The next time your child expresses that she is bored, instead of “fixing” the situation, you may want to let your child reap the benefits of boredom.
As parents, we may feel the urge and also pressure to fill our child’s schedule with all sorts of activities like day camps, enrichment lessons and tuition, especially during the school holidays. We may also feel compelled to make sure they are constantly busy, never idle, never bored.
Why is that? Perhaps we believe it is good for them. Perhaps we do it because we’ve seen other parents do it. Maybe we have heard the old-adage that “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop” so we fill their minds continuously with new things to learn. Maybe they’re a handful when they’re bored.
Whatever the reasons, the good news is that we don’t have to make sure our children are doing something constructive all the time. Research shows that it is actually good for your child to have nothing to do at times. And that boredom can actually be good for your child.
When your child has nothing planned and time to kill, she may feel bored and restless. Instead of entertaining her or filling her schedule with activities, try leaving her alone to deal with feeling bored.
She will, after a while, find a way to entertain herself. She may read a book, draw something from her imagination or play pretend with her toys.
When this happens, your child is not only “just playing”, they are leading themselves. They are making all sorts of decisions on their own like what to do, what they like, how long to play with a particular toy, etc.
This is free play or “unstructured play” where children engage in open-ended play with no specific learning objective1. And research shows that this type of play is “not frivolous” and “brain-building”.2
When children are given the space and time to free play on their own, they learn to deal with their emotions (such as fears, sadness, stress and anxiety) better. This sense of self-mastery helps them deal with stress better as teenagers and, later on, as adults.
When our child looks bored or expresses he is bored, we may see this as a problem and attempt to fix it. We turn ourselves into clowns to amuse him, we get an older sibling to play with him or offer him toy after toy until one of them catches his fancy.
When he grows up, he may expect others to entertain him whenever he is bored. He may even be angry at those who refuse to make him feel better and lash out at them.
He will grow up less prepared for the real world - a world that will not provide him with constant entertainment whenever he is bored and a world that has plenty of dull moments. The sooner he learns to expect and deal with boredom, the more equipped he will be to handle the mundane parts of life at home, school and at work.
When we are bored, our minds wander and make new, creative connections. Research studies have found that people who engaged in mundane, boring tasks just before a creative task were more imaginative.3
In other words, boredom has the potential to put us in a more creative state. When we perform mundane tasks, we enter into a calm and slightly detached state which allows our minds to wander. The bored perform better at creative tasks.
The moral of the study? A little time being bored or doing something boring may actually help your child with tasks that require creativity and imagination like writing, drawing and playing pretend with other children.
The next time your child looks bored or starts to complain about being bored, hard as it may be, do absolutely nothing. Let him or her sit with the feeling of being bored. Let him decide how he will handle his boredom.
Most importantly, resist the urge to give him your mobile, tablet or other screen devices to watch or play with even if he is wailing and insisting on having the device to stay entertained. Children under two should not be exposed to electronic screens at all according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). For children under five, exposure should be limited to one hour a day.
Giving your child the time and space to feel bored or do nothing may feel natural at first. Remind yourself boredom and doing nothing helps with brain-building, prepares him for the real world and puts him in creative states when you feel tempted to “solve the problem”.
Instead of fixating on his boredom, you could clear your schedule and experience the joys of doing nothing together with him.
Visit Parent Hub, for more useful tips and guides to give your child a healthy start.
Download the HealthHub app on
Google Play or
Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.
Read these next:
This article was last reviewed on
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Helping Youth Fight Depression
Building Resilience In Your Child
Play To Win
Healthy Food for Kids in a Bento
Your Role in Sexuality Education
View More Programmes
Youth Preventive Dental Service (YPDS) provides oral health screening for pre-schoolers at some childcare centres as part of the Preschool Oral Health Screening and Fluoride Therapy Programme. Parents will be informed of the screening findings and recommended follow-up action through an "Information Sheet for Parents" that is downloadable from HealthHub.
YPDS also provides free basic dental services to Primary and Secondary students through school dental clinics and mobile dental clinics.
Annually, Primary 1, 2, 4 and 6, Secondary 1 and 3, and ITE Year 1 students who are enrolled in the school dental programme will be screened and treated by YPDS. Students in other levels who require dental services may visit the school or mobile dental clinics for free consultation and treatment.
There’s a lot about e-cigarettes that many of us are unaware of – what are they exactly, and are they safe? Read on to uncover truths and myths clouding it!
Protect yourself and your loved ones from vaccine-preventable diseases like influenza and pneumococcal disease. There is no reason why anyone should suffer from the serious complications vaccine-preventable diseases can cause. Your best defence against such diseases is getting vaccinated.
Browse Live Healthy
In partnership with