What to do when your child says 'I'm bored!'

Teaching your kids to entertain themselves is vital

Practical Parenting Parenting Commentator / July 23 2018

What do you do when your child utters those inevitable words: ‘I’m bored’?

You could view their boredom as an opportunity rather than a problem. Unlike our generation who had to self-amuse, today’s kids are bred to be constantly entertained. Yet boredom gives their brains an opportunity to reset themselves and find creative solutions. Indeed, Jessica Alba says while her two older kids, Honor, 10, and Haven, six, complain of being bored she’s less than sympathetic.

"I was like: 'I spent my entire childhood being bored!' That’s how you figure out who you are... by getting bored and having to use your imagination," she says.

Kathy Walker, author of Future-Proofing Your Child, says one of the most frequent comments she hears from parents is that children don’t know how to entertain themselves. Yet how can they learn if we’re always scheduling activities and allowing them to fill the gaps with screens?

Kathy suggests starting small and giving kids a free hour every second day. She also suggests giving them options rather than telling them simply to go outside and play. As she says: "Children will feel more confident about coming up with ideas if they see you being enthusiastic about creating something or trying something new."

Finally, remember that boredom can lead to success. Sir Donald Bradman credited his cricketing talent with having to amuse himself with a stick and ball, while the Beatles grew up in grey old Liverpool and look where they got by having to entertain themselves!

Handy tips

• Turn lunch into a picnic, which they set up.

• Pull out the dress-ups and suggest they stage a play.

• Give them chalk and tell them whoever creates the best picture gets to hose it off afterwards.

• Suggest an obstacle course.

• Get them to draw a diagram of how they’d like to rearrange their bedroom.

• Bag up loose change to take to the bank.

• Give them a large box and ask them what they could make with it.

• Help them make their own playdough and then leave them to colour and sculpt it.

• Set up the sprinkler.

• Go on a walk and let them take photographs.

I grew up in New Zealand, moved to London in my early 20s to work on British newspapers then moved to Australia when I was pregnant with my first child. I write a newspaper column, celebrity interviews and a parenting page. I also do TV and radio commentary, podcasting and host corporate events. I’ve also published a book on parenting, The Smallest Things. However, my greatest role ­­– and the one I’m most proud of – is parenting my daughters, Eliza and Lilibelle, who are 17 and 14.