Let Them Be Bored: How to Help Your Kids Benefit from Boredom

By Stephanie Thomas

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Every now and then, I reminisce about Trash Can Basketball. Have you played? 

My cousin, Brock, made it up one summer when our parents were busy battling it out in an extended-family Canasta tournament and we kids were left to entertain ourselves. 

Here’s how it goes: 

Find yourself an empty bedroom with an empty trashcan and a bunch of bored cousins. Crumble up sheets of paper into balls. Try to ring the trashcan from impossible locations across the room. 

Maybe you toss one over the dresser. Maybe you do a trick shot as you hop on the bed. Maybe you stand in the hallway and peer your head around the doorway to take aim. 

Toys? Parents? Plans? Who needs ‘em? Like basically every child of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, we knew what to do when the going got boring. 

But today’s kids aren’t so adept. They have more stuff—toys, entertainment, distractions—and fewer opportunities to practice the art of being bored. 

The Pain of Boredom is Real

Hands up if hearing your kid say, “I’m bored!” makes you wanna say, “When I was growing up . . .” as you launch into a story about how you used to spend hours entertaining yourself at the fabric store? Just me?

Still, they’re onto something. 

Science tells us that boredom is a legitimate emotional signal, a warning that something isn’t right and needs correction. Unfortunately, because adults and kids alike often take the path of least resistance, we tend to stifle this signal by quickly offering things like food, phones, or TV. 

But what if we could teach our kids to recognize boredom as a helpful heads-up? What if we could encourage them to embrace boredom? To make the most of those painful moments?

3 Big Benefits of Boredom

Boredom is a beautiful thing. Here’s why: 

Boredom Fuels Creativity

A study from 2018 found that boredom is key to a wandering, creative mind. By resisting the urge to provide constant entertainment for our kids, we instead offer them space to think. It’s in these moments that our children tap into all kinds of ideas—both silly and serious.

Boredom Helps to Develop Crucial Life Skills

Remember the very real (albeit minor) pain scientists attribute to boredom? When a child sits with this uncomfortable feeling, looks for a solution, and finds her way to the other side, she builds a sense of self-control and resilience that will serve her well for years to come. 

Boredom Encourages Kids to Take Charge of Their Own Destiny

A kid sitting on the floor of his bedroom with nothing to do has a choice: he can continue to do nothing or he can take a small step toward doing something. Boredom shows children that, within reason, they’re plenty capable of planning for and achieving the life they want. 

5 Easy Ways to Help Kids Embrace Boredom

Give your kids a crash course in the benefits of boredom by setting them up for success. 

  • Make time for togetherness. Want to avoid having your bored kid follow you around like a little puppy later? Be proactive now. Look for pockets of time—5 minutes here, 10 minutes there—when you can spend time together
  • Start a magical moment. Set out some magnatiles and a couple of dolls or action figures. Wind Hotwheel cars around the doorway and into the hall. Stack paper and markers on the kitchen table. Leave a box of brownie mix on the counter. Say nothing. 
  • Brainstorm a boredom-buster list. Sit down with your kids and say, “Sometimes you’re gonna feel bored. That’s life. Let’s make a list of ideas for what you can do.” Display the list in a prominent place and use The Power of The Point whenever you sense boredom creeping in. 
  • Pair reading with a snack. Fill a pantry bin or cabinet drawer with special snacks–granola bars, gummy bears, chocolate, chips or crackers–and say, “Sometimes when I’m bored I like to read and have a little treat. Feel free to grab a treat out of this bin whenever you snuggle in for time with a book.” 
  • Set big goals with small steps. Ask your kid what they’d like to accomplish. Maybe your son wants to learn to tie his shoes. Maybe your daughter hopes to master the Rubix cube. Perhaps one of your kiddos wants to play guitar, run a mile or start a business. Write out a list of teeny-tiny steps toward the end goal. Boredom with a purpose!  

In the meantime, make sure you give yourself space to get good and bored too.