If there’s one phrase that parents dread hearing from kids, it is “I’m bored.” (Coming in a close second: “I think I’m gonna throw up.”) Sometimes, boredom can actually benefit kids — I’ve found that unstructured time gives my children a chance to come up with creative ways to entertain themselves. Then again, there are days when they genuinely have no clue what to do and you are on the verge of ripping your hair out. Bored kids are one of the greatest job hazards of parenthood. These are some of the simple but winning tactics that I (desperately) rely on.
Boredom buster #1: The paper-bag pick
Ask your child for ideas of all kinds of stuff he can do around the house — play a board game, color, read a book, clean their room, do jumping jacks. Jot the activities down on paper, cut them up, fold, toss into a paper bag and have him pick one. With any luck, he’ll choose “Clean my room.” Your child can return to choose more activities anytime. Feel free to sneak in papers that read “Fold laundry” and “Give Mommy a neck rub.”
Boredom buster #2: Make birthday cards
Pin down which friends and family have birthdays coming up in the next few months, then have your child create some custom cards. This one is particularly genius because it spares you the last-minute birthday card dash to the store.
Boredom buster #3. Do a name hunt
This one’s good for older kids. Suggest that your child research their name online and report back to you on what they find — the meaning of their name and its country of origin, whether a lot of kids have that name, or if they share it with anyone famous, present or past. Some good sources: Nameberry, Babble Name Origins and Behind The Name. And if they do this all too quickly, tell them to research names for their future kids.
Boredom buster #4: Stun ’em into silence
Inform your children that when you were little and you told your parents that you were bored, they made you sit in the car and stare at the windshield wipers going back and forth. OK, technically, that may not be true, but your kids will definitely sit and ponder that one for a while.
Boredom buster #5: Pull out the photo albums
Baby albums, your wedding album, old family albums — whatever’s handy! Plop your child on the couch and flip through together.
Boredom buster #6: Better yet, get out your wedding DVD
DVDs just don’t get any more entertaining. Unless your kid has the same reaction my son did when he first saw ours: He sobbed because he wasn’t there.
Boredom buster #7: Create a kid bucket list
Ask your child (or do it together, if they can’t yet write) to come up with a big list of the stuff they’d like to do in life — places to visit, people (and cartoon characters!) to meet, experiences and activities they’d like to have. If they need ideas, they can browse through their book collection.
Boredom buster #8: Picnic in your living room
Spread a blanket out in the living room. Fill a picnic basket with lunch items. Enjoy! (No SPF required.)
Boredom buster #9: More fun with food — do a veggie buffet
Cut up carrots, celery, red pepper, jicama or whatever you have handy, then set out dippers — ranch salad dressing mixed with cottage cheese, hummus, yogurt with a little added honey or pumpkin puree.
Boredom buster #10: Play reverse hide and seek
This is one to try when your husband’s at home. Everyone hides. Once someone finds the hidden person, they hide with them. Should you happen to find your partner first, you two can enjoy some actual quality time together. G-rated, preferably.
Boredom buster #11: Make a paper puzzle
This one’s so easy, but always fun: Give your child construction paper and scissors, and tell them to cut a piece of paper into 10 to 30 jagged parts (depending on their age). Then have them reassemble. Like I said, easy.
Boredom buster #12: Organize the kitchen
A chore for you, a fascinating thing for kids. Ask your little one to organize the spices alphabetically or to stack pots and pans. Note, as tempted as you may be, do not attempt to have your child organize your tax papers.
Boredom buster #13: Do a grandparent connect
Get your mom on the phone and ask her to tell your child all about what you were like as a kid. Remind her to leave out the part about when you ran away from home and they found you hours later in the garage.
Boredom buster #14: Announce that it’s backwards hour
For one hour, your kiddos do everything backwards, including walk backward and talk backwards. (So if they whine, they need to say “Bored so I’m!”)
Boredom buster #15: Make a restaurant reservation (in your dining room)
Suggest that your child pretend that you are having dinner at a fancy restaurant, and tell them they can decorate the table with place cards, paper flowers and doilies they can make. Bonus points if you have them pretend to call up the restaurant to make the reservation and you answer in your snootiest voice. And, yes: it is perfectly acceptable to serve leftovers.
Image source: Flickr/Greg Westfall