What to do when your child is bored

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By Susan Pohorski

Group of children running together

“I’m bored!” How often do you hear that? And how many of us jump to provide activity or entertainment for the complaining child? Mom and Dad, you do not have to be your child’s chief activity officer.

When was the last time you let your child play with other children without a structured program? Is there any time in the week when your kids are free to choose an activity besides watching television or playing video games? Do you let them invite friends over to play in the backyard or family room?

One of the things I am so thankful for is a childhood filled with pretending. Our backyard playhouse became a restaurant. The wagon became part of a wagon train to new territories. There were hours of play with my neighbors. We built forts in the woods and in the snow.

“Free play” has many benefits. Making choices gives children a feeling of control that promotes mental and emotional health. According to Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology (emeritus) at Boston College, children who feel they have no control over their own lives often suffer from anxiety and depression.

What’s more, too much structured activity can lead to stress and exhaustion. Yes, sports teams, music lessons, dance class and other after school activities have benefits, but too much of a good thing can be bad for children too.

Let them pretend. Let them play games they choose. Certainly you can provide a safe environment and some ground rules, but then back off. Don’t be afraid. A child’s imagination needs room to grow. Learning to forge relationships begins on the playground or in your backyard.

In an article for The Atlantic, Esther Entin draws a correlation between increased anxiety and depression and a loss of unstructured play. Too many playgrounds are empty today. Too few children know how to organize themselves for a game of Capture the Flag or even Duck, Duck, Goose. What games did you enjoy in your neighborhood when you were a child? Have you taught your child these games?