“Mommy, I’m BORED!”

There is probably no other complaint that can get a mom so upset.  Especially during summertime.  When it seems like everything is already down and dumpy, this comment can be the one that shoots Mom through the roof.  Even if it isn’t actually SAID, the one year old toddler has a way of making this known.  It can be SOOO frustrating!

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to do anything about it.  Lots has been written on boredom and how boredom is the source of creativity: if you get bored with life, you look for something to do.  So the application goes: if your child is bored with what they have, they need to look for a new way to use it.  But most kids under three have a limited imagination (especially if they are special needs), so it can be hard to wait through the tantrum or trouble a bored little kid gets into when they don’t know how to use what they’ve got.  Kids over three have great imaginations, but it can be hard to get them to want to use it.

Still, if I could impart one lesson to a new stay at home mom, it would be: don’t give into to the Boredom Complaint.  I used to all the time, and I’d go play with my child.  And it made him more dependent on me than ever.  I used to think he’d never use his imagination if I didn’t jump in, but I found out that my jumping in actually stalled him.  I think he was four or five years old before he’d really just play.

Now that doesn’t mean parents should never play with their children.  I totally believe they should, and my husband and I have some playtime with our kids every day, even if it’s just a botched game of UNO.  When my first was smaller, I used to use play therapy with him for his special needs.  That was extremely effective.  And he had Early Intervention too, which was also play therapy.  However, giving into the Boredom Complaint is not play therapy.  It’s manipulation… you’re trying to get your child to settle down and be happy instead of taking the stereo apart (if he’s a boy) or whining around your leg all day (if she’s a girl), and so you give in.  I know lots of people who swear that their girls in particular won’t DO anything.  They have to play with them!  What else could they do?

Well, a young child has to be trained to play of course.  They’re not six year olds who are enthralled with their lego castles yet.  (YET!)   As irony goes, your child won’t really get into settled down playing until they’re school age and not allowed to play all day anymore =)  But that still doesn’t mean you should be playing with your little guy all day… park trips, play time, cooking time, game time, etc.  If you are playing with your child all day except for when they nap or watch TV, then you are eventually going to end up with one big TV watcher!  I’m not kidding!  You have to find a way to HANG OUT with your child without playing with them.  Some children are persistent and even more moms are cave-in’s.  but your life will be SO much better if you do.

This is particularly difficult with your first child because it’s just you and him/her.  You look at each other all day and you’re tuned into each other’s emotions, schedule, etc.  It’s like you overlap in some ways.  Moreover, a baby needs 24/7 care, so it’s difficult to know how or when you should start leaving your “baby” alone.  At one, do you suddenly dissociate?  No, that’s not what I’m saying.

What I’m saying is, my later children are better adjusted than my earlier ones because they grew up not being focused on.  They were paid attention to a lot, but not focused on. There’s a huge difference. My little two year old (fourth child) still mostly shadows me all day.  But that’s her choice.  She has three other siblings to play with, so if she chooses to follow me around, then that’s her problem not mine.  I talk with her and sometimes share things with her or make them into an interesting activity for her, but I do it when it’s right for ME.  I don’t do it because she’s demanding it.  And if she’s in my way too much, I send her away.  This might hurt her feelings at first and then she suddenly realizes that she’d LIKE to play lego castles with her brother.  In personality, she’s a lot like her cousin who also shadows her mom and grandmom.  But the difference is that they feel bound to their little girl like she’s sucking the life out of them.  They feel obligated to “play” with her, to “educate” her, and make her happy, whereas I feel free to do the things I’m doing (most of the time 😉  The main difference is in attitude: my little girl and I are HANGING OUT.  I love her and accept her.  That’s what families do.

So that’s my best piece of advice for mom and her two year old.  Hang out, but don’t focus.  This is difficult, but if you can pretend that you have other children around and a life to live while you’re shuttling just two year old Junior around, then do it.  Make calls, go to the mall (your favorite stores), and eat at the cafe you’d like.  Go to the playground if you want, but don’t feel obligated to suit your whole schedule around Junior.  Just make sure it’s Junior-friendly (i.e. no china shopping).  When you finally do have baby number 2, it will be the healthiest thing that’s happened to all of you.  But if you don’t plan on having baby number 2 until your first child is 3, 4, or 5 yrs old, you’d better start shifting into HANGOUT mode now.  I’m telling you: this is the number one thing that will change your stay at home experience =)

NOTE: for older kids, when they say “I’m Bored” you have three choices; either take away all their toys except for one ball.  Or throw them outside, even if it’s hot or drizzling.  Or make them work on a workbook or the laundry.  Any of these three options will get their imaginations fired up again in no time.

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2 thoughts on ““Mommy, I’m BORED!”

  1. Not sure if I agree with the comment on what boys will do vs. girls. My son would love to hang on my leg (he is an only) and I wouldn’t put it past my nieces to take apart a tv or computer. However I think overall it was a good observation. As a mom I constantly feel guilty when my son tries to get my attention when I am at my desk or if I try to do somethign in the same room but not “with” him – like laundry, cleaning the kitchen or the house etc. He doesn’s say I am bored but he wants me to play with him not near him. I think that is such a challenge for moms these days. I know many of my friends feel guilty about not giving their children enough of what you called “focused” time. But I think what you talked about is valid and really helps me to rethink about the time I spend with my son.

  2. I just found your blog and I LOVE it! I have two children ages 1 and 3 with one on the way, due in November. I would love some suggestions from you on how to get my 3 year old to play by himself for longer than 5 minutes. My daughter will play happily in her playpen by herself for 20 minutes twice a day. If I could just get my son to do the same in his room! I have tried using a timer, starting out with only 5 minutes, and he cries the entire time. We did this for two weeks straight, and there was no progress. I’ve tried rotating his toys, offering rewards, etc. Once the baby comes I know I am going to need some scheduled free time while the two older ones are playing by themselves – how can I do it?
    Thanks so much!

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