When Your Child Says, “There’s Nothing to Do”

It’s enough to drive us parents crazy, especially when we’ve just come through Christmas and the kids have presents galore, have been entertained nonstop by others, and have enjoyed many special events in the last few weeks! Add to this tension the exhausted parents. Come on, we need a break!

Coming out of Christmas and into bleak winter days provides us with an opportunity to reinforce an important principle we are fast losing in this culture of “entertain me” parenting.

In truth, we have a scary problem, a huge misconception:

What to do when your child says "There is nothing to do..." A post by Susan Yates for momlifetoday.comIt is not a parent’s job to entertain the kids. We have been sold a lie that says a good parent, yes a Christian parent, is one who makes sure their kids are always happy and this often means entertaining them constantly. So dad comes in exhausted from a long day in the office and is immediately expected to play with the kids. Mom finds 15 minutes to sit quietly and look at a magazine but is quickly interrupted by a child who needs her to do something … so she jumps up to fill the request. Weekends are spent either over-booking our kids with sporting events or feeling compelled to be entertaining them at home.

But this philosophy is wrought with four dangers.

1. If we constantly entertain our kids we are unintentionally training them to expect others to entertain them as they grow up. Teachers, friends, and spouses will be expected to make them happy. They will never be satisfied and they will always want something more, something else, even someone better. This is scary.

2. If we constantly entertain our kids we will prevent them from learning the joy of their own company and we will stifle their creativity. This is short-sighted and extremely sad.

3. If we constantly entertain our kids they will not learn the necessity of waiting. And they will be less likely to wait for a promotion, for sex in marriage, for a relationship to be healed. It is in the little things in life that we equip them for handling the big issues and teaching them to wait is crucial. They must learn now that they cannot always have what they want when they want it, even someone to play with them.

4. If we constantly entertain our kids they will not learn the value of quiet, or meditation, and this will inhibit their ability to learn how to listen to God and to worship. Meditation and worship are not natural. They have to be nurtured and nurturing the soul of our child begins when they are young.

What to do when your child says "There is nothing to do..." A post by Susan Yates for momlifetoday.com

So what do we do?

:: As the new year begins, institute a new family tradition. Call it something positive, like “Fun Alone Time” or FAT for short! Avoid naming it “quiet time,” or “time out.” It needs to have a fresh, new, fun name. Several times a week and on weekends announce a period of “FAT” time. (Leave your creative names in the comments!) During this time everyone is to play by themselves including mom and dad. Reassure them that dad and mom will play with them later. But they must wait.

:: No technology (TVs, computers, games, phones, etc.) is to be used during this time. Hang tough on this. Our kids are too dependent on technology. They need quiet to nurture their creativity. Separate young kids during this time, otherwise they’ll likely wind up fighting. Occasionally allow two to play together, but don’t forgo alone time.

:: When you explain this new tradition sit with the kids and see how many things they can come up with on a list “to do by yourself” (or sometimes with another person). However no adult is needed. We have a list at our farm with over 80 ideas. Included are: collect worms and bugs in a cup, kick the soccer ball, work a puzzle, look at photo albums, write a song, paint rocks, build a fort, design a scavenger hunt for the family to do later, swing in the hammock, read, make something with wood, draw with chalk, etc.

At the top of our lists it says, “We never say I’m bored or there’s nothing to do at the farm. Here are things to do by myself. An adult is not necessary.” The kids keep adding to the list!

Be patient and firm. You will have to enforce this policy at least five times before the kids begin to learn. It is a radical departure from what our culture is promoting. And dads and moms need to agree about this and support each other. The kids will complain-some more than others. Our kids are packaged differently, but every child needs to learn to enjoy alone time. Ignore their complaints and just do it. As you persist you may see some signs of a unique gift your child possesses that has been lying dormant waiting for time to blossom-gifts in your child which you could have missed: an artist, a creative builder, a writer, a poet, a nature lover, a writer of music, a designer of a new game, etc. You may also discover a lessening of stress in a child who is given space from a noisy culture.

So be a brave parent. When your 8-year-old whines this week and says, “There’s nothing to do!”

You respond, “Oh there’s so much to do and I know the best person to do it with–yourself! You are so much fun and you are so creative so now is a good time for you to look at our list and choose something to do alone with yourself. “

Say this with humor and laughter. Do not let his attitude affect yours. Yes, he’ll roll his eyes and persist with complaints but a wise parent will not be drawn into an argument about boredom. Instead, firmly and positively send him off to be with himself.

Pray that over time he will learn to enjoy himself and discover the blessings of creativity and quiet.

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28 thoughts on “When Your Child Says, “There’s Nothing to Do”

  1. Wonderful ideas. Something we are losing in our culture overloaded with technology. Thanks for the insight and ideas.

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  2. We grew up having to “entertain” ourselves and my husband and I believe that is something our children should do as well. One thing we do is sometimes give them a suggestion of something they could do, but if they keep complaining or saying they are “bored” then we assign them “work” beyond their regular chores. They’ve learned for the most part that they shouldn’t come telling us they are bored unless they really want something they have to do, before they can play again.

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    • We do the same. One of my first “boredom-busters” was to have the kids write on pieces of paper the things they could do when they were bored. Some even suggested extra chores, so I had them include those on pieces of paper. It didn’t take long before they were no longer interested in pulling from the jar. I still hear “I’m bored” but I don’t feel compelled to “fix” their boredom.

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  3. Hello Susan;
    What great timing you have! Just this week we instituted Fun Time for my baby boy. He’s only eleven months but it’s never too early. We do just 10-20 mins and he complains but it’s improving. I think it’s harder for us to not want to hover over than it is for him to play alone. So reading your blog on this is perfect reinforcement that we have the right idea. Thank you for your wisdom!
    Mariel

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    • Mariel,
      Your starting with such a young child will make it easier later. And the smaller amount of time for a litttle one is wise!
      Thanks, Susan

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  4. Amen to this! After having 3 in 4 years we quickly learned the value of having kids entertain themselves. We incorporated the values of entertaining themselves and each other and alone time from the beginning and now with ours at ages 8,6, and 4, Mom and Dad are usually the ones asking to play with them! 🙂

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  5. Susan,

    This is fantastic. Just what a tired Dad needs to hear when he comes home and feels the pressure to immediately connect with the kids and have ‘a moment’. Really appreciate the wisdom. Thanks!

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  6. I too am grateful for your timing as our “winter break” runs until Jan 14th here in Cali with state budget cuts. My 9-yr-old and I have made our list, it surprised her how many things there were to do other than TV and video games. I told her about too much screen time hurting her brain, and we will call her non-tech breaks alone Peaceful Time. Ahhhh 🙂 To be sure she has family time and friends time, too.

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  7. Thank you, Susan! You are a wise woman and I hope young moms read your column and take your words to heart!

    When our kids were younger we began our tradition of Library Hour every afternoon during our annual beach vacation. We did not talk….each person had a new book he/she selected from Topsail Beach’s indie book store Quartermoon. Fortunately Library Hour often extended into a nice little nap beyond the designated hour…….

    Since our children were toddlers we had a no-weeknight tv rule in our home. Once homework was done, they played cards or board games, read together or separately, laughed a lot. There was always some lego construction project on the floor, a bird feeder to fill and observe, a drawer full of art supplies, etc. Our four children were pretty good at entertaining themselves, and great at playing together and with us.

    I appreciated having a playpen for my children during the early years…..I think using it an hour or so a day helped each baby learn to play (and safely) with me not too far away.

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  8. I agree! Kids need time to be quiet, alone, creative. Susan’s wisdom affirms my instincts. I usually make suggestions and then say “go play”, but I like Susan’s idea of a list. I think I’ll convert that to a box of 3×5 cards, each with a separate idea, and my 7 year old homeschooled 1st grade can write the cards herself, and then decorate the box! (Just one more creative fun project!). (-: With my 18 month old toddler, I find if I just let her whine and hang on my pants legs a bit while at the kitchen sink, she eventually gives up in less than 3 minutes and toddles over to the living room and finds something to do. Today, while I stood over the master bed, folding laundry, she eventually stopped whining and clinging, sat down on the floor, and simply and quietly played with the button on her cardigan. (: Now THAT’S entertainment!

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    • Thanks Karen!
      How sweet that a button can entertain! Ah for a simple lifestyle:) I love your idea of the box!
      Blessings, Susan

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  9. This was so helpful and encouraging! I just had this encounter with my 7 year old after Christmas. Like another commented, I usually just say, “go find something to do,” or I give them a choice of a chore or to go play! I really like the suggestion of making a list together and of renaming “quiet time.” Thanks so much!

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  10. I think this is an awesome idea. But after my 3-year old entertained himself today I had to scrub a lot of his sister’s nail polish off the floor. So I like the idea of a list that they have made that they can choose activities from. Otherwise one simply has to have a big understanding heart when all the still-in-use tissue boxes in the house get quietly and constructively cut up and made into beds for small soft toys.

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  11. More parents need to hear this message! I think many feel that they need permission to not fill every void for their children. On a side note, my son and I just finished reading a book about survival in the Northwest Territories. A wise older man in the book says that boredom is a function of advances in technology that have made life easier. I am sure that very few (if any) kids said, “I’m bored!” in pioneer days! But we can’t go back in time. Technology is here to stay. But we can follow your advice and equip kids to be their own source of entertainment. I pass out these printables(http://www.cornerstonesforparents.com/list-for-bored-kids) to any kid who says, “I’m bored!” Thanks for a great post!

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  12. When my 9-year-old daughter says “I’m bored,” I calmly ask her if she would like to find something to do or if she’d like me to find something for her to do. She usually quickly responds that she’ll find something and bounds off, not complaining anymore. After a couple of times of asking me to find something, she’s learned that she’d rather not have all those extra “fun” chores that I come up with! 🙂

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  13. we just have to remember that there is a GIANT difference in not constantly entertaining and never spending time together, don’t waist their childhood! You will look back and wish you had spent more time together!

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  14. love it…how about “funnel time”( fun alone time being funneled in the direction you need at that time)

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  15. This is so affirming! While my 2 year old still naps we insist our 4 year old still have a rest time at the same time every day for 1.5 hours. Sometimes I feel guilty but I know that it’s good for her (and for me to have a short break from the kids as well). She colors, reads books, sings and plays in her room by herself. I can tell she needs the time alone given that her brother trails her all day long and I love the creativity that I often see come out of that time (even if sometimes it’s messy creativity!). Of course we should play with our kids, but it is our job to be our kids’ parents, not their constant playmate!

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  16. Those seem like great ideas other than the fact that it’s usually me, mommy, who is left with having to clean up the fort or whatever it is that make the mess at the time. So…how does one make sure that these mess making activities dont add to the parents work load?

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  17. OOh, thank you so much, I was browsing through the net and most of them were group activities or again asking the parent to be there.
    I found your advice to be thoughtful and will try from this weekend onwards

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