On Kids and Boredom

Along with the discussion of providing meaningful work for little ones, I though this newsletter recently sent out by Catholic Heritage Curricula was thoughtful and also has some great ideas. I really enjoy CHC’s E-newsletters, which I think can apply to bringing up children in the faith whether or not you homeschool (you can subscribe here). Also, a lot of their books could make great First Communion gifts!

The Dignity of the Child and the “I’m Bored: Entertain Me” Syndrome

The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God…By his deliberate actions, the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God…[individuals] make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole…lives into means of this growth.

—Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1700

Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from Him.


If you’ve ever read the family-friendly Little House on the Prairie series, or Anne Pellowski’s “Catholic Little House” series, have you noticed that boredom is never mentioned?

“Boredom” was rare a century ago, simply because children were valued not only as gifts made in the image of God, but also for their necessary participation in the well-being of the family. This participation included daily labors that often began before sunrise and ended only at bedtime. After several hours of “chores,” children were rarely bored in their free time. And those chores contributed to their interior growth. (CCC 1700)

Even though they lived often-menial lives, do you suppose Our Lord and Lady were ever bored? No, because all that they did they did for someone else. That is, whether sweeping up sawdust or perhaps baking bread for a sick neighbor, their work was dedicated to the greater glory of God, in the service of others. “Serviam!” I will serve!

Boredom, therefore, can be a spiritual problem, an expression of “Non-serviam!” —I will not serve.

Boredom can present as an unwillingness to do an activity that might take some effort: washing dishes is boring; spelling is boring; TV is not boring. (Interestingly, watching TV and movies can exacerbate the problem of boredom or an inability to self-entertain, for passive TV-viewing requires neither imagination nor “self-investment.”)

Further, the desire to be entertained rather than use one’s own imagination is closely associated with “being bored.” This “boredom,” however, is often selective; productive, virtuous use of the child’s time—e.g., reading to a sibling, doing a chore, or helping a neighbor—are rejected as options. Instead, the “bored” child seeks activities that cater to his own whims.

The good news is that children can learn to entertain themselves, rather than expecting to be entertained; to be self-directed, rather than being inactive or dissatisfied in the absence of direction; and to see moments of “boredom” as opportunities for gainful, joyful activity that brings happiness to others and to the one offering service.

When gainful activity replaces boredom, the dignity of the child is enhanced; as he labors for others, he learns to recognize the image of God in them, and also in himself.

Antidotes to Boredom

Fostering Independence:
When a child indicates that he is bored or wants to be entertained, choose a “regular” activity for the child. (It is important that parent chooses the activity, as the child has just indicated that he doesn’t want to find a way to entertain himself.) Set a timer for three minutes for each year of the child’s age. The child must play with that “regular” activity for the designated time before any “new” option is considered. When the time is up, praise the child for entertaining himself.

Reading: aloud by a parent if the child is too young, or self-directed reading, opens new worlds to the child’s imagination. While the reading itself is entertaining, wholesome, character-building stories, such as those mentioned above, often set the stage for self-directed play that will spontaneously follow reading time.

Help-and-Play Jar:
Create a list of activities. Cut index cards in half; print one play activity on each 1/2 card, e.g., dress-up box; pipe cleaner play; finger paints in the bathtub; (see links, below, for resources). For every activity, include a card with the words, “How can I help?” Put all the cards in a jar. When children say that they are bored, they draw one “play” card of their choice from the jar, but they also must draw one “How can I help?” card. The child takes the card to either parent and asks, “How can I help?” The child is then assigned a job, e.g., empty the wastebaskets; wash the bathroom sink; wash the stove top, etc. After completing the job well, the child may then do the activity on the “play” card.

501 TV-free Activities for Kids by Di Hodges
The Toddler’s Busy Book: 365 Creative Games and Activities by Trish Kuffner
The Preschooler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner

Theresa Johnson

reprinted with permission

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  • Anonymous

    Creativity is a healthy response to boredom, so it is no wonder that children with a lot of exposure to TV and video games lack creativity! I loved this piece, thanks for posting.

  • Mary Alice

    I am so glad that you posted about this, it was on my to-do list! Also, I want to re-emphasize K’s point from the last posts comments that when the children have some structured activities and some free time they seem to be more creative, so balance is key.

  • JMB

    When my children complained about being “bored” I tell them that only boring people get bored. Then I pull out the vacuum, cleaning supplies and make them get to work. It works every time.

  • Claire

    My children were only ever bored once or twice . . . my response “there’s a toilet that needs cleaning.” Now, as young adults, they react to our young friends’ complaints with “don’t let my mom hear you … you’ll have to clean the toilet!” Gets a laugh but did get us self-entertaining sons who’ve been know to clean, do laundry, cook, … all for the family without waiting to be asked.

  • I believe boredom is essential to finding your own ideas. You kind of have to pass through it (like that wiggly hour #3 of Tenebrae!) to come out on the other end.nnWe follow the ‘clean the bathroom’ option, as others have already mentioned. On the rare occasions that a school-age child is going through a phase where it’s consistently hard for him to find something interesting to do, I will sit down with him and we’ll make a personalized list of all the things he enjoys. Then when he’s bored he can look at the list and choose something. I do not suggest anything, ever, and read-alouds and projects-that-involve-Mom are not allowed on the list. It’s their time; they need to fill it.nnnn