I’m Bored!

You have just settled yourself in front of the computer to read an interesting article (perhaps one of mine!) and then you hear the two words which grate on your nerves: “I’m bored!”

It is understandable that you feel frustrated. Aside from being interrupted, the reason for the interruption is irritating- why can’t she find something to do with her free time on her own?

Taking a step back from the situation at hand, you may wonder, is it your job as a parent to keep your child entertained 24/7?

If so, what can you do when your son has finished playing with the hundreds of dollars of toys that clutter up the entire house? And if not, how should you respond to those desperate cries of boredom?

Boredom is a problem faced by your child. The question that must be addressed is: Who is responsible for solving a child’s problems?

Obviously if a child is too young to complete a specific task, it is your job as a parent to do it for him. For example, if your child cannot pour himself a drink, it is your responsibility to pour the water for him.

However, what about the numerous cases where your child truly is capable of solving a problem, yet she chooses not to? Is it your responsibility to step in and address the situation for her?

There are several options from which you can choose:

1) You may decide to solve the problem for your child. Generally, this is the quickest and most efficient way of addressing the problem. For example, you may help your school-age child get into pajamas in order to expedite the bedtime process even though your son has been perfectly capable of getting dressed on his own for quite some time.

This method will usually stop the child’s whining the fastest; however by doing so on a regular basis, you may hinder your child’s emotional maturity by fostering his dependency upon your help.

2) You could decide not to offer your child any help at all. “Honey, you know how to that type of worksheet, and I’m not going to get up to help you out.”

By explaining to your child that the problem is his responsibility you will foster independence, yet your child may feel emotionally deprived. Perhaps he will accuse you of not caring about him via the all-too-familiar manipulative, “You don’t love me!”

3) You can decide to help your child without taking the responsibility away from your child. Your goal is to offer enough guidance so that your child can complete the task on his own. Through your verbal or physical assistance your child will have the opportunity to solve the problem and gain valuable problem-solving skills that will serve him for years to come.

For example, suppose your daughter pleads, “I can’t get my bike out of the shed- Nate’s bike is in front of mine.” Assuming that you are aware that she is perfectly capable of maneuvering the larger bike out of the way, you may choose to respond, “It can be frustrating when a bigger bike is blocking yours. How about wheeling Nate’s bike all the way out of the shed so that there is lots of room to take out your bike?” In this manner you supply guidance and demonstrate concern without taking control of the situation.

Back to boredom!

When your son runs towards you stating, “I’m bored!” he is actually letting you know, “I have this problem called boredom and I don’t know what to do. I want you to solve this problem for me.”

What are some ways that you as the parent can offer guidance yet avoid taking responsibility for his boredom?

Son: I’m sooooo bored.

Parent: Oh, you don’t know what to do? That can feel really awful.

Son: Yes, I hate being bored!

Parent: It seems that you want me to help you out, but I’m not sure what you want me to do for you.

Son: Well, I like to play soccer, but it’s raining outside and you don’t let me play ball in the living room anymore.

Note: Be aware of manipulative behavior, where your child requests that you suspend a household rule or asks for treats that are reserved for special occasions.

Parent: That’s right, since we got the glass china closet there is no more ball playing in the living room.

Son: The living room has lots of room for soccer. The playroom is full of toys- it’s so crowded in there.

Parent: So, you’d really like to play soccer but the playroom is too messy?

Son: Yeah, if there weren’t so many toys in the playroom I could have a great game. You know what? I think I’m going to clean up all the toys really fast and then I’ll play a great game of soccer in the playroom!

Here’s an alternate manner in which your conversation may play out:

Daughter: I’m bored.

Parent: Oh, that’s terrible. You don’t know what to do.

Daughter: Yeah, I was going ride my bike but it’s raining, and then Lori was going to come over but then she had to cancel.

Parent: That’s really disappointing- when your plans don’t work out.

Daughter: Now I’m so bored!

Parent: Hmm, let’s think about what you like to do.

Daughter: I like playing with my friends but I called a bunch and nobody seems to be home today.

Parent: Oh, so your friends are not available now. What are some things that you like doing on your own?

Daughter: All the things I like doing are outdoors and it’s pouring. It’s not fair!

Parent: What did you do in camp when it was raining?

Daughter: We did arts-and-crafts activities. Hey, may I take a bunch of white papers out of the printer to make a ‘Welcome Home’ sign for Grandma?

These techniques will require practice and you may find yourself rushing into your former job of the ‘problem solver’. In the long run, however, teaching your child to take responsibility will teach him self reliance, boost his self confidence, and aid him in thinking of ways to entertain himself so that you can get back to the computer and finish reading that interesting article. (It was one of mine, wasn’t it?)

Happy reading:)



  1. Wish it were as easy as you write this!

  2. Oh, Alice, lol- you are so right!

    Isn’t everything easier said than done?

    Well, if we can implement these ideas 20% of the time right now, and with practice 80% of the time a year from now… we have made a world of a difference in our children’s futures! And each child is his/her own world!

  3. This doesn’t work for teens.

  4. I sometimes feel I need to be completely programmed before I can say the things you mention in the, ‘I’m Bored’ article

  5. Sorry I was supposed to say re-programmed!

  6. I like and agree with the concept of your ideas to empower the child to solve their own emotional issues. I try to instill these same ideas with my own children. However, your sample dialogues are way too unrealistic. I would have been happier had their been some push back from the child and then they eventually solve their own problem.
    While it may not be the most direct route, in my house, if we get to the part where they want me to come up with ideas to solve their boredom, I offer them chores. This frequently prompts them to come up with their own ideas–and sometimes they actually do the chores because this is better than any idea they had. (note: my children are 11 and 16–with the 11 year old being the most “I’m bored” person)

  7. There is a generation that is clueless about how to keep themselves occupied with out outside stimuli. Since I used to amuse my self without any electronic help, as a parent I get really frustrated an seem to try to enable my child. Thank you for all the fabulous information, I sometimes sit with my daughter and we read it together-to take care of her “boredom”

  8. Often when a child (or adult) says they are bored they are really saying they are lonely and want some friendship and/or attention. Re-directing them may help at times. Other times they need a little TLC, play group (or book group) to socialize a bit.

  9. Boredom seems to be more of a problem today than it was years ago. What usually eleminates boredom is work and the feeling of accomplishment, or that you’re useful. Kids don’t have to work today. Toys offer only temporary satisfaction, work is much more satisfying and rewarding. They don’t know it, but work is actually one of life’s greatest pleasures. Find some appropriate, yet challenging ‘work’ they can do to help! It will give them the satisfaction they’re looking for.

  10. Ahhh! As a mother of five children, 29, 26, 22, 21 and 10 …I’ve heard “I’m bored” before! My oldest children constantly warn the youngest son to never say I’m bored to Mom….she will say: If you are bored with all the toys and activities you have here, I think I can find some work for you to do!….Needless to say, after cleaning out their closets, under their beds and straightening playrooms …they learn to never Whine “I’m bored!” He thinks it is amusing to hear their stories of life with Mom & Dad before he was born…but I notice that he does pay attention to their valuable advice.

  11. Great idea, about feeling accomplished.

    I once paid my 7-year-old five cents per utensil to polish my silver-plated cutlery… that kept him entertained for hours!

  12. yep. I do the chores alternative also. with six children there are always chores to be done. There are almost ALWAYS towels to be folded.

    I usually respond very cheerfully – “oh, that is WONDERFUL! I was hoping someone would be bored today so these towels would get folded. You can either fold the towels or find something to do on your own – either choice is fine with me but I’d really like the towels folded. you could think of what you’d like to do next while you are folding.”

    Usually they will fold the towels to be helpful followed by lots of thankful pizazz from me and then go off and do something on their own.

  13. hehehee… The conversations in my house usually do not end as well as those! 🙂

    BUT I know with time, it does get better.

    When we finally got rid of the TV watching (all but a couple of hours a week), we heard I’m bored all the time! But after a few days, they really did learn to occupy themselves and find things to do. They used their imaginations more and came up with lots of fun stuff.

    Sometimes I would give them ideas of what they can do (play a game, marbles, trains, make a card, etc). Other times I would give them a new “tool” to use– like a big ball of yarn, a couple of brown paper bags and some scissors, etc. I won’t sit down and tell them exactly what to do, but give them something new to throw in the mix.

    Of course, if they’re REALLY bored I always have some extra chores!

    Very timely article, especially with this blast of cold weather! THANKS!

  14. I really like what moms Tricia and Cindy had to say. My son is only 2 and can’t voice “I’m bored” out loud, but he certainly can express it through acting out and letting me know he needs some TLC or some “work” to do.

    I have noticed that he plays independently really well and when he acts out he usually needs some good quality time with mommy or daddy.

    Favorites are reading(sorting through mail)
    colors & shapes(folding the laundry)
    and the name game(emptying dishwasher or fridge).

    And when he is older and can complain, “I’m bored” hopefully he can figure out what to do with himself with a little help and patience from mom.

  15. I have a very easy solution for my kids boredom. Here is an example for you all!!!
    son: Ma, I’m so bored!!!
    Mom: Are you telling me you have nothing to do?
    son: aha!!!
    mom: OK, if you are so bored you may help with the dishes, or maybe the laundry, or even better what about cleaning your room.

    Believe me, they forget they are bored instantly

    Good Luck!!!

  16. i have 2 responses one is” man thats tough ,good luck w that.” the other is great, being bored is good practice for when your an adult. connie

  17. Rebekah Osman says:

    You are so right. It takes practice but anyone can do it if they are willing to try. If you are finding that this is a difficult concept be willing to try it. Some say it is impossible or too difficult without even trying. So when we tell our children to try new things and we are not willing to try things ourselves, are we not being hypicritcal? I taught kindergarten for 8 years before I stayed at home with my daughter. I have used these skills in my kindergarten class and they really work. Now I am able to do it with my daughter. It took work at first but after about a year it came very naturally. It is a learned behavior for us but we can do from little tykes to big ones.

  18. Becky Taylor says:

    I was afraid to say “I’m bored” growing up. It could lead from laundry to painting a room to planting a garden. My children (2 & 6) play well independently and together. But, when other children come over they easily pick up on the “I’m bored” idea. I recently told them they had too many toys to choose from and we should give some away to the Salvation Army. You know, just to make them not have soooo many to pick from and be overwhelmed. It was amazing how quickly Woody & Buzz were playing with the Rescue Heroes and the K’nex.
    I say try all sorts of things. You never know what’ll work.

  19. I need help. I have a 9 year old who is over weight. We have just placed him in Karate. It is very difficult to keep him away from food that is bad for him. His cholesterol is 300. Do you have any information to help us.

  20. This article is so timely!!! For the 1st time ever today my son (4) was officially BORED, and I didn’t try to solve his problem although I sympathized with him and continued making lunch. He disappeared. Thirty minutes later I found him in the bathroom, soaking wet with soap bubbles everywhere and the soap dispenser empty — he was cleaning up! I praised him for doing such a great job cleaning, and I helped him “finish” and we sat down to lunch. He was very proud of himself, and I was proud of him for solving his problem. Yes, boredom needs work to do and a sense of accomplishment.

    My bathroom smells great (it was peppermint castile soap) — one warning, when he went to brush his teeth tonight, his toothbrush filled his mouth with peppermint foam — I guess when I rinsed the bathroom, I didn’t rinse his toothbrush. I gently suggested that next time he cleans the bathroom, he use less soap.

  21. When they were in a good mood one day, we made lists of more than 25 things that my boys like to do, like play soccer, read, swim, etc. Whenever they are looking for something to do, they go and look at their own personal list to remind themselves.

  22. We love your articles Ellen – Keep sending them!
    Here’s a suggestion that we do when my kids whine that they are bored. We have a large crate of scrap paper, stickers, glue sticks, felt, kid scissors, markers (you name it we have it in that crate). We take it out and put it on the kitchen table and let them BE CREATIVE. It keeps my 3 little ones busy for a few hours and they are proud of what they have made. We keep replenishing the crate with scrap ribbon, paper, extra x-mas cards, beads, etc…And… only bring it out when they get bored. The kids love to add to the crate. They learn to recylce items that are reusable and they get real joy pointing out what they have added to the crate. Best of all, my little ones know if they clean up really well and put all of the items back in the crate for next time, they will get homemade hot chocolate (which is a real treat in our house).

  23. Stephanie says:

    My son is 5 1/2 and I try so hard to have him listen to me but he has learning problems. The I’m bored doesn’t really apply but the I can’t do that or this does. Are there any articles I can read to help my situation? I am really tried of picking up after a husband, 5 and 2 yr old and not being able to go to the bathroom without someone getting into something.

  24. Ellen,
    Once again, a wonderfully affirming article for this teacher turned stay at home mom..
    I appreciate all of your “reminders”..
    I don’t know how many people know this, but these are the ideas that REALLY WORK..if they don’t then maybe you need to try it again…

  25. For Alan: The first thing you can do, assuming your physician has seen your son, is to change your eating habits AS A FAMILY. Start by throwing out all of the junk foods and stock up on fresh fruits and snacks with low cholesterol. Bake and grill foods instead of frying them. There are many great cookbooks and other resources available today and the foods are actually really tasty! Go AS A FAMILY to a nutritionist for help. By doing this AS A FAMILY, you will not only show your son how important this is, and how much you care for him, you will be instilling healthy eating habits that will stay with him for the rest of his life. (and the rest of your family’s) One thing to consider also is that this may be a hereditary thing. Only your physician can determine this and additional medication may be needed to help your son. I suggest you have EACH family member evaluated as well. This will only succeed if you make the changes AS A FAMILY. I congratulate you in enrolling your son in karate. The physical activity and training of the mind will benefit him greatly and the discipline he will learn will make this a little easier too. Good luck.