Most children are naturally curious. Young babies army crawl over to paper scraps on the ground and shuffle them in their mouth for a quick taste. Toddlers waddle to kitchen cabinets to rummage through pots and pans. And older children of speaking age break out in a chorus of never-ending whys.
Children love exploring their worlds, and they often take the lead to do so. In fact, bored babies are rare, unless already conditioned to seek external stimulation or entertainment.1 That’s where the importance of encouraging independent or self-driven play comes in.
When your baby starts to cry, your toddler starts to throw a tantrum, or your child comes to you looking for a fun activity, relinquish the responsibility of rescuing them from boredom. Instead, encourage them to connect to their bodies, engage with their creativity and imagination, and discover an activity that meets their emotional, mental, and physical needs.
How Parents Can Tap Into Why Children Are Bored
Perhaps one of the best steps for parents wondering what to do when a kid is bored is to remember what it felt like to be bored as a child, themselves.
Think of how you viewed the world as a child—your surroundings were in high-definition. Every sun-spotted speck of floating lint caught your imagination, each toy conjured vivid scenes and reenactments, all physical activity, from kicking a soccer ball to twirling in dress-up clothing, was felt fully.
Children’s mind-body connections are strong, and they need new movement and play experiences to stimulate their brains and facilitate cognitive development.2
As such, your child may feel bored as a result of a lack of activity, stimulation, or challenges, which is why song-and-dance activities like the Hokey Pokey are so popular. The movements engage different parts of the body to activate and strengthen both sides of the brain while keeping a bored toddler occupied.2
Don’t Feel The Need to Rescue Children From Boredom
While facilitating a stimulating activity for your restless child is certainly tempting, especially if they’re demonstrating angry, frustrated, or desperate behaviors, they’re capable of self-soothing and discovering new ways to play—when encouraged and allowed to do so.
In fact, there are many benefits of boredom, as it may:3
- Encourage emotional regulation
- Facilitate planning skills
- Inspire creativity and original thinking
- Help children embrace failure and build perseverance
And, allowing children to discover their own passions and interests provides caregivers with more time to care for their own needs, too.
Have Conversations with Your Children About Their Boredom
Oftentimes, babies enjoy actively observing and listening to their surroundings, while toddlers are often happy testing their limits.4 But how can you facilitate free-play in young children who are constantly coaxing their caregivers to play with them?
While connecting and playing with your children is critical to their development, it’s also important to encourage free time that’s not led by an adult or parent.
This provides children with opportunities to:5
- Build confidence in being independent and independent play
- Express their wants and needs
- Foster their imagination
- Learn problem-solving skills
That said, the best way to facilitate individual play for a bored kid is to sit down with them and have a conversation about what activities they feel like doing.
For this, you can use the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER approach, which allows your child to lead their own exploration into their own boredom:6
- Recognize – Ask your child about the emotions they’re feeling, the thoughts they’re having, and how these sensations feel in their body. For example, when they approach you with a desire to solve their boredom, you may start by saying something like, “I know it can be difficult to feel bored. What does your body feel like when you’re experiencing these emotions?”
- Understand – Then, inquire about what’s causing these feelings. You may ask your child, “It can help to understand why we’re bored. Why do you think you feel this way?”
- Label – In addition to boredom, see if your child can identify any other emotions they may be feeling, such as anger, sadness, hurt, tiredness, or excitement. It'll help give you a better idea of what they're actually feeling and if it's more than just child boredom.
- Express – Once they’ve labeled their emotions, allow them to express those feelings outwardly. You can encourage this by asking, “What is your body telling you it wants to do?”
- Regulate – Create space for your child to come up with strategies to solve their boredom and ask them, “How can you figure out what feels right to do at this moment? What activities would you like to try?” Once they’ve offered a solution or suggested different activities, such as playing with their toys or coloring, express your confidence in them testing this idea and carrying out other activities that spark their interest, too.
If your child becomes particularly upset or destructive while bored—whether from resentfulness, frustration, or loneliness—recognize that their feelings are valid, but they likely aren’t operating from a position of logic, and it may be difficult to hold a productive conversation. If this is the case, it may help to simply aim to emotionally connect with your child. You can use:7
- Physical touch, after making sure it’s okay with your child
- Active listening practices
- A nurturing tone of voice
- Empathetic facial expressions
Once they feel connected to you again, they may be more willing to investigate their tough emotions with your encouragement.
Model Behavior Back To Them
Most children replicate their caregivers—and sometimes even do so in fun games of imitation.
They’ll parrot back the same phrases you use on business calls when dialing up their imaginary friends. They’ll delight in dressing up in similar clothing and colors. And, they’ll express themselves in the same ways as they’ve observed in adults—whether that’s performing a happy dance before dinnertime or sitting down on a bench to put on their shoes.
That said, because children observe and mimic how their caregivers act, you can also influence their behaviors by adjusting your own.
When you begin to feel bored, express your feelings calmly and out loud: “I’m feeling really bored and restless right now.” Then, walk them through your mental process as you problem-solve your situation, saying something like, “I think I’m feeling uncomfortable because I haven’t moved all day and my body feels tired. I’m going to do some quick stretching, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll go on a walk to give my brain some fresh air.”
Providing your children with a template to navigate their emotions and current circumstances can help them problem-solve with confidence, even when you’re not around.
Connect Through Activities Together
When you take the time to connect with your children emotionally, mentally, or physically, it indicates to them that they matter to you, which can:
- Increase their self-esteem
- Create feelings of trust and a sense of belonging
- Develop their social skills
- Show them that you respect and value their needs
- Build a bond between you and your child
And saying “yes” to your children can help them feel open, safe, and trusting, according to Dr. Daniel Siegel, who specializes in Interpersonal Neurobiology.8 That said, after your child has identified an activity to break their boredom, join them if you have the opportunity. There are many family bonding activities you can try, such as:
- Reading a book
- Doing a puzzle
- Playing a board game
- Baking a delicious treat
- Planting in the garden
- Putting on a performance for the rest of the family
- Going for a walk
- Building a fort
- Learning a dance
- Hosting a rainy day tea party
- Pretend play
Playing with your child also provides you with the opportunity to instill values you hold dear by taking the time to listen, set limits, introduce problem-solving strategies for kids, and demonstrate how to express their emotions.9
Consistent attentiveness and investment in the wants, needs, and emotions of your child can help develop your child’s secure attachment, too, which can help them experience intimacy, connection, and commitment in relationships as they grow.10
Tune Into Your Child’s Specific Needs
Some children who are neurodivergent may experience elevated levels of boredom or stronger emotions when boredom arises. These conditions include, but are not limited to:
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Down syndrome
- Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Social anxiety
For example, children with ADHD, who crave regular stimulation, may find it difficult to engage with an activity for a long period of time or begin to feel tired and apathetic throughout the day. In this case, knowing what to do when kids are bored can become more difficult.
To facilitate excitement in children with ADHD, consider encouraging movement and making each activity a game or competition.11 That said, every child and condition is different and boredom will manifest itself differently.
Again, a conversation that puts your child in the lead can help them identify and regulate their emotions and find a stimulating activity that feels good to them.
Embrace the Lessons of Boredom with Slumberkins
Putting your bored child in the problem-solving seat is a wonderful way to encourage creative thinking, emotional regulation, and independence. But just because they’re driving doesn’t mean you can’t go along for the ride. By taking the time to recognize your child’s emotions and connect with them one-on-one, you can help facilitate self-esteem, trust, and a bond that’ll last a lifetime.
To squelch the boredom blues, find a fun activity that you can both enjoy—like picking up a book. Or, more specifically, the Dragon Gets Bored Book by Slumberkins. Alongside Dragon, you and your child will embark on a creative journey, learn how to tap into your imaginations, and interact with your environment in new and exciting ways.
To supplement your child’s playtime, Dragon can be added to your toy chest as a Snuggler or Kin to infuse creativity, imagination, and confidence into every corner of your child’s world—from the playroom to the bedroom.
- Janet Lansbury. The Myth of Baby Boredom. https://www.janetlansbury.com/2009/09/the-myth-of-baby-boredom/
- PennState. The Body: A Tool of Learning for Young Children. https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/news/2016/the-body-a-tool-of-learning-for-young-children
- Child Mind Institute. The Benefits of Boredom. https://childmind.org/article/the-benefits-of-boredom/
- Janet Lansbury. Stop Entertaining Your Toddler (And Free Their Play). https://www.janetlansbury.com/2013/05/stop-entertaining-your-toddler-and-free-their-play/
- UNICEF. What is free play and why should you encourage it at home? https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-care/what-is-free-play
- RULER. Ruler Approach. https://www.rulerapproach.org/
- Parentotheca. The Whole-Brain Child. Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson. https://parentotheca.com/2021/05/17/the-whole-brain-child-daniel-siegel-and-tina-bryson-summary/
- Mindful. What Saying Yes Does To Your Child’s Brain. https://www.mindful.org/dr-dan-siegel-hearing-yes-childs-brain/
- Gottman Institute. The Four Parenting Styles. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-parenting-styles/
- Gottman Institute. How Early Attachment Styles Can Influence Later Relationships. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-early-attachment-styles-can-influence-later-relationships/
- CHADD. What Can You Do About Boredom at a Time Like This? https://chadd.org/what-can-you-do-about-boredom-at-a-time-like-this/