bored” when lonely or seeking attention. Ask if they need comfort or company.

Normalize boredom. We often see it as distress, but it’s not always negative.

  • Boredom can lead to fulfillment. Boredom offers children a chance to explore activities they find interesting.

Letting kids loose in the backyard might lead to initial boredom. But they can learn to prevent or resolve it by finding fulfilling activities, like studying bugs, playing ball, or drawing with chalk. If parents don’t allow free play, children might miss out on their love of nature, sports, or art, or even the joy of relaxation.

“Identifying and developing those sources of meaning is a lifelong skill,” the professor says.

  • “Boredom busters” can help. Parents sometimes fear boredom’s chaos in the house. But free time allows for discovery.

Look at your child’s schedule and consider adding “quiet downtime.”

However, parents shouldn’t expect kids to know what’s meaningful. Remind them of their interests.

“It’s not about leaving them with nothing,” she says. It’s about providing a space with things they find interesting, like books and puzzles. Research shows that without positive outlets, people might turn to harmful behaviors.

For younger children (under 5), offer specific “boredom busters” like Legos, Play-Doh, or going outside. While parents might feel pressured to constantly play with young children, this can hinder their imagination.

With older children, suggest they explore the house and come back with three ideas. Moving from boredom to action unlocks creativity, problem-solving, and academic skills.

Screens require little effort, so both children and adults often turn to them to beat boredom.

“It makes sense kids ask for screens, but it’s not necessarily best for them,” the professor concludes.

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