How to entertain a bored toddler at home with little effort
“Mom! I’m bored!” is something children repeat over and over.
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What can you do at home to entertain a bored toddler? Do you play with them? Why not let them be bored? Is there even any benefits to being bored?
Open-ended or parent-directed play can entertain toddlers, but being bored is not always a bad thing. It can even help build your toddler's brain!
We live in a world where children are expected to be busy or scheduled from dawn to dusk. Giving the child the time and space to be bored can help them develop their creativity, learn to self-regulate, and improve focus.
By having a well-stocked and inviting play space at home, it is easy to entertain a bored toddler at home without using screens so that they can play independently.
How to Keep a Toddler from being Bored
Let’s discuss the benefits of being a bored toddler. I'm about to let you in on a secret:
Being bored is not a bad thing, in fact, it is good for toddlers
I know. The bored, whiny toddler doesn’t feel like a good thing. It can be really frustrating, but it's good to experience your child being bored.
In fact, our brain needs boredom.
Boredom can be a very unpleasant feeling.
Their brains are craving new stimuli, so they turn to you to provide them with something novel to do. When we hand them our phones or turn on a cartoon we are buying their silence, but we aren’t helping them to develop the ability to come up with their own play.
When we resist the urge to give them the fastest thing possible and allow them to be bored, their brains will find a stimulus to entertain themselves.
Boredom fuels creativity.
And it works the same regardless of your age. Adults, children, and toddlers all benefit from boredom. Not only does boredom motivate your child to be more creative, but it also encourages them to seek out new experiences. We wouldn't be as adventurous if boredom didn't exist.
Perhaps the best benefit of boredom at a young age is self-regulation and improving focus.
That’s right! A child’s brain is better able to self-regulate and focus if it is allowed to experience boredom and overcome it. Imagine that!
In this Psychology Today article, you can learn more about the benefits of boredom.
How often should you be playing with your toddler?
“Mommy, mommy play with me!I can feel it too, that deep sigh building in your chest.
I know what you are thinking, “If I eat one more pretend cupcake, I'm going to lose it.”
Sitting down to play with your child isn’t something that has been around that long. Until recent history, adults and children had work to do in the home and very little free time to play. And there are many theories on the importance of parent-child play and how often it should be done.
So how long should you be playing with your toddler? As often as feels comfortable playing with them.
The most important things are to put your phone away, give your child undistracted attention, and not take over the play space. Let your child lead you in their world and join in as much as you want.
If you just want to sit close and observe and comment occasionally, that’s perfectly okay. And if you want to play Barbies and dress up, then go for it.
While playing with your child is fun, it should not be the only way they play. They should also have plenty of time to play and explore without adult interference.
Set Your Play area up with independent play in mind
Why is having a play area important for toddlers?
Independent play is important to a child’s development. And their play space needs to be functional in a way that the child can play with it.
Having an organized play area that is not overwhelmed with toys and colors is the best way to help your child use the space effectively and get the most out of their play.
A playroom must be organized so that it can be used by children.
Organize the space using small boxes, buckets, or baskets like these from Target. The child is able to get toys by themselves since the baskets are lightweight. And labeling the baskets with specific toys, like cars or dolls, helps with cleanup.
Keeping toys in a basket of just one type can prevent kids from becoming overwhelmed.
Large toys can sit openly on shelves or the floor so they are invited to play with them.
You should also keep like toys together. So baby dolls and baby doll furniture should live close together.
When making a play area, take cues from preschool and kindergarten classrooms and set up different stations.
The play kitchen should be separated from the block area.
If you don't have enough room to separate toys, only having one or two types out at a time can make it less overwhelming for your children.
This also helps get toys cleaned up and reset for the next play session.
For more information about organizing a play area check out my article here.
Ditch the electronics and go for Open-Ended Toys
It is so easy to just hand a bored toddler a phone or a tablet and let them binge Youtube kids. But is it the best way to deal with their boredom?
Not really. We all know that screen time should be limited for children (and adults, I know that hurts). But when your child is upset and cranky about being bored it feels like the best solution.
But open-ended toys are far better than electronic toys, including those with sound and lights even though they're marketed as educational toys.
Open-ended toys encourage open-ended play.
What is open-ended play?
Open-ended play is any kind of play that can be done in any way. There is no right or wrong way to play.
It lets your child express their creativity so they can decide how the play should go. This could be a creative artistic activity like leaving out several types of art materials and non-art materials without any instructions on how they should be used and allowing your child to make their own art.
Examples of Open-Ended Play:
- Playing with playdough or kinetic sand
- Building with blocks (including magnetic blocks)
- Building with Lego
- Playing with dolls or toy animals
To learn more of the benefits of open-ended play check out this post here.
Open-ended toys for toddlers
- Kinetic Sand is great for open ended play, but it does need to be supervised by an adult if the child is still exploring by putting things in their mouth. Scoops, molds, and household items can make playing with kinetic sand even more fun. (I love this set of kinetic sand tools)
- Playdough can be homemade or store bought. Playdough is excellent for developing fine motor skills and imagination. The kinetic sand tools can also be used on playdough.
- Blocks- blocks can come in a variety of types, like magnet blocks, foam blocks, wooden blocks and *gasp* even plastic blocks. I linked to some of my favorite blocks that we love in our playspace.
- Lego Duplo blocks are great for fine motor skills, spatial intelligence, and creativity. Kids who tend to be more mechanically inclined or logical oriented may benefit greatly from this activity to tap into their creativity. Lego offers this great classic set of Duplo blocks that aren’t directly part of a set so they are more open-ended. You can get them here.
- Rainbow Stacker- This is a playroom best-seller but isn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it’s also a lot of fun and kids love it. One of my favorite ones are right here.
- Realistic Toy Animals: I love realistic toy animals, made of rubber or plastic, these are fun to play with. Kids love these miniature animals. They can play safari, have their own zoo, or lead an animal parade. This is one of my favorite sets.
- Wooden Peg Dolls: wooden peg dolls are the perfect size for little hands, they are made of wood so less plastic, and they do not enforce unrealistic beauty standards. I have 3 sets that I really love. For customizability you cannot go wrong with this peg doll kit. For quick and easy, this painted set of peg dolls is great. And if you are wanting to use the peg dolls to also work with emotions, this set of peg dolls is perfect.
Also check out: Open-ended toys myths, busted
The Bottom Line: A bored Toddler isn’t always a bad thing!
Boredom is not always a bad thing, even if it is unpleasant to feel. Boredom can inspire creativity, build self-control and teach independence.
In a busy world full of jampacked schedules, one of the best things you can do for your child is giving them the freedom to play and to be bored.
Because in the end, that is how you can keep a toddler entertained for hours. By letting them learn to be bored and play on their own they develop the ability to entertain themselves.
For more ideas on getting kids to play independently, check out my article here.