Up With Boredom!

Hi Readers! The other day I wrote a column on ParentDish called, “Just Chute Me.” I was saying — I thought — that we really do not have to play with our kids. We have to love and nurture them, yes, but unless we are really psyched for a game of CandyLand or make-believe, there’s no reason we have to do it. Kids can and should be able to entertain themselves.

Well I got a lot of blowback about how play is essential for kids. (Yes it is. That’s why they should learn how to do it.) I also kept hearing that any decent parent knows it is our job to get down on the floor or join our kids in the  sandbox, so that they can see we really love them.

It was hard to read all the comments, because many suggested only a lazy, awful parent balks at participating in playtime.  Also, that kids feel unloved unless we “show” them we care by doing the things they want to do, endlessly, even if we are tired or bored or busy.  A child’s desire to engage should always come first, many commenters implied. It would be interesting to see what would have happened to our species if we took this attitude when subsistence farming. (“I was GOING to plant next year’s wheat, but junior wanted to play tag and it’s so developmentally crucial!”)

I actually think there is something to be said for parental preoccupation. Not to the point of negligence, but definitely to the point of forcing the kids into a certain basic self-reliance mode.  A woman named  Emily Geizer agreed, pretty much, and wrote this defense of kiddie boredom. She’s the creator of Child Perspective, a site parents for parenting solutions that takes questions from readers, and also A Crash Course in Mindful Parenting.  Here’s her piece:

The Benefits of Boredom by Emily Geizer

Do your kids a favor. Let them get bored. Painfully bored.

Boredom is good for kids. It forces them to entertain themselves, which ignites their creative intelligence. From this, they learn that they can solve their own problems. This is HUGE!

Some parents will suggest boredom leads to trouble, or that we should want to play with our kids. True on both accounts.

But, since most kids are good kids (and hopefully yours is!), boredom usually leads to ingenuity rather than trouble. Bored kids recover by turning to books or art. Their initial frustration, if left unfettered, forces them to turn inward to solve their own problems.

While parents do need to connect with their kids, connection is different from entertaining or micromanaging. If you are a chronic child entertainer, then it’s time to change your game.

This doesn’t mean cutting all ties with your kid. Do take time to meaningfully engage with your child. But stop providing his entertainment! Set him free to discover his own ideas and interests. Gradually remove yourself from the role of entertainer.

  • Keep “doing nothing” or “relaxing” as viable options for your kids.
  • Limit all screen time significantly.
  • Send your kids outside, in all kinds of weather.
  • Get out a book and invite your kid to read.

None of us intend to raise kids who can’t figure out how to entertain themselves. Yet, a highly-sheltered, over-structured childhood is a by-product of the society in which we live. This results in kids who are dependent on constant direction. In other words, they have not learned to play by themselves or entertain themselves. Our kids have become entertainment junkies.

When your child complains of being bored, remind him that bored people are people who can’t figure out what to do. With all the confidence in the world reply, “I’m sure that you can find something interesting to do or simply relax.”

136 Responses

  1. I’m a fan of John Rosemond who is all for a parent-centered family. The kids revolve around the parents and not the other way. Many marriages are destroyed because Mom can only spend time with the kids and Dad is left to fend for himself. All it creates is a bunch of whiny, dependant kids. Not the kind of kids I’d like to have around. Remember the old days when Mom would kick us out of the house and tell us not to come home until the street lights came on? Do we have any idea what Mom did while we were gone? I’m sure she didn’t spend the whole day cleaning! And we actually had to invent games, all on our own! How did we ever manage! 🙂

  2. It could also be argued that an advantageous byproduct of having children learn to entertain themselves is the introduction of the idea that they are not the center of the universe and must, at times, accommodate the needs and wants of those around them.

  3. I agree with this. I know how to connect with my kids, love them, take them fun places and do fun things with them. However, they have a LOT of time they need to entertain themselves and they develop fun things to do. I want to equip them with these kind of skills because I do not want to be holding their hand through all their experiences in life – they need to find the strength and creativity to manage lives themselves. I am looking forward to when they are old enough to be told to go outside and come back at lunch time, dinner, bath time, etc. They will have so many wonderful adventures that will make wonderful memories.

  4. I completely agree. My girls are 5 and 3 and are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves. I homeschool, so I do spend at least two hours a day sitting down with them to help them learn, but other than that, I don’t normally play games with them, or color with them, or build blocks with them (I will sometimes on the weekends). They either play with each other, or by themselves, or I bring them over to their friends house to play while us moms get to chat.

    I also require one hour of quiet time a day for myself, where both girls know that they are to play quietly upstairs “for mommy’s sanity”.

    I do have a couple friends whose children are the same age, and the children do not know how to entertain themselves. These moms go crazy trying to get everything done while constantly getting down on the floor to build blocks with junior. They often ask me how I keep my house so organized, and how I have time to knit and read as much as I do, and of course, how I can stand homeschooling and having my children home all. the. time. When they learn how I don’t entertain my kids, I think their impression is that i’m lazy. Maybe I’m lazy, but I’m not the one going insane😉

  5. Hey Lenore, I’m a father of two boys from Germany and I’ve been following your blog for a couple of weeks now; it makes me really happy to have found something so wonderfully sensible coming from the States (sorry, you know the way it is with these clichés …). But this is too much. This is way over the top. What are children supposed to think of parents who have other things to do than be on their knees and go “gullu gullu”? And how in the world are kids going to cope with school if parents allow them to develop creativity and imagination? Now really, you can’t be serious …

  6. Thank you for this article. I stay home with my son but I would go stir-crazy if I had to play with him every single moment he’s awake. This makes me feel better about my instinct, which is to let him develop his own play.

  7. Goodness, I never knew I was so ahead of my time!!

    I remember sending my son (nearly 9 now) to a friend’s house when he was younger and learning from the mother about all the activities she had planned to do with the kids. I felt inadequate for about 2 minutes, thinking about how when her kids come to my house I just let them all loose on their own, then I decided she was simply insane and put it out of my mind. I must say, though, her kids seem pretty good at amusing themselves now, so maybe she didn’t do any lasting damage.

    I also got in trouble with the librarian years ago for saying I’d rather read myself than read to my children. I do read to them – at bedtime, and extra if they ask – I just don’t go overboard. I always figured that I was being a role model by sitting down with my own book, and by showing them I take time for myself.

    I like my children and I enjoy spending time with them. I even sometimes enjoy playing with them, depending on what the game is (I can’t understand half of what they do these days with all the Bionicles, Transformers and Star Wars stuff), but I’ve never felt it’s my job to entertain them.

  8. Lenore, thank you so much for this. I completely agree that ideas are born out of’ blank space!

    A parent’s role is to create an atmosphere conducive to play, not to play with the child. This begins with a baby. When parents play ‘with’ a baby, the play becomes all about the parent, with the child following, or watching. Later we have a bored child, bored only because he is used to entertainment.

    Babies don’t get bored…ever. We don’t have to change their positions and entertain them. Babies are easily tired, and we mistake that for boredom. Parents then unwittingly create a situation in which the child depends on adults to occupy their time. When babies are not sleeping, eating and changing diapers they are best left to ‘be’ in a safe play area, daydreaming, pondering, eventually playing with simple toys.
    This approach leads to a creative, imaginative, child who knows how to invent play. I detail this in my latest blog post on http://janetlansbury.com

    Now I have to rush off, my kids are mad that I’m not helping them get ready for school!!!

  9. My first two are self entertaining. I worked part time and was mostly home with them when they were little. They played outside, unsupervised. They could play with their toys alone. Then came the divorce when the third was an infant. I went to work full time, crushed by guilt, and left the baby with his grandmother who, despite alloting myself an entire 30 minutes of mommy/child playtime when I was growing up, devoted her entire day to being at the babys beck and call. He was very, very sheltered. Of course, when I would come home from work, he expected my full attention as that was what he grew accustomed to and unable to bear the guilt of “leaving” him, I caved. That boy is now 11 and simply incapable of amusing himself. Even when he’s reading or playing a video he wants interaction. And he is relentless. Politely relentless so you do feel bad about not just giving him five minutes.Which leads to five more which leads to maybe 3 of peace before the next assault on your time. Thanks for this reminder that he really needs to venture out from under adult wings.

  10. I remember one very long bust trip as a child where I managed to entertain myself with a doll from a happy meal and a shower cap I had found in the hotel from the night before. It’s this type of playing that makes kids learn creativity. In fact, my family took 4-hour car rides several times a year to visit my grandparents, and we never had a DVD player in our car. We had a tape player, but we mostly listened The Best of Kansas, because that’s what my parents liked. We came up with all kinds of creative games to pass the time.

  11. Boredom in my life has always been ground zero for some of my most creative endeavors–good or bad. As a child of divorced parents I lived several years under joint custody. This meant travelling between one parent in northwest New Mexico and another parent in west Texas. Two things came from what others might see as a bad situaiton: (1) I can still travel that 700 mile trip without a map and (2) I learned to amuse myself without anything. Later I would learn that what I was doing were “thought experiments.” I had started thinking myself out of problems. It’s something I do to this day.

    For example, I remember on one trip disassembling and reassembling my bicycle in my head. For the trip I had taken the bike apart (so it would fit in the limited space available). But in mentally constructing and deconstructing the bicycle I remember thinking about how gears work. Without understanding the mathematical concept of ratios, I had arrived at the same basic idea.

    Don’t get me wrong. I hated it. I hated being bored as a kid. I always thought other kids had it better. But few days go by when I do not stop and look back on what modern parenting would consider a negative and realize that it was this experience which has in part made me the creative person I have become today.

  12. Fostering independence is our job as parents, and that includes giving them space to play on their own. Constant engagement is nobody’s friend, especially when your kids get to the age mine are (10 and 12).
    I’ve worked with young adults who were part of the first generation raised by helicopter parents, and you can spot them a mile away. They whine about having to do the slightest little thing for themselves, and expect co-workers to handle unpleasant tasks for them, or hold their hands. They think the entire world should revolve around them, and who can blame them? That’s the world they grew up in.

  13. I feel a lot better about letting my toddler amuse himself while I sit and read. Heck, I even have periods of time where I’m out of his sight (though not out of hearing, lest he do something age-appropriate, like trap his hand or bump his head.)

  14. I so agree with this for all the reasons already expressed. My husband and I are big fans of the line, “Well, if you are bored I have a great chore for you to do.” It’s amazing how quickly the boys come up with something to keep themselves entertained.

  15. I’m wondering how the age of the child plays into this. To my mind, an elementary school kid should be able to entertain herself, no question. But what do people think about applying the same philosophy for a 1 or 2 or 3-year-old?

  16. I think I may have posted this on before, but it fits well with this topic, so I’ll post it again. “-)

    1.5 years ago I was laid off from my job. I took my then 5 and 7 year old daughters out of the afterschool program and had them walk home from school every day.

    The first couple weeks they would start fighting not long after they got home. I would stop what I was doing and go play with them. I felt horribly guilty not playing with them, since I was home all day by myself.

    One day I was feverishly trying to finish a cover letter and resume to send to a company. The girls were fighting, but I wanted to get the resume out that day. I told myself I would work on it for 30 more minutes and then go play with the girls. Well, 30 minutes later, the girls were playing with each other happily and they continued playing together, without me, for the next 2 hours.

    It was such an epiphany to me that by constantly interfering with them, I had been keeping them from creating their own games and figuring out how to play together without a “referee”. My kids come up with games and activities that I would never think of and they can play by themselves for hours now. I am glad that I did not continue to prevent that from happening!

  17. I have always wondered at the whole notion of over children who could not self-entertain. I am an only child, so most people would assume that I would have been spoiled and self-indulged. I have had people tell me to my face that they would never have just one child, because “only children are all freaks.” And, yes they knew I was one of the freaks that they were speaking of.

    However, I have always been the most self-entertained child I knew growing up. To the point my parents had to create new punishments as I made the time-out corner a pretend movie show. My parents indulged in board games (hard to play those on your own) but other than that I was raised having to keep myself busy and amused about 90% of the time. The only by-blow would be that I still talk to myself. (my office mates find it very amusing).

    BTW – One couple that told me they would never have an only, has two of the most needy, weirdest kids I have met. I feel for the kids as they have no idea what it means to keep themselves busy for even a few minutes.

  18. I’m definitely in the independent play camp. My kid will amuse herself for a couple of hours playing her own imaginary games and drawing and making up songs. What she wants me for is playing the other part when she wants to play out one of her books or writing or drawing something for her to try to copy. I think one of the biggest things here is turning off the TV (she watches about 20 minutes every couple months) but not then becoming the replacement entertainment.

    The other thing is that I don’t overload her with toys. Sometimes I see her pretending that one of her blocks is something else and I think, “hey I should get her one of those.” But then I smarten up and think, “If she’s happy to pretend she has it I’ll just let her keep pretending.” I think this kind of imaginary substitution is exactly the kind of problem solving that you’re talking about.

  19. When I was little–and by that I mean no older than 4 and possibly 3–I had to eat immediately upon waking up. Immediately! The problem? I woke up at least an hour before my mother. The other problem? Once I’d eaten, I could play by myself (not as well as my brother, who from the start had to share her attention because I was already there, but I could entertain myself for short periods.)

    So I needed her to wake up and give me breakfast, but then I was fine. She, however, was missing out on sleep.

    Her solution? Every night she would put a little pitcher of milk on a low shelf in the refrigerator and a bowl of cereal on the table. In the morning, I would get up, climb on a chair to turn on the light in the kitchen, go over to the refrigerator and get the milk, pour it on the cereal, and eat. Presto, I was fed and she didn’t have to get up! Everyone was happy.

    When we were older (say, elementary school) and would proclaim that we were bored, she would either give us suggestions, give us chores, or tell us to go outside.

    And she was very involved in every aspect of our lives. She loved spending time with us–she also just needed time to herself, and expected us to figure things out as we became able to do so.

  20. Lihtox,

    We have a 2.5 and 1 year old at home and we let them entertain themselves as much as possible. I love to let the 2.5 year old roam to other rooms in the house to see what she gets into and creates on her own. Often I stand out of site and listen to her take care of her “babies”, make up songs on her own or read herself books. It’s also fun to listen to her language develop as she jabbers about every little thing she is doing.

    We keep more of an eye on the little one, but give him freedom to entertain himself. He has become quite fascinated with the our broom and will walk all around trying to sweep the floor. Even when he gets frustrated or falls down we give him space to settle himself and try it again. I think it is important to start giving them room to entertain themselves as early as possible and adjust as they become more capable.

  21. Amanda, we use the line about chores too. It’s very effective on kids old enough to know what chores are.

    I can’t imagine trying to spend all day entertaining my kids. I work at home and it’s hard enough to get things done just doing the normal things the younger kids need and making sure the one year old isn’t getting into too much mischief. I can’t imagine feeling responsible to play all day with them.

  22. I think there’s no doubt that kids need to be able to entertain themselves, but not all the time. I do think it’s important for a parent to be involved – sometimes – with what the child is interested in.

    Like a previous poster, I was an only child. While I was very good at entertaining myself, I have memories of being lonely much of the time. I had friends, ran the streets of my neighborhood, but times when they were away or I had to be indoors, I was just plain lonely. I was very jealous of kids with siblings, since my mom was never big into playing with me.

    Despite the fact that I didn’t want my child to be an only child, circumstances have made that the case. So while there are times he plays on his own and there are times I have to say no because I have things to do, there are times that I put aside what I have to do to play with him. If, 40 years on, I can vividly recall the loneliness of being an only child, I think it’s worth being his playmate from time to time. Free-range, to me, is not an exclusive situation. There are times when he’s on his own, doing his own thing. Then there are times when we are doing things together. Perhaps this is not how subsistence farmers would react, but the fact is that I don’t have to go plow the fields every single day, every second of the day.

  23. This is a great post. I have an infant (11 months) who is already fiercely independent. From the very beginning, we encouraged independent play. Now, sometimes when I get down on the floor to play with him, he looks at me, smiles, then crawls away to go do something else. He’s very capable of amusing himself. I do wonder, though, how much is me and how much is him and his personality. I think that no matter what the personality you can encourage traits like independence, but I think some kids are just going to be more needy no matter what you do.

  24. I put my url in wrong

  25. When I grew up my brother and I were left alone to amuse ourselves most of the time. I never remember it being a problem as we always had a huge collection of lego and books and were allowed to go bike riding for miles so we could always find something to do.

    I knew that if I wanted to spend time with my parents I could, I simply went and helped them with what ever they were doing. I’d help Mum in the kitchen and we’d talk and make dinner together.

    My Dad was a real home handy man and some of the happiest memories of my now deceased father are from my childhood and are of sitting next to my Dad “helping him”, mostly just handing him tools as I chatted about things (I probably drove him mad). He taught me all about cars andr house repairs. I ccan hammer a nail straight because of him and could change oil and replace spark plugs before I got my first car at 16.

    If I wanted to play though, anything other than board games I found a friend or roped in my brother. My parents considered themselves my parents not my friends

    My brother is bringing up his kids the same way and my niece and nephew are lovely independent kids that know how to amuse themselves and talk to adults as adults and not as child substitutes.

  26. I love this thread. As a pediatric speech therapist, I sit on the floor and play intensively with kids for a living. It was very natural and enjoyable for me to do the same with my own children when they came along. But within a few years, I realized that for their sake I had to pull back on that – a lot. I did so with my older son at age 3 just in time before his brother was born, and was much better with the 2nd child about letting him play on his own. Sometimes it was hard, I was working a few days a week and he wanted me to play whenever I was home, but I held firm and we had a routine wherein I would play with him for a while but then do Mommy Things. I now have boys who are 9 and 5 who are really very independent and can play on their own, together, and with friends, for hours at a time without me. I am so glad I made that change!

  27. Also, I meant to add – this is exactly the reason I am saddened when I see DVD players in cars. Why can’t kids spend hours looking out the windows, feeling a bit bored, noticing the world? We tell our kids on long road trips that this is time to see the world and chat with us or be alone with their thoughts for a while, and although of course it was hard at first, now they’re champs.

  28. Hallelujah!

    I think I would’ve been hugely irritated as a child if a grown-up would butt in my make-believe world and ‘take over’. I always hated adults who pretended to be kids (Think ‘Hagrid’ of the Harry Potter-verse. Clowns fall under that category too)
    My parents seldom played with me. My dad had two weeks vacation a year, and he would make a kite with us and take it flying, or he would play badminton with us in the street if we wanted and that was fun. He would also give us the occasional piggybackride, or play a board- or cardgame at weekends (when we were older) and mum would sometimes bake cookies with us, and that was all that was needed. We would’ve laughed at the thought of parents going down on all fours and play with their kids.
    We kids would’ve sneered at such parents. Think of them as ingratiating themselves, or as being dishonest (because no child will believe that an adult would find solace and satisfaction in playing ‘teaparty’ or ‘tiddlywinks’).

    And like Robin, I’m a huge fan of John Rosemond too. Kudo’s to him for pointing out that people have been wrongly putting children in the centre of the family, which does them no favor.

  29. i COMPLETELY agree! and we do this with our kids. at this exact moment, our 2-year-old is happily entertaining himself while i catch up on some stuff around here.

    just yesterday my brother-in-law told me about how his very bright kindergartener is struggling in school….because ‘she really needs direction’ and ‘we always have to provide direction to her’ and the kindergarten teacher ‘is loosely structured so she shuts down and doesn’t particpate.’ this child is scheduled to death and always told what to do and ALWAYS supervised (they still have a monitor in her bedroom so they can hear her when she’s up there alone!). and THEY criticize us for our loosey-goosey, free-range, let-the-kids-go-out-and-play-they’ll-find-something-to-do (mostly because of course that means they will be snatched off the street, of course!….). ugh.

    thank you for this post!!

  30. I love the thoughts and comments that my post has ignited. Thanks for sharing so many of your experiences here.

    I’m an only child too (from divorced parents). I love reading the other only-child experiences. I had to entertain myself a lot, and although it was challenging at times, I also remember some pretty great times by myself. I now appreciate that gift. I enjoy spending time by myself and I know how to entertain myself well.

    Jordan- I love that you noticed a potential problem and made the necessary changes. That sort of mindfulness can be hard in the face of parenting.

    Lihtox – I think it is important to introduce free time to children of all ages. Of course, expect the the time to be shorter for younger children. Parents will need to be patient and creative in their approach, but with consistency and support, all kids benefit from learning to entertain themselves.

    Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts!

  31. But what do people think about applying the same philosophy for a 1 or 2 or 3-year-old?

    You take it as it goes. A one year old can’t be left to his or her own devices quite as much as a three year old, but don’t worry if they’re playing happily by themselves. You don’t need to jump in then! (And I see people worry about this. “Can I let my kid play by himself if he’s happy?” they ask. Uh, yes, yes you can. Help your baby when he cries, not when he laughs.)

    You can also interact with your kids without playing with them. There’s no reason your three year old needs you to play with them when you need to cook dinner. If they want your attention then, they can help you cook. If you’re cleaning house, there’s no reason they can’t have their own broom, or their own sponge at the sink. If you’re paying bills, and they want to be with you, they might be just as happy with some crayons and paper at the table.

    Also, I don’t think anybody is saying that you should never ever ever play with your kids. Ever! That would be silly. If you want to play with them because it’s something you enjoy, and it’s not taking time from things that NEED to be done, and they want you to play with them as well – go ahead and play with them. The FRK police won’t go knocking on your door with a stern letter. Sometimes I play hopscotch or Chinese jump rope with my nieces. Other times I tell them that if I wanted to play with them I would never have taken them to a playground with a book for me to read and that there’s plenty of kids and each other out there. I don’t think either approach is gonna harm them.

  32. Overall, I agree — kids should be left to their own devices when it comes to “play” most of the time. It’s healthier for the kids, for the parents, everybody.

    However, I think it is necessarily to occasionally demonstrate (and really mean) that your love for the child and desire to take an interest in his interests means you sometimes do give up your “better things to do” just to spend time playing along. with him. Even when you’re really not “psyched to play Candyland,” it’s good to show love and set a good example of giving by doing it anyway. But I do mean occasionally. It doesn’t prove that you give up your time for your child’s sake, if you’re constantly sending the message that the time is really the child’s.

    I definitely agree that you don’t take over, or structure the play, or entertain the kid by pretending you’re the hired clown. When my oldest was a preschooler, I would frequently remind her that she didn’t need my help to play. But if you sense (or they tell you!) that they would enjoy your joining the game of Candyland or whatever now and then, don’t wait until YOU want to do it. Do it SOMETIMES because THEY want you to.

  33. Lithox – I take this philosophy early on in a child’s life. My girls have been able to entertain themselves since they were able to grasp a toy on their own. I made an exception with books, because I believe is important to instill a love of reading in them at a young age.

    I do spend a lot of time with my kids, just not directing their play. If your baby is content, then there is nothing wrong with plopping him or her down on a blanket with a rattle while you read a book close by. My youngest is now three and I love listening in the background as she comes up with the most creative games and situations with her dolls, it is so adorable!!

  34. I have been a relentless defender of boredom since my kids were small. I love to read to them, always have. But I despise some of their favorite activities. I will advise if asked, for example when they are building models. But they know that Mom does not enjoy that activity, and although she will admire the finished product, making the model is their thing. I too use the ‘If you are bored, I have chores…” line as well. Amazing how fast they decide to build something out of cardboard in the basement, or go outside, or make a lego stop motion animation movie, or just about anything else on the planet. To have a kid who does not need constant adult attention or to be constantly plugged into a screen to be happy is the most valuable thing I can think of.

  35. I am an only child of busy parents so I grew up self-entertaining a lot. However, I seemed to have forgotten that with my son and ended up entertaining him when we were both home almost all of the time. Then when he was 5.5 I got pregnant and the morning sickness hit hard and lasted the entire time and then I had a baby. These things in combination forced me to require him to self entertain. Well what an idiot I’d been all of those years. It was a tough transition at first, but now he’s great at it and does it often (when he can’t rustle up a neighborhood friend to play with). It’s freedom for us both and I hope to remember the lesson I learned (again) and have my second child self entertain much sooner!

  36. Lenore! You are spot-on. Don’t let ’em get you down. If you have only one or two children, and if you keep them inside all day for fear of the dangers “out there,” then of course they will be bored, and they will turn to the only other human beings (usually their mom) around for social play. Kids need social play, but ideally it should be with other kids. Don’t have a big family? Then let your kid out to play with the neighbor kids.

    I play with my kids sometimes… but I am going to be brutally honest… I find most “child’s play” to be excruciating. Peekaboo is fun at first but makes my head want to explode after about six rounds. Cops and robbers is briefly entertaining but becomes a chore worse than housework after only a few minutes. How much good am I doing my child when I hate what I am doing? It’s impossible to completely hide those emotions, and it also breeds resentment of one’s kids.

    I spend lots of quality time with my kids, the same way my mom did with me—as part of everyday home life. I talk to them a lot, read them stories, and take seriously my role as their primary teacher. I do not consider it my role to be their primary entertainer.

  37. Extremes are bad. Balance is good. All parents want the best for their kids.

    Lenore, my guess is that the people Lancy was studying were rural people who had to work all the time and who lived in a community. There, children (who were probably held nonstop in slings as infants) are somewhere near the parents, outside, playing with other kids, while parents are working. I suppose that living cooped up in a house, mom and dad working on their computers or traveling and then watching tv while a kid played by himself in another room would seem strange to the non-WEIRDo people as well.

    But, I agree. You don’t have to play barbies (that would kill me!) to connect with your kid. Kids actually love to sweep, fold, do laundry, and do work. No need to punish with chores. When the environment is right, kids can work for hours on end. Check out a Montessori classroom. No crazy plastic loud flashing toys (just another form of entertainment intervention).

    What I find frustrating about these posts, sometimes, is that Free Range seems to be a new “only right way to parent.” Parent says to kid: “I’m going to let you be bored because that’s what I have to do to be a good parent.” The vitriol and defensiveness on both sides (Free Range v. Helicopter).

    Anyway, connect some, leave them alone some, work some, play some, vegetate some, wash your hands some, play in the dirt some, etc. Why can’t we all just get along?

  38. I also have a child who is expected to be self-entertaining. She is an only child so we do play board games etc. with her from time to time, but other than that I let her know that her being bored is not something I am going to concern myself with very much.

    We do offer her the option of chores if the boredom becomes painful or intolerable!

    Also, I remind her that a bored child is a child who does not have to worry about where her next meal is coming from, does not have to walk miles with her mother to collect potable water or firewood, does not have to work in horrible conditions to help support her family and does not have to worry that people will be shooting one another on her street, or if bombs might drop out of the sky onto her home – conditions that children in many other places live with daily.

    We also, some days more successfully than others, limit her screen time.

  39. Jordon, about the DVD players in cars…I love ’em. We travel a lot, long distances of 12 hours or more, and (you might like this, given your profession), our profoundly deaf son watches his DVD’s. Our son has cochlear implants in both ears, he had the first one when he was 14 months old, he is 8 now, and does amazingly with them. You can’t even tell he’s deaf. He’s in a regular class in school with no IEP or anything. His hair is long so you can’t see his processors and most people do not know he wears them. However, it is hard at times to have a conversation with him when he is in the backseat and the road noise going on, so he plugs himself into his DVD player and everyone is happy. The things he learns from his DVD’s during those trips is amazing, and his vocabulary is incredible. I mean, how many 8 year olds use words like fathom, feasible, negotiate and hypothesis in their everyday conversations? 🙂

  40. […] surfaces when kids are learning how to entertain themselves. Lenore is featuring my article at Free Range Kids […]

  41. As a teacher please please please let your children be bored and figure out things by themselves. I can tell the kids who have had to figure out things for themselves – because they are willing to take a chance and try to figure out the math problem. They also know the world will not come to a end if they don’t get it right the first few times.

    The kids that have been coddled – want their hands held every step. (This is after we have done multiple hands on activities together. I’m not just throwing them into the deep end by themselves.) I can’t help them because they have no questions and I can’t see what they don’t know. If a problem is wrong – melt down time and these are 4th graders.

    While we are at it – play with them sometimes. Talk to them over a board game.

    Then also have them help you work. Teach them to cook. Teach them to building things. Show them how to install a disposal, or ceiling fan.

    When I was in 5th grade I built this board with different type of circuits that did different things for a project. Because I had helped my parents with wiring ceiling fans and fixing tree lights, I was able to design the whole thing. I drew it out. My parents checked it. I laid it out. My parents checked it. I built each part and called my parents to watch me test it.

    When my teacher looked at it, she assumed my Dad had built it. I tearfully “confessed” he had done the soldering. I wasn’t allowed because I couldn’t hold it steady. The teacher apologized. (I have fine motor skill problems, and still require help on something as fine as the soldering required).

    My BIL is shocked at the things sis and I fix instead of hiring someone or expecting him to do it. (His mother and sis would expect him to buy everything, install/fix it, and thank them for the opportunity).

  42. Don’t let comments on parentdish get you down. Hit the wrong button and they turn a little rabbid.

    Completely agree about boredom, but another point about not always playing with your kid: how is it remotely good for a child to think they are the center of the universe? Even their parent’s universe. Is it really good for a kid to think a person sacrifices the right to have a life as soon as he/she becomes a parent? Not to mention the pressure that gets piled on a few years later when Mom and Dad have completely disconnected from anything else in the world that might bring them an alternate path to joy (including each other).

  43. […] another post about toddlers and play: A Jar Not Opened. You might like this post on the site Free Range Kids, and my posts, The Myth of Baby Boredom and Becoming Unglued- Giving […]

  44. All things in moderation.

    If I couldn’t read, and I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV or play too much on my computer, I doubt I’d be able to entertain myself for too awfully long. I’d be begging someone to play with me too. I try to keep this in mind when my kids beg me to play with them, and I play with them more than I’d like, but no where near as much as they would like. When both are home, they play together fairly well; but when it’s just one, because the other is at school or asleep…well, I can see why they are eager to have me play with them. And sometimes they get that. And sometimes they don’t. But what I need is probably not encourage to spend less interactive time with my kids. I probably need encouragement to spend more interactive time with them, to stop being so selfish and saying “Mommy just has to finish responding to this blog, five minutes…” “Mom, you said just five minutes ten minutes ago…” So it depends on the parent. And it depends on the kid. And it depends on the situation. I for one can’t stand engaging in creative play with my kids, because it’s like being bossed around by a very bad director who can’t write a screenplay to save his life. I will, however, spend about 1 hour a day reading to them, or play a board game, or occasionally do a craft or cook a recipe.

  45. My mother kept a list of chores that needed to be done and the minute my brother or I complained of being bored, she’d whip it out and say “well, in that case I have just the thing for you to do!”
    Believe me, you rarely heard the “B” word in our house!

  46. I play with my kids sometimes, if they are asking me to play a lot, then I try to set aside an hour or so to do what they want to do. I have fond memories as a kid, playing board games or working puzzles with my mom. Both my parents were intelligent, funny and good sense of humor and as a kid I enjoyed to opportunity to engage that. That said, they mostly limited “play” with us to structured events like baseball, soccer, golf, board games etc. That’s the same path I now find myself going down…imaginative role play with a 4 year old is not my purvue anymore. I can’t wait until the kids are old enough to play monopoly!

  47. ps. I would second Sky’s response in almost every detail!

  48. Hear hear.

    I play with my kids sometimes. We pick things we all like to do at times when I’m free (I don’t play games I don’t like just because my kids want to, and I don’t make them play games I like just because I want to). I read to them and play LEGOs and take them to the pool or amusement park.

    But I have a job, a spouse, hobbies, a house to clean, friends, and the desire to spend time relaxing. I cannot entertain my kids constantly and have no desire to do so. It’s good for my children to see I have things in my life other than them. On the rare occasion my kids complain of boredom, I suggest they help me with the housework, and sometimes they even take me up on it!

    I’ve always done things this way, even when they were babies and toddlers. I simply put them on the floor with a few toys in the room I was working in, or as they got older involved them in the task I was completing.

    They are now 6 and 7, and they are happy, creative, smart, social kids who can make their own meals, get ready by themselves in the morning, and entertain themselves for hours. I am a relaxed, rested parent who does not constantly feel pressed for time. So when we all do things together we can really enjoy that time.

    I cannot stand to be around people who constantly let kids interrupt them and always drop everything to entertain their children. I have some friends like this, and I only schedule time to be with them without any of our children. If their kids are there we cannot have a conversation for two minutes without their children interrupting for attention. It’s hugely frustrating. I bite my tongue and tell my own kids “The grownups are talking. Find something to do.” And anyway, I don’t see that these child-centered families are all that happy in most cases. Most of the parents are stressed out and feel they have no lives other than their children. The kids are demanding and whiny. And how are the kids going to cope when they encounter a world that is not constantly entertaining them?

  49. This is where the mindfulness part comes in. If you know that you often avoid interacting with your kids, then yes, engage with them. They do need that.

    On the other hand, if you feel like a puppet performing at their every whim, then you need to set some boundaries. It’s good for them. It’s good for you.

    If your children are constantly nipping at your heels to play with them, then stop. Reflect.

    Consider if you have given them any meaningful engagement today. If not, it’s time. If you have and are finding that they are entertainment junkies, then implement the steps I mentioned in the post.

  50. Playing with kids is wonderful. Especially with the very young ones. But, yeah. You don’t have to do it *all* *the* *time*! And in fact, if you’re getting in the sandbox with your older kids, they might just be rolling their eyes at you behind your back🙂

    Honestly, I don’t believe in parent centered families any more than I believe in child centered families. Each person in a family needs what they need and is able to give what they can give. Parenting is about finding the best balance for everyone. As the kids grow, they’re better able to help find the balance. But only if they’ve seen it in action and done a little along the way to help out with it.

  51. I love this idea and it makes so much sense. In the boredom, downtime, rest, comes the inspiration and creativity. My slow family living co-founder, Dr. Carrie Contey, just spoke here in Austin, TX at our local Tedx talks. She talked about The Power of the Pause and how we as humans need to take the pauses in order to integrate everything we are learning. I believe kid’s boredom is just that – it is the pause towards what’s next. As adults we lose sight of, or perhaps never had the belief in, the idea that taking a break is crucial – not just to our well-being but to greater understanding and innovation as well.

    I think as parents when you feel like playing, play. When you don’t, don’t. If it’s faked or forced, the kids know it and the connection sought, will be lost.

  52. I was so glad to see this post. I’ve often felt like an “awful parent” because I don’t play with my kids that much. My parents didn’t play with me that much, but I had a wonderful imaginary life and never missed it. I will play board games or color on occasion, but when it comes to playing “house” or Barbies I just say no. Not only is it boring for me I also don’t like being told what to say and do. My kids are bossy!😉 I really do believe that it is good for them to entertain themselves. I look at it this way, it’s not their job to pay the bills, clean the house, cook dinner or do laundry. It’s their job to play. Not mine. I’m busy with all that other stuff. Because that’s MY job!

  53. I enforce boredom on my kids regularly, i send them to their rooms if they moan they are bored, this way they have to find all the gifts have been given and never played with.In the summer they go outside and with several butter tubs come home, with a variety of insects and bugs as pets.(all of which are duely returned in the garden) .A paddling pool and warm soapy water doubles up for fun and an al fresco bath later on in the day.

  54. Of course, creativity can be “too much of a good thing”–back in the 60’s, my daughters, who were in the 5 to 7 year-old range, decide to play “gas station” and inserted the garden hose into the filler tube of our 1956 Ford convertible. I cleaned out the tank and fuel system as best I could, but it never quite ran right after that. Shortly thereafter, the engine failed (not a result of the “non-standard refueling”) and the car became a “parts donor” to keep another ’56 Ford running.

  55. I have always felt comfortable leaving my kids to their own devices – I am their PARENT, not their playmate! Yes, I do activities with them, I do read to them, I do play with them. Just not ALL of the time. They also have the luxury of going outside anytime they want, without me. I wonder if that is related?

  56. As my kids would tell you (because they’ve heard it a milllion times) –
    “Only boring people get bored”.

    They have a lot of time to figure stuff out and be bored. My oldest and youngest thrive on it – it drives my middle child crazy – he thrives on human interaction of any kind. He needs more human stimulation (but, with that does great).

    He, of course, is one reason that we (for mental health reasons) need a DVD player in the car. After just short bits of creative play, he finds the need to “stir the pot” just to get a rise out of everyone. We travel a lot. My oldest is reading maps, and the youngest plays fine… but, holy cow can the middle one get everyone going.

  57. Wow, the a lot of folks over at ParentDish Do Not Get It. Perhaps more than parenting advice, reading comprehension lessons are needed? Yes, Virginia, there’s a difference between “let your kids learn to explore their world of play on their own” and “ignore your kids.”

  58. Lenore,

    I completely agree with you that kids need to learn to do stuff on their own. I don’t remember my mom sitting and playing barbies with me, ever, though I’m sure she did on occassion. And I was an only child, so I really had to know how to keep myself busy.

    It was such a relief to me when I realized that I could allow and expect my son to entertain himself and that it was good for him to do so.

    Keep up the good work, Lenore! I appreciate what you have to say.

  59. Lenore,

    How about interviewing 50 highly successful and/or famous adults (in different fields) and ask them how involved their parents were in entertaining them as kids? In other words how free range were their childhoods… (Your interviews would go into your next book:

    Free-Range – Successful and Famous: or Helicoptered and Disabled

    The second half would be interviews with college age (and older) children of helicopter parents showing indepth how disabled they are today.

  60. I love the book idea, Lenore!

  61. I think a lot of people just are not used to your sense of humor. Sometimes I wonder where some of the commenters on that “other site” come from.

    As someone who strives to be as free-range as practical, I am quite devoted to my children’s well-being. I put a lot of effort into giving them the opportunity to get what they want via problem-solving and hard work. I got quite a few chuckles as I read commenters who assume I sit on my rotund rear and watch TV as my children languish in their own drool. In fact, I do not watch TV at all. One of my goals with my kids is to help them to develop the capability to keep up with me so we can do even more stuff – real stuff – together. But the time they spend managing their own play time is among the most intellectually productive times in their day. They are not languishing, they are creating and ruling the universe! Give me a break.

  62. My Mom had a sure cure for boredom. If we ever complained about being bored, she gave us something to do. Usually washing dishes, or cleaning something.

    Which, I reckon, is why I spent a significant portion of my free time in college teaching college students how to do simple things like cook, do laundry, wash dishes, etc.–I knew how to do all that well before I left home. I wouldn’t have believed it before then if you had told me there was 19 year-old college student who didn’t know how to wash his own clothes or fix a broken drawer.

  63. Here’s a question:

    If all we ever model for our children is an adult who PLAYS, how will they ever know what an adult does? Adults are supposed to WORK, and it is important for children to see us work…cleaning, fixing things, cooking, paying bills, writing…..

  64. My son is only 10 months old and he’s been happily playing by himself for months. We have a combined living/dining room and we after minimal baby-proofing (mostly baby gates and removing all the papers he wanted to eat) he is free to wander the space while I get stuff done. Don’t get me wrong, I do play with him – just not all the time.

    The result; a child who constantly amazes people with his ability to really play and entertain himself and mom who actually has a chance to cook a healthy dinner and keep a reasonably clean house without popping her child in front of the TV.

  65. I’ve always hated playing pretend with my children. I’m glad to see it’s not the awful confession I’ve always viewed it as.😉

    On the other hand, I view John Rosemond and his “parenting” advice as completely creepy. Anyone who gives detailed intructions on how to “appropriately” spank a child isn’t someone whose advice I’d be bragging about following.

  66. Re: DVD Players in cars:

    My husband and I were adamantly against them… until we realized that the two year old is essentially incapable of remaining calm while strapped into his car seat. He will literally scream for hours on a road trip until he passes out exhausted.

    Our twelve year old? Can stare out the window or chatter happily about black holes until we are ready to strap him to the roof of the vehicle.

    The one year old, perfectly content to stare out the window, and will if she pleases even if the DVD Player is going.

    My two year old is so upset by being restrained that no amount of cooing, reading, or playing with toys will calm him down. But the movies distract him. When we are not in the car he has far surpassed most of his peers as far as pretend play, even most of the girls his age that I have seen. He just doesn’t like being on the road.

  67. Two things:

    In other sorts of cultures (pre-industrial) adult women’s labour is too essential to be wasted on playing with kids. Kids play with other kids. Older kids look after little kids and the mothers get on with vital subsistence activities.

    Lenora alluded to this with the playing tag instead of getting the fields planted observation.

    Second, kids do better in school if they have the right type of prior to school experiences, which means things like being read to, taught counting games, shown the letters of the alphabet and given art and craft materials to play with.

    So, balance required. Don’t dump the kids on the side of the highway and leave them there until Day One of school. But also feel okay about teaching them that while they are loved and cherished and have a legitimate call on people’s time and attention, they have to fit in too and people have other things they have to do or are at times too tired or sick to be able to give them what they want just now.

    So, boredom might be good for kids, maybe, but helping them learn that they are have to give as well as take, wait a bit, make allowances if very very good for them. Endless giving without expectations doesn’t raise the world’s most fantastic people, it produces potential narcissists and psychopaths.

  68. OMG, if me and my 4 siblings even slightly resembled the I-am-SOOO-bored look, Mom would fling open the front door and say OUTSIDE…NOW!! And DON’T come back till dinner! Unless it was raining, and even then it was TO YOUR ROOMS! It wasn’t so much that “idle hands are the devil’s playground” attitude, it was more that she got tired of having the house look like a boneless chicken ranch with us kids lying around everywhere. And when you’re a kid and you’re bored, you snack… a lot! Our familiy had a strict food budget and excessive snacking meant having less at regular meal times and excessive expanding of your waistline and behinds. I can honestly say none of us was ever a fat kid thanks to the loving parental harrassment we experienced. And if memory serves me, games and playing pretend was way more fun without parents putting in their 2 cents worth of ideas. Sometimes adults can really screw things up for kids by trying to control a pretend/fantasy game, it makes the young give up the ability to just let go and *ahhhhh… dream*.

  69. I play with my son a LOT. He’s 3, he’s an only child, and I’m home fairly often. We play make-believe Pokemon and other things and Mario Kart. My son is my son, but he’s also my friend. I don’t treat him differently than any other person because he’s younger than me; he deserves the same treatment and respect an adult does. What he’s not ready for I know he’ll grow into. I’m sure my presence will lessen when he starts school and makes some friends who aren’t also his mom. I don’t see a problem with playing with him now when he asks me too, as long as I’m not busy with something else; he’ll only want me to play with him for a little while longer. It’s a time I cherish, along with bedtime stories and holding hands. Soon, way too soon, he’ll be too big for that.

  70. I have a friend who is masterful at coming up with fun outings, adventures, and activities for her brood. In comparison, I must seem like the world’s most boring mom. Yes, I engage with them, but an on-call entertainment hostess is not what they need.

    I love being the silent observer and watch them at play. From that vantage point, I have learned a lot about my kids, what they are thinking, feeling, etc.

  71. Jen, I think it’s fine if you actually ENJOY that sort of thing. There are plenty of things that I enjoy doing with my kids, just not pretend play and definitely not video games. With my first child, I forced myself. With the second, I did it as little as possible. The third never expected me to do it because I just never did.

    On the other hand, I’ve always loved reading with my kids. I love taking them on outtings. I love living daily life with them and when they were small we’d make games out of things like folding the laundry (the current toddler would always be in charge of folding all the dish towels), dish washing (the toddler had his/her own dishpan full of suds to wash toys), and vacuuming (toddlers can push a manual sweeper pretty darn well.)

    And, you know, what my kids are most assuredly NOT my “friends.” I don’t even know where to start with that one.

  72. I agree 100% with your post. Charlotte Mason calls it “masterly inactivity.” If our kids ever say they are bored (and they have not) then we have plenty of weeds they can pull. Your book Free Range Kids, along with Last Child in the Woods and the Power of Play are all good. Structure isn’t all that IMO. We knew it but it’s nice to hear it from modern books and blogs too. Keep up the good work. =)

  73. I have pointed out to my kids a number of times that when a child says, “I’m bored,” they’re also saying “I’m boring.” I also add, “boredom is the cauldron-of-creativity, my good child—stir it wisely.” Usually within ten minutes (if there are no screen time options) they are no longer either bored or boring!

    Terrific post, thank you.

  74. I’m a single mom of 2, and a full-time student, so my kids have no choice but to entertain themselves a lot of the time. And they do!! My 3-year old creates full scenarios with her little dolls, complete with dialogue, and they both love to play dress up and take turns being the queen and princess. But I spend time with them too, like cooking dinner, singing songs at bathtime, and reading stories at bedtime. My kids are pretty independent AND they know I love them.🙂

  75. I believe this is what one author called “benevolent neglect”. I actively practice this with my four children everyday.

  76. I have an only child and I frequently leave her to entertain herself. Her favorite play things are dolls. I didn’t like playing with dolls when I was 4 and my affection has not grown in the last 30-something years. I will very occasionally play dolls with her and will often play games, do puzzles, play on the computer and read with her but I don’t feel the need to be her friend or constant playmate. I also usually leave the room while she is watching tv. I’m not interested in Dora so why should I watch it? I am also a single parent and the needs of taking showers, cooking meals, paying bills, cleaning, yard work, etc mean that I must have a child who can frequently entertain herself. I shouldn’t have to entertain her all day and then stay up all night to get the adult work done that needs to get done.

    And as seen driving home from work today – infants should be able to entertain themselves in the car while mom and dad sit in the front seat together. I was parked next to a car at a red light with the dad driving and mom sitting in the back with the baby. The baby was not upset and, instead, was looking out the window at me while mom and dad chatted without being able to make eye contact. If this is their general manner of transportation, I can’t imagine that it enhances the marital relationship.

  77. Play is critically important…FOR KIDS. Time together playing games is fun and good for the family, too. Parents need separate time, and kids need to figure out how to entertain themselves.

    The persistent fear that boredom or idleness is bad for children is more about parents’ fear than anything else.

    My mother’s response to “I’m bored” was always a curt, “No, you’re not.” She would remind us that we had books, brothers, toys and all of the outdoors. She wouldn’t even acknowledge boredom, teaching us to relate to what we thought of as being bored as an invitation to figure out something new. That was a tremendous gift.

  78. This is why I really dislike DVD players in vehicles. Kids should learn how to be able to occupy themselves, yes, just like we did.
    I also allowed myself, when my daughter was younger, to get upset at myself for not wanting to play Barbies with her. I got over it though.
    Even now that she’s 14, we do play games together, but I am not there for her entertainment – nor should I be. We have a bunch of games we play every so often, we make dinner together sometimes and we take car trips together also. But I am not her friend. She has friends – and I’ve always tried to foster those relationships.

  79. Great post, Lenore. Thanks! As for the blowback, I know some of these kinds of people personally. They are exhausted and I can sense simmering resentment just below the surface. That is NOT how I want to experience parenthood.

    I have a 3 and 1 year old who can entertain themselves. In fact, some mornings when I have to get some stuff done around the house, I babygate them in to certain areas of the house for safety’s sake and do what I have to do or even what I want to do. (I call it “going on strike.”) Meals have to get made, laundry and cleaning needs to get done, calls made, etc. … They play by themselves and with each other already! The neat thing is that when I do get down to their level and play with them it’s because I want to and because I enjoy it. My son and I play games and do puzzles, my daughter brings me toys and we play with them. It’s much more relaxing that trying to entertain them. I take them to parks and museums because I like getting out, too, not just for their sake.

  80. Well, I guess I am an awful, lazy parent. I refuse to spend my life entertaining my kids when they can darn well entertain themselves. When I was a kid, I pretty much roamed the farm with our dog (I’m much younger than my siblings). I learned to play games like Scrabble early on, because those were the only games anyone would want to play on a regular basis.

  81. Ineresting post. I’m not really sure if I play with my kids too much or ignore them too much! When talking with my daughter today about some things I did as a kid, I realize that one huge difference between my childhood and hers is that my neighborhood growing up was crawling with kids, and ours now isn’t. In my current neighborhood, the families are MUCH smaller, and the majority of homes do not have school age kids. I think that makes a big difference in how much kids can entertain themselves. When I was bored as a kid, I could always wander the neighborhood and come up with something to do.

    Also, you need to allow for the personality of your kids. An extrovert is going to need more interaction than an introvert. Extroverted adults can make choices about their career, activities, etc, but kids don’t have that sort of freedom. Also, too, I have one child who is very shy, which manifests itself in his having very poor social skills, and not always ones typically associated with shy kids. I play with him more than with my other kids to consiously teach him certain skills.

    I certainly am not at all interested in Pokemon or video games, but I do play them on occasion with my son. I don’t think it’s indulging him; I think it’s a sign of love to do something you’re not interested in but is very important to your loved one. It’s just like watching basketball with my husband.

  82. My kids are 3. Instead of “what should we do” I hear “Mommy, look what we’re doing!” (Building a train, etc.); or: “We can’t go to bed, we’re going to to Africa now!” Sometimes they invite me into their play, but it’s still “their” play; I don’t guide it and I am not essential to it. It can be really fun to observe, though.

    Does anyone think Christopher Robin Milne or Robert Louis Stevenson had a boring [early] childhood? Yet apparently, all of their adventures were generated from the child’s own mind. Parents should probably read RLS before deciding how much independent play is good for kids.

  83. I dislike DVD players in cars because when we drive long-distance, it’s some of the most beautiful country in the world. Besides, MY mom would get annoyed that I didn’t get trained right…😀 (She hated it when I used to read or sleep on trips, though the latter was mostly in college, and I was always exhausted after finals.)

  84. Very good article. Since my kids are not in school, and we do not have video games nor television, my kids are constantly playing, doing art, reading, relaxing, and RUNNING AROUND OUTSIDE. They are extremely self-directed and never “bored”

    To all those who say kids need to “roam” and play outside – those who said, “I played outside all day and came home when dinner was ready” – well, would you mind speaking out more often in support of our children?

    Because I agree with you. I’d like to point out though, that many adults do not support this. Just today several of the gang in my neighborhood were yelled at by a random person driving by for A. climbing trees, and B. playing fort in the trees by the train tracks. This is extremely frustrating and annoying… I have some ideas on how to handle this sort of thing, but one thing I’d love is more adults specifically supporting our children when they’re out in the world.

  85. Just to be clear re: my previous comment: abandoned railroad tracks. No fear of a train “getting” the kids.

  86. I agree with a few of the posters – balance.

    My daughter was developmentally delayed – thankfully not by much as she’s just about at the level she’s supposed to be as a third grader. I had so many people telling me I needed to sit and play with her (nevermind she has a brother who is only 10.5 months younger than she). I needed to guide playtime with her. Don’t you know, after two times of doing that, my daughter looked at me and huffed. **I** wasn’t doing it right! LOL!

    At that point I realized that even the experts can get it wrong and that the natural thing for kids to do is play with other kids.

    I read to my kids (I try to do this daily as much as possible), I take them on hikes, I play games with them from time to time – but they enjoy the time without me barging in. The result? My daughter is super highly creative, my son is able to logically question things so much it drives me up a wall. Hee hee.

    Point being – I do play with my kids but no parent should ever feel that we’re supposed to do that all the time – or even most of the time. Someone above said it best – if we’re constantly teaching our kids that adults play – what will they grow up thinking adults do?

    I don’t think any society has it as backward as we do in the U.S. It’s sad how we’re stunting ourselves and our futures all in the name of “friendly parenting.” When my daughter (9) decided to give me an attitude, my reminder wasn’t, “Honey, that isn’t nice…” it was “I will absolutely not tolerate your attitude. I’m not your friend, I’m your mother and you will not disrespect me.” I haven’t had a problem since. No spanking, hitting, or coddling with words required. We aren’t their friends until they’re into adulthood… our jobs are to teach them how to be self-sustaining adults, not sustain their childhood indefinitely by acting like children ourselves.

    (I think I digressed about 90 times in this post… wow! LOL)

  87. Once again, Lenore, you’re spot on. Balance is everything and I was “me” before I was “Mom” so why should I have to stop being the former to be the latter? I don’t feel guilty at all telling my kids that I don’t feel like playing right now but when I’ve finished reading I will be right in to play for a bit.

    Robin – My parents raised us that way and I think it was the best thing they could have done for us. It was very clear that they were husband and wife before parents. They spent a lot of time together without us children. We learned to entertain ourselves, settle arguments, take care of ourselves, watch after one another, etc. It is now the way I raise my children. Even with homeschooling and the closeness and time together that that involves, my children know that I need and expect time to myself.

  88. I would take exception to the way Lenore uses her words.🙂 She says kids should learn to play. I would disagree. Kids are born knowing how to play. They actually learn NOT to play by being filled with planned activities and constant parental hovering and ‘learning moments’. My daughter made the crack to me that she was turning off the TV because she could not concentrate on ‘the game’, a term my girls have for their make believe worlds. Thankfully, she has not learned to be bored yet….

  89. Jenincanada,

    “I don’t treat him differently than any other person because he’s younger than me;”

    I’m going to have to call shenanigans on that one . . .

  90. I agree with most everyone else on here. And like everything in parenting, it’s all about balance. Sometimes, just for nostalgia’s sake, the My Little Ponies are awfully appealing, but most times they are awfully boring. Kids can see through that and I don’t want my kids to think that I think they are boring so I don’t force it. We need to engage with our kids in meaningful ways and kids do need to learn to entertain themselves. That is the best way to develop creativity and exercise their problem solving skills.

    As far as DVD players in cars go, I think they are wonderful. And like with anything, if used in moderation, are a great tool to make the long trips a lot more enjoyable for everyone involved. I really don’t understand why people are so dogmatic about this topic. It’s not like we plop them in front of the TV for entire trip. It’s only for the car ride, after they have exhausted all other forms of entertaining themselves. Because listening to “are we there yet” and “how much longer” for hours on end is stressful for everyone.

  91. When I was a kid and went to daycare, our babysitter rarely had planned activities for us. We had toys and her teenage daughter would sometimes play with us, but mostly we went outside whenever we could. We had a playground, but we found plenty of other activities to do. When you have several kids together, none of them will ever get bored. We played house and pretended that grass was food, and we would cook it on an imaginary stove. The entire game took place in our minds. Or we would have races or play red rover. We were never bored and we had very few toys outside and no adult direction. When I was at home and it was just me and my brother, I would get bored a little more easily. My parents were willing to play with me, but they didn’t do it the way another kid would, so I rarely asked them to. I had a lot of toys so it wasn’t that hard to entertain myself even when I was alone. When I finally found some legos when I was a little older, I would spend days at a time planning and building a huge project, then I’d emerge from room to show it off.

    I also got bored in school a lot, because I was gifted. I’m actually sort of glad that I was so far ahead because it gave me a lot of time to just think. I would picture squaring a number in my head even before I learned what exponents are. In third grade I was very bored and discovered that fractions are exactly the same as division. I came up with a game where I would pick a category and go through the alphabet and think of one thing that started with each letter. I would count by 3s or 8s or whatever, or start with a high number and divide by 2 as far as I could go. In high school I would do all of these things in one of the 3 foreign languages I was learning. I wish I still had time to be bored and just think about things like that.

  92. I dunno. Many of you list dire consequences for kids if their parents play with them a lot, and I don’t think that’s true. One of my best friend’s mom played with her and her brother all the time. Her dad was a Navy man, so they moved a lot and didn’t have many close friends. Her dad would be gone for weeks at a time, and she and her brother have such fond memories of all the games, pretend and otherwise, that her mom would play with them. And she learned so many great songs and stories that she passed on to us and later to our kids. It sounds like a wonderful childhood.

    She has grown up to be a responsible woman who can think for herself and is one of the most creative people I know. Her own kids play on their own as well as with adults. So while I agree that parents don’t NEED to play with their kids, if it’s something you and your kids enjoy doing, I really don’t think it’s going to turn your kids into whining brats that can’t entertain themselves.

  93. Susan, you can play WITH your child where your child can lead and make the rules, or play AT your child where you are setting down a super structured environment run by you. I think the later is what can do harm. My 2 cents.

  94. The thing is, kids don’t really entertain themselves. THEY ENTERTAIN EACH OTHER. And that’s fine when you have siblings who are home at the same time, or you live in a neighbourhood with lots of kids who play at each others houses or outside. But what if you don’t? How long do you expect your four year old to entertain himself without you interacting with him?

    And even when my children entertain each other, they want me to watch. They want ATTENTION. They don’t want me to direct and guide thier play, they want me to pay attention to them. So the question isn’t really one of do I let them learn to entertain themselves but really – how much attention should I give them? Attention speaks love, but I have a life too, and they have to know they aren’t the center of the universe. That’s not always an easy balance to figure out. When am I being indlugent, and when I am being selfish? That’s a balance that may be hard for parents to achieve.

  95. BTW, I am talking about young children above. Older children can entertain themselves, especially if they can read well, and especially if they are introverted. Extroverts have a harder time entertaining themselves. Self-entertainment is not always an issue of character or morality; it’s an issue of personality.

  96. Sky – My oldest has always been able to entertain himself for hours. Give him somewhere to sprawl on the floor and a few objects to manipulate – and he’s busy.

    My middle child needs other people to feed off of.

    All of my kids get my attention (but, certainly not constantly).

    What really gets my attention? When they are out of sight and very very quiet – now, that means they are busy (and maybe not in a good way).

  97. I’m grateful that my parents kicked us out of the house as much as they did. My sister and I didn’t exactly get along famously, but everyday when we got home from school we would drop everything and disappear into the neighborhood until it was dark or we were starving. One of my favorite memories was when we were about 8 and 5 and had the overwhelming urge to find out exactly what the inside of the trashcan behind our house looked like. I still can’t remember how we made it in, but we did. When we got home we were so dirty my parents asked if we’d been playing in the dumpster. We laughed while we said yes. My mom took a picture, then had us clean up before dinner. I can only hope my kids will be able to amuse themselves as well as we did. I’m reading this right now while my 4 year old is sitting next to me, teaching herself how to read, and my 3 year old is finding pieces of outfits to be a ballerina. I “banish” them to their room a lot of the time and let them play whatever they can think of. The crayons stay on the kitchen table with a stack of coloring books and kindergarten workbooks. If they run out of animals, games, clothes, and imaginary places to play in their room, they can come out at anytime and color and write to their heart’s content. They have some of the most creative personalities I have ever seen in children of their ages. When they desire attention, it’s usually when I start doing chores. My 4 year old begs me to let her help do dishes and laundry, which I always allow, and my 3 year old loves to sweep the kitchen and clean up the bathroom after bathtime. They taught themselves how to go into the bathroom and brush their teeth, and all I needed to do to help was stick a step stool in there. I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to defuse a stressful situation, such as rinsing their hair in the bath (which they hate), is to let them do it themselves. They just love to dump cups full of water on their own heads. I am thrilled that they are so independent, and all I had to do to encourage it was to leave them alone. I’ve recently stopped working, and I don’t think I would have been able to keep my sanity or a clean house if I felt an overwhelming urge to micromanage every moment of their playtime. Now I’m just waiting for warmer, dryer weather so I can sit outside with a good book while they run around and get dirty.

  98. I don’t play with my kids. My mom told me that one of the best gifts you can give your kids is to help them learn to entertain themselves. And I never get bored as an adult as a result of that. My parents would occasionally play a card game with us, but not often. We generally had to play together, run around outside, or figure out what to do on our own. And so it is for my kids. They have plenty of toys and art supplies, they have a neighborhood full of kids to play with, they have a home they can invite kids to, and they have their own imaginations. And they are happy and well rounded, and don’t seem to ge bored. I’m the mom, not the entertainment committee.

  99. I should add that my older daughter is very extroverted and still has no problem entertaining herself.

    Also, we do have a dvd player in the car for long trips. I think adults sometimes forget how hard long trips cooped in the car can be for kids. I remember car trips as being painful. I don’t think being cooped up in the car is the same thing as being at home wtih a neighborhood to explore and tons of art supplies and toys on hand.

  100. Yes, we agree. I do not like to play. I will gladly take a child to the playground so he can play with other children. Whoever came up with this idea that adults are supposed to play with kids must have had a screw loose.

    Over the years I have argued the same point as you many times on various ivillage discussion board, and many times I have been hung out to dry as an evil, uncaring, lazy mother. My child will soon be 18 and is a perfectly happy, well adjusted, capable, take charge person, so I think I can live with myself.

  101. I was thinking of the ways I do interact with my kids since I don’t play with them. And we do a lot together, just not playing kid games.

    I read to them, and I still read as they get older.
    The older one cooks with me. Whe they’re little I set them up with cooking stuff on the floor to play with while I cook.
    We do play board games as a family after dinner sometimes.
    We go places together, like museums, parks, the library, etc.
    I help them get art activities set up, though I don’t do the activities with them.
    We like to go for walks together.
    We spend our meals together as a family.
    We just like to hang out together in the same room chatting.

    I think when parents play kid games with kids, they stifle creativity to some extent. Even if you try not to, you end up directing play, even if by just responding or not responding to what the child does, which makes the child try to play in a way that makes you respond favorably. I think it’s best to let them develop their imaginations without us hovering over them “helping” them.

  102. Sky – My 4-year old only child can entertain herself for quite awile. Certainly not all day, but if she gets into playing something, she can go for an hour or so before she comes looking for me. For sure, she likes for me to interact with her and I do sometimes. I just don’t interact with her every waking minute.

  103. @Sky My kids had no trouble entertaining themselves (separately) for a couple hours when they were four, and my daughter is a extrovert who would like to be around people 24 hours a day if possible. I made it very clear that there were times when I was working and was not to be bothered for attention unless it was an emergency. I carefully explained which kinds of things were emergencies and which were not, and then attached penalties for disturbing me in non-emergency situations (For every minute of work I lose because you’re asking for non-emergency attention when I’ve clearly said I’m busy, you can contribute to the house by doing extra chores for that amount of time. If you’re making it harder for me to do what I need to, you can do some of it for me.). I hardly ever had to use the penalty; the kids understood that there were times I was busy, just as there were times they were busy and didn’t want to be interrupted.

    Don’t get me wrong; of course I pay attention to my children. But I don’t do it constantly, and I don’t think they need me to entertain them.

    I think a great deal of this depends on what precedent you’ve set. I’ve never played much with my kids (though of course I spend time with them), so they don’t think of me as a playmate. I have a grownup friend who, whenever she sees my kids, is willing to drop everything to entertain them and play with them. The kids constantly pester her for attention in a way they never pester me. I’ve tried to get them to stop, but since my friend rewards their pestering, they keep doing it. She doesn’t seem to mind, though I would go crazy if the kids acted that way around me.

    Kids are adaptable.

  104. Sky, of course young children can entertain themselves. Mine all do (or did.) My preschooler is entertaining himself right now while I drink my coffee. He’s in the middle of the living room floor with several barns and an entire bucket of farm animals. He’ll be happy for quite some time.

  105. Great post – I often remind people that parents now (apparently) spend more than 3 times as much time every day on their kids than parents did in the 1970s (I’ve heard of a survey that says was something like 24mins then and 99 minutes now, on average).

    Parents easily assume there was a golden age when all parents, or mums at least, were enjoying quality time with their kids doing painting and reading books and making daisy chains, but actually my generation, and many before it, would have spent a lot of their early years in a cot/playpen while our mums cleaned the house, or, when older amusing themselves while mum got on with things. And we seem to be OK.

  106. I was a kid who loved to be by myself. I was an only child until age 6. I would spend hours alone – reading, climbing trees, playing with my dolls, etc. Sure I played with neighborhood kids too. But I valued my time alone. Still do.

    My oldest is very much like this. He can putter in the basement or the backyard, or draw for hours. He likes uninterrupted time to himself. I’ve had to tell teachers that really, he’s not miserable when he goes off to a corner of the classroom to draw during free time – he likes time in his own head, uninterrupted.

    My youngest is a little bit more of a social butterfly, but if I tell him that “Look, I need to help your brother with his homework and you’re distracting him. I need you to go play upstairs for a while.” he will disappear to the Land of Legos and very happily build whatever for an hour with no interaction whatsoever. At the end, if I go up to say hi, he is often surprised to see me – he was so engrossed. Kids can be trained not to need constant attention.

  107. When I married my second husband, we flew to Vegas. He had two girls and I had one, ages 10, 11 & 12. I insisted we bring the kids to Vegas with us. I paid extra to stay in the MGM which had an awesome pool, arcade, lion exhibit, shops and was connected via sky walk to New York, New York which had much more to explore. I knew the kids would have a great time and never bug us …

    I came to find out that my husband and I have very different ways of parenting. My thought was, when I was a kid, we would of been in heaven and gone all day doing things like swimming in the pool, using the ice machines at the hotel for ultimate mega ice fights, finding other kids to hang out with in the arcade … roller skating on the marble floors, all kinds of crazy kid stuff.

    My husband micro-managed his kids, who constantly complained they were bored … heck, I was bored, my daughter was bored. For 4 days we followed my husband around trying to entertain his two children with every single second of his time and all of our money. I remember thinking this is rediculous, these kids are old …. let them entertain themselves…. I was miserable as hell! Who goes to Vegas to get married and doesn’t hit the casino?!

    Well, no one ended up having a good time and way too much money was spent for no happiness.

    As you can imagine this problem bleeds over to regular life as well. Let them be bored I say!

    I got some of my best ideas as a kid when I was kicked out of the house to cure my boredom.

    —– Another commentor wondered what mom did all day while we kids were kicked out and gone all day ….. I don’t think anyone will ever know? I’m pretty sure mom’s aren’t going to tell.

  108. my parents let me and my friend get bored and we ended up making an electrical oven out of a tin can

  109. So true, I totally, totally agree!

    Don’t worry about the comments on the other site, Lenore… they’ll come over to our side eventually! (Never understimate the power of the dark side!)

  110. I don’t know, I really struggle with this one. I completely agree with the principle. BUT, my 3-year-old is an only child, and will always be so because he was, apparently, my last good egg. I feel guilty about him being an only child and having no siblings to play with, so I feel an extra obligation to “stand in” for the missing sibling(s). In addition, I work all day, and it seems so important to him to get dedicated Mommy attention when I’m at home… and playing with him seems the most satisfying way to provide this.

    Anyone want to assuage — or empathize with — my various forms of Mommy Guilt?

  111. Kim— I don’t think it’s bad that you designate “Mommy Time” with a child who only sees you for part of the day. If you were home all day, that would be different.

    Just don’t over-schedule the time you do have. Let it be mostly unstructured and have a good time. And don’t feel guilty about him being an only child, especially since the circumstances are beyond your control. I have friends who are from big families and friends who are only children and really, they’re all pretty well-adjusted.

  112. Kim, play with your child as much as you see fit. It sounds like you’re playing for the right reasons. And if you are doing it and genuinely enjoying it, your child is getting the playtime but also seeing how much YOU like being with him. This is wonderful! I think Lenore and at least this supporter of her basic premise – are saying the “duty playing” – playing when your heart’s not in it, out of misplaced guilt or fear your child “needs” constant something-or-other, is something we should reconsider or quit altogether.

    Some of these comments seem to hint or outright say there are these parents who CONSTANTLY entertain their kids. Of course, that’s actually not possible. Remember eating, sleeping, working, going to the bathroom, showering, spending time on the internet ? Also, it doesn’t make sense to judge others too much on this. Some people are VERY play-oriented and get down on the floor with kids; others prefer to read to kids, or cook for kids, or do something in the same room with their kids. Parent according to your nature and in accordance with your child; don’t compare to others who loudly trumpet the wrongness or weirdness of your nature.

  113. But what do people think about applying the same philosophy for a 1 or 2 or 3-year-old?

    My oldest would crawl off and entertain himself for 30 minutes or more at a time before he was 10 months old. Thought it was odd, but then second child loved to do it, too. Third child is even worse – she’s only 5 months, but she gets tired of us a couple of times a day, and wants to be in her crib, alone, playing with her hands or her blanket.

  114. I think it’s fine, Jenn. It’s not like a baby or toddler isn’t going to let you know when they need attention. I think all my kids got loads of my attention, actually. I just don’t enjoy that certain type of make believe play that most kids love. That doesn’t mean we didn’t do tons of other stuff together. I just don’t feel like I should have to something that I truly don’t enjoy.

  115. Kim – As both an only child (I do have a sibling but I was in high school before he was born) and the current mother of an only child, you need to work through your guilt and embrace having an only child. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with being an only child. You are simply exchanging one set of life experiences with another. No, I didn’t get the experience of having siblings. I did get the experience of having my parents’ undivided attention at times (meals, car rides), always having my parents at any show, concert, play, etc., traveling all over the country, skipping school to go special places with mom, spending a ton of time being spoiled by my grandparents (I was the only grandkid for a long time too), and doing lots of “adult” things at a young age. None of this would have been possible, financially or logistically, if I had had a bunch of siblings.

    And as a parent, you don’t spend most of your time with your children listening to and refereeing battles or dealing with sibling rivalry and jealousy. And most importantly, you should never have to hear “Mommy, Johnny is touching me”; or better yet, taunts of “I’m not touching you” as Johnny dangles his finger a quarter inch from little sis’s face.

    I also think that parents of onlies need to realize that parental companionship, no matter how much you play with your child, can never be a “stand in” for siblings. The parent/child dynamic is worlds different than the sibling dynamic. Friends are a much closer stand in as they are children but even friends can’t replace siblings. Having siblings is a unique experience. It should not be viewed as tragic that a child misses out on this particular unique experience as there will be unique experiences that he gets in return but it should be understood that there is no substitute or stand in for siblings.

    Long way of saying that, if you enjoy your Mommy Time with you child, have at it. If you are doing it simply out of guilt or because you believe that you are a “stand in” for siblings, stop. There should be no guilt and you can’t possibly be a true stand in.

  116. In our family we use the DVD player in the car on longer trips, not because the kids couldn’t entertain themselves, but because when they play with toys and each other in the backseat, they often stop looking forward and end up throwing up. They’ve never thrown up with the DVD player on. If we tell them they have to look out the window they get really bored (frankly the scenery in most of the Eastern half of the US is not very exciting).

  117. I agree with the principle. As the writer, Peg Bracken, said, “Life is not a 3 ring circus with you clapping all the time.” My daughter can entertain herself better than most I’ve met. Creativity is a cure for boredom. We have art supplies, anatomy sets, science sets, weaving and textile sets, musical instruments, costumes, and PLENTY of books. Plus, she is freerange.

    However we do and always have done a lot of things together. When she was born I quit work and my husband quit shortly after. He consults and only works when he wants to. To make this work, one has to make sacrifices and be completely debt-free. We go canoeing, camping, hiking. We go to the symphony and do volunteer work for the Park Service in the Eastern half of the US. When the wheelbarrow broke, my husband took our daughter aside and they built a new one.
    When her cat died, he dug the grave and a few neighbors came to the funeral. After prayers were said the box was lowered into the hole and my husband put his hand on the shoulder of the only boy present and said, “let the women go inside. We have mens work.” The two filled in the grave with shovels. I will never forget the look of pride in that little boy’s face.
    As I said, I understand the principle because, as much as our children may be the center of our universe, it would be an injustice to them and society if they realized that. They may agree that yes they are the center of the universe. That would undo what all the great philosophers and religions have been trying to teach us for thousands of years.
    But they do have to feel they are special to someone and not a number (there’s school for that) and that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Only a loving parent can teach to cherish their individuality and that one person can change the world.

  118. oh i am a big supporter of boredom. i’m a single parent of an only child — i have played WAY too much candyland. but i am also a deep bookworm and i need some evenings when there is no tv or dvd going. fortunately, i can outlast a volcanic meltdown that would make other mothers weep, which is the usual result of the phrase “no tv or movies tonight, it’s a play-with-toys night.” OH! the despair! the drama! it’s all so unfair! eventually, she mopes in the direction of the dollhouse or the crayon bucket or the play-doh, and after a while starts that sing-songy running monologue that signals an absorbed child.

    i figure, she’d better learn to be comfortable in her own company. i was an only child myself and i know that you can make a playland in your mind that is richer than anything you find on a screen. i’ve been there, i remember. i pity kids who don’t get that experience.

  119. […] Up With Boredom at Free Range Kids […]

  120. A note on DVD players in cars…I’m all for them. Things were different when I was a kid. WHen I was a kid we took frequent long, cross country trips. I’d sprawl on the seat, hang my head out the window (no A/C), crawl in the back of the Suburban (it was almost a camper) and take a nap (or use the potty, ;-D). Sometimes I’d climb up to the front seat and my parents would let me steer. All of this while rocketing down the highway at 70 miles and hour.

    What do my kids get to do in the car? Sit tightly buckled into a five point harness with head firmly planted between the head protectors on the carseat. They deserve a DVD player for long trips. My only gripe is that the government (which forces them to ride like that) doesn’t fund the DVD players.

  121. Childhood and adolescence as a protected species is only a modern phenomenon. There is no such thing as real boredom. Children can be out there working shoulder to shoulder with adults. Boredom is the rest you need to replenish your creative juices. We have a lot of understanding about education and learning to know how to make real work part of the whole educational experience. We adults have gotten away from the play of daily life as we studiously work towards pampering ourselves in our dotage. When all around us is a fabulous society, especially the children, and environment, that we equally studiously ignore to our own sadness. What is life? Let’s bring ourselves and the children out of the boxes (at least a bit more) and try to make make a living community with a lot more laughter, the dignified ridiculousness that only dealing with children can bring out, and the focused attention that solves working problems, and that children model their own decision-making. Looking at your USA experience lately, how many more of the current unemployed and their families would have been better off if we had more community approaches, both in avoiding the economic traps and supporting each other when the crisis befell.

  122. Wow, almost seems pointless to leave a response since so many agree. However, one more point: I was also one of those parents who didn’t get down on the floor and play (and I got criticism for it at the time), but equally important, because I didn’t work when they were little, my kids didn’t go to summer camp either. Talk about the end of childhood. Kids who spend every minute of their school year, and then every minute of summer, MANAGED, really are clueless about the whole “what am I gonna do now” joy of childhood.

  123. Lenore,
    Posts like this are why I love you! Keep up the good fight. You’re amazing. And YES, kids should get bored, need to get bored, and need to learn how to get un-bored. (Is that even a word?) My niece and I got into a fight today because she finished her lunch and then instead of joining the conversation pulled out her phone and started playing games on it. It was not only over-the-top rude in my book, it also distracted my kids from finishing their meals. When I called her out she pouted and said she was bored. If she had ever been taught how to handle a moment of boredom without someone filling in the gaps, or had lived a single day without some flashy gadget to use to escape from even the smallest second of potential boredom she probably would have realized that the conversation happening around her was actually really interesting and relevant to her life. Instead she chose to tune out and remain “bored”.

  124. […] a follow up piece (that Lenore Skenazy posted on her own site, Free Range Kids), Emily Geizer supports Skenazy’s argument with a post titled, Never Play with your Kids Again. […]

  125. Thanks Emily and Lenore for your thoughts about play. I haven’t been able to get them out of my head. I posted a response to your ideas on my blog. Thanks for inspiring some interesting discussion.

  126. I agree that boredom is a good thing, I say that to my daughter all the time. However since I actually see her for all of four awake hours a day I do tend to play with her after dinner. I get down on the floor, we play and I get to hear about her day while we are building train tracks or what not. (I only play in the dollhouse by special request, I hate the doll house). I really agree that our kids need to be free range but I am beginning to think that I misunderstand the philosophy that underpins this site. I am a lefty feminist child-centered parent of a free range kid. I realize I did not read the book, Is the underpinning philosophy of the book keep the guvment and namby-pamby liberals out of my life so we can go back to the ’50’s and be Ward and June Cleaver free range parents? Just curious

  127. I couldn’t agree more.

    At what age do most children start playing by them selves or with siblings not alongside?

    Thank you

  128. […] Most schools in the US still operate on the traditional school calendar. This allows us to really engage our children in the chores of home throughout the summer. They can harvest the wheat, plant the tomatoes, or paint the fence along the pasture. Oh, you don’t have a farm either? Well, then they can go to camp, swim at a pool, sit in front of the TV, and drift through pangs of boredom. […]

  129. I love the title “Just Chute Me” – I think I might change my Facebook status to that right now. I can definitely relate to feeling like my child’s entertainer. I think it’s a birth order thing too. My first has a very hard time entertaining himself and he doesn’t like to be alone either. I blame myself since I spent every waking moment trying to find “enriching” activities for him to do to the point of insanity! I remember describing to a friend that I felt like I always had a guest to entertain. And to this day, after a full day of fun and activity he always wants to know what we’re going to do next and I never feel like he’s satisfied.

    Luckily for my other children, I figured out the error of my ways and I feel comfortable telling them to find something to do on their own. I also read a book called The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal by Renee Trudeau (www.reneetrudeau.com) that helped me to realize that it’s okay to make myself a priority. And that I don’t need to feel guilty about doing it either. In fact, I’m doing the kiddos a disservice by neglecting myself and what makes me happy because then I end up resenting them.

  130. I wouldn’t worry too much about “screen time.” I let my kids watch a ton of TV. They’ve got to figure that out for themselves too. And recently, I can tell they’re making better decisions than just watching the same episode of Wizards of Waverly place for the 6th time.

    Now, I find them more and more watching the Science Channel and Travel Channel. That’s good stuff.

    And this week they’ve gone – gasp! – outside when they could have been inside watching TV.

    They’re either free-range or they’re not. Restricting TV and Internet because you’re worried it will rot their brain keeps kids from truly making their own independent choices.

  131. Some of the comments above (such as Sky’s) about “I wouldn’t be able to entertain myself so well if I couldn’t read, etc., and so I should be more sensitive to my kid’s needs for me to play with them” brings up an important point: that’s because you’re an adult, and they’re kids!

    An empty paper towel roll is one thing to me: trash. But I am amazed that to my kids, 3 and 4, it can be a telescope, a robot body, a ball ramp, etc. They are kids, and that’s what they do. We recently moved into a four-plex that had no backyard or outdoor space that I thought was suitable to play in. Only a shared front area that has only sidewalks and landscaping river rock. How boring, I thought. Well, to my surprise, they can play out there FOREVER, with no toys, no mommy, no pre-set games…just their imaginations. Did you know that landscaping rocks can be all manner of pets, precious items, and even a gourmet meal? We parents would be wise to encourage growth of that kind of resourcefulness rather than think that our kids are restricted by the same things as us boring old adults😉

  132. Lihtox,

    We have a 2.5 and 1 year old at home and we let them entertain themselves as much as possible. I love to let the 2.5 year old roam to other rooms in the house to see what she gets into and creates on her own. Often I stand out of site and listen to her take care of her “babies”, make up songs on her own or read herself books. It’s also fun to listen to her language develop as she jabbers about every little thing she is doing.

    We keep more of an eye on the little one, but give him freedom to entertain himself. He has become quite fascinated with the our broom and will walk all around trying to sweep the floor. Even when he gets frustrated or falls down we give him space to settle himself and try it again. I think it is important to start giving them room to entertain themselves as early as possible and adjust as they become more capable.

  133. As a grandad trying to help raise two tiny grandsons
    I have noticed a growing and extremely worrying trend
    in toddlers.That is the ability to manipulate parents and to bend them to the child’s will.It seems to me that the politically correct brigade have assisted in the creation of generations of parents who are scared of their own children.Make that ‘terrified’.When will these young parents stop reading all of the ‘online’ trash from self appointed experts and realise this one simple fact…it is your responsibility to prepare ‘Johnny’ for the real world.Do you people really believe that you are doing that by allowing your chidren to do what they want whenever they want.This is a terrible trend that I first witnessed in America in 1977 and like some relentless virus it’s everywhere today.And no, I am not preaching that everything was better in the old days…. it wasn’t.Just remember that terrible phrase that’the world doesn’ owe anybody a living.If you like it or not that’s the way the world works and although your kids are special to you that big cruel world out there won’t see it that way.Your children are not the centre of the universe.It’s your duty to teach them that.

  134. Ah, imagination. If I didn’t have it, then I wouldn’t have come up with a bunch of creatures back in grade 5, which has lead to a detailed world ripe for the picking today

    >.> I bet that the second I try to sell my idea, some idiot CEO who never developed their imagination will wreck it

  135. […] a follow up piece (that Lenore Skenazy posted on her own site, Free Range Kids), Emily Geizer supports Skenazy’s argument with a post titled, Never Play with your Kids Again. […]

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