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Scenario: You’re standing in the kitchen trying to get dinner ready, sorting through all of your end of day thoughts and you hear a whine from behind… “MOOOOOM I”M BOOOORED!” 

You slowly turn around gritting your teeth while locking eye contact and force a smile.. “Why don’t you go play with your toys? I am trying to cook dinner.” 

“But, MOOOOM I don’t like any of those toys they are all bORing!” 

You sigh and wonder where you went wrong and WHY your child will not play by themselves!?

With everything kids have access to in today’s technologically driven world, how could they possibly be bored? How could a child with every hot new toy under the sun have trouble playing?

WHY do they always need you to play with them? Can’t you just cook dinner for once!!

Sound familiar? Don’t worry you’re not alone. It’s a universal headache for parents nowadays. It seems like we are all struggling to figure out how to keep our kids busy! !???

Parents are dealing with this more and more frequently. And report it starting earlier and earlier in childhood.

Just a few days ago a mom posted in one of the Facebook groups I am in that her 18 month old was bored and she didn’t know what to do to keep him busy.

A 1.5-year-old should not be bored, they should be thriving, exploring, and into everything!

Earlier today I came across another mom of a 6-month-old asking for ideas to keep him entertained–expressing that she had “done” everything she could think to do for him.

All I wanted to do was yell “He is 6 months old, SIX MONTHS OLD! Stop throwing Vtech toy after Vetch toy at him and let him learn to entertain himself.”

And that right there, friends, is the problem. No, not me and my boisterous self, but the fact that we as parents feel that we have to entertain our children non-stop.

So let’s talk about this whole idea of keeping kids busy. In theory, this is well-intentioned, but in practice, it is deeply, deeply flawed.

So flawed that we are setting our children up for a hard life lesson later down the line.

Let me free you from the chains of guilt, and just lay it all out there. Are you ready to break free? Here ya go…. Children do NOT need to be, nor should they be, hovered over or have every minute of the day perfectly choreographed for them.

You are NOT responsible for keeping your child entertained.. So go ahead let them be bored! Let them figure out how to keep themselves busy and stop the Mom guilt. It’s OKAY NOT to play with your children.

Why Boredom is good for your child and their brain

Unfortunately, hyper focus on our children has left our kids incapable of dealing with any lull in stimulation and hindered their ability to play independently. Which, in short… SUCKS!

Now, I am not saying don’t ever play with your kids, but you should not be their main source of entertainment. When you direct them to go play independently it shouldn’t be a battle.

 It should be something they look forward to. It should be their time to take an exciting trip to Neverland and beyond.

All too often, we forget that it is not our job as parents to “keep our kids busy” or “keep them entertained.” In fact, when we put too much effort in being the “plaything” or source of engagement it directly impacts their ability to do things for themselves. Which, will get old… if it hasn’t already. Trust me!

So, what is our job as parents then?  It is to provide a safe space with access to open-ended toys, art supplies and books and leave them alone. Seriously… just leave them be and let them play! They will learn to keep busy and entertain themselves.

You might be thinking “Okay, Alanna you’ve got my attention so how do I do this thing? How do I get my child to stop complaining about being bored, and keep them busy and out of my hair?”

Well, girl, I’ll tell you… It’s time to give your child one more gift, a priceless gift, the gift of boredom.

The benefits of boredom 

It’s hard to visualize being bored as a good thing, even as an adult. I get that. We are taught that being bored SUCKS and that we must always stay busy and use mediums such as TV, Phones, and Tablets to “keep busy”. 

So, how can I expect a child with limited reasoning skills to function and pull themselves out of their so-called boredom? Well… we don’t teach them what boredom is.

sed to describe a feeling. A feeling of emptiness, listlessness, and general unease. Something is just amiss and you can’t place your finger on it. This isn’t a bad thing…

Being Bored has many benefits to childhood development

  • Being Bored helps a child Develop problem-solving skills
    When a child starts to feel listless and just doesn’t know what to do they are forced to figure out a way to remedy the problem.
  • Boredom encourages imagination and creativity
    When there is “nothing to do” your child ends up making something up! What better way to dive into imagination and exploration than being bored? It’s the key to unlocking hidden worlds and magical memories.
  • Boredom improves overall mental health
    With today’s ideology that you have to be go-go-go to be content actually stepping back and having time to reflect makes one more self-aware. Cabin fever is a real thing because people don’t know how to be with themselves. Take this pandemic for example. We were all stuck at home going crazy with boredom because we can’t handle being with ourselves. Letting a child sit in their own boredom is sitting them up to be independent, healthy adults who aren’t peeved by their own company. 
  • Boredom teaches a child to Embrace failure
    How many times have you started a project only to realize it wasn’t for you? You quickly found out that something was amiss, you felt anxious and just out of sorts.. you got bored and ditched it, in essence, you failed to complete what you set out to do. How do you react? This all depends on your viewpoint of failure… Do you try again? Do not give up? This is what your child learns at an early age. How to handle their own failure and feelings in a positive manner. 

I could go on and on all day, but I think you get the point. Boredom isn’t so bad after all for a child or an adult for that matter.

Boredom is what gives children the time to figure out what makes them happy, and allows them to develop skills like creativity, imagination, self-reflection, patience, and independence.

Can you give a child too much attention?

“Yes, no.. no yes.. Ugh IDK!” if this is how you answered the above question then you’re not alone. As much as I would like to have a concrete answer for you I don’t know either. Why? Because every child is different. 

I will tell you this from my decade long experience as a school teacher and as an established mother of 4 children who are not encouraged to play independently. The struggle in school, at home and later in life. You have to find the right balance in your home, for your child. 

Should parents play with their child? Shifting Our Mindset: Do Less to Do More

To keep your child busy, without you being the #1 source of engagement or entertainment you have to start by shifting your mindset.

Do less to do more.

Children of all ages are capable of much more than we believe them to be.

You are in no way obligated to play with your children. You do not have to plan activity after endless activity to keep them busy. You

Don’t think about how to “keep them busy” instead find ways to encourage them to be independent by providing open-ended toys that allow for more active play.

What Are Open-Ended Toys?

If you’ve never heard the term open-ended toy before you may be sitting over there scratching your head. I know I was when I was first introduced to the concept. A toy is a toy that is a toy, right? 

Eh, not exactly. Take a video game for example it can only ever be a video game… it can’t be a castle. A light up cell phone only functions with the purpose of being a cell phone. BUT a block or blocks can be many many things! Your child can pretend one is a cell phone, they can build a castle to keep the dragon out, they can create a city, and so much more. 

That my friends is an open-ended toy. Toys that can be played with in several different ways that don’t restrict imagination and can be any number of things from one day to the next. 

How to encourage your child to play independently

Minimize the amount of stuff you have out for your kids. If you are overwhelmed by the amount of toys out, imagine how they feel. 

I want you to really think about this for a second.

How do you feel when you walk into a room and there is just stuff EVERYWHERE. Like you’re lost? You don’t know where to start or what to do first? Like you could just shut down? 

What do you end up doing when you feel this way? Some of us shut down or put it off until later, others dive in anxiety first and tackle it anyways and some people it just doesn’t bother at all.

If you’re one of those people the envy is real. I, like most people, have a very hard time functioning in chaos.

WE ARE ADULTS… and we have a hard time. 

Think of a child who is just looking around wide-eyed, back and forth like what do I even do???

If you feel like this or think your child might feel like this then it’s time to make a change.

How to choose toys that promote independent play & keep them busy

As a general rule, stay away from standard plastic and toys that light up, make noise, or talk. These types of toys can actually hinder play for children because they take away the need for imagination and creativity.

Remember that the more a toy does, the less your kid has to do.

Play is the work of the child so keep in mind the 90/10 rule when evaluating toys. That means a toy should do no more than 10 percent of the work.

You want your child to do the thinking, visualizing, and creating.

If you want some specific toy recommendations you can check out this post.

Do educational toys work? Unfortunately, No.

Educational Toys Don’t Encourage Learning

Many of the most common toys today actually take these opportunities away from kids. And while they are often labeled as educational, they don’t actually teach your child anything but how to be entertained by something else–leaving them wanting more and more.

How many times has your child loved a bright shiny new toy, only to be over it after an an hour or two? Maybe it lasted few days or weeks but it gets quickly tossed aside and forgotten. This is because the toy has done all it can for them, and they are looking for their next fix of stimulation.

If they aren’t given enough time to rely on themselves for stimulation, you end up with kids who constantly need someone (you) or something (a new toy, activity, device) to keep them busy. It’s a pretty vicious cycle with pretty deep consequences.

The Solution to “Keeping Kids Busy”

So the solution is pretty simple. Stop spending all your time trying to keep them busy and they will stop needing you to keep them busy. Trust in their ability to deal with their own discomfort (and don’t let their discomfort be yours).

One of the best things you can do for your child is to let them figure things out for themselves.

Interested in getting your little one to play independently?

Check out my Purposeful Playspace e-course to learn how to create a space for your children that invites them to play in ways that are more engaging, purposeful and independent.

Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?

Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood

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