Dona Matthews

Dona Matthews, PhD, has been working with children, adolescents, families, and schools since 1990, and has written dozens of articles and several books about children and adolescents. She writes a twice-weekly advice column for Parents Space, 'Ask Dr Dona.' Please send your questions to her at the e-address below. She'll do her best to answer your question as quickly as possible.

rsz boy thinking 150x150 Why Boredom Is Good for Kids: 10 Reasons Boredom Is Summertime’s Gift Question: Now that school is out for the summer, and my 8-year-old’s sports teams have wound up for the season, he’s complaining about boredom. I work from home, and can’t find enough activities to keep Ethan occupied every minute of the day through the summer, but I don’t want him bored. What can I do?


Each case of boredom has its own history, causes, and solutions. It can mask anger, depression, fear, loneliness, sadness, or other troubling emotions, all of which I address elsewhere. In most cases, however, boredom is good for kids. It sounds to me like Ethan is generally doing well, in which case, some summertime boredom is a gift.

Ethan does need intellectual stimulation and activities—clubs, teams, books, puzzles, museums, performances, outings, etc.—but it’s also important to leave room for unstructured play, and reflection on what he’s experiencing.

Here are some of the gifts of boredom, some of the ways boredom is good for kids:

  1. Decompression and unwinding. It sounds like Ethan’s normal life is pretty busy—he’s on a schedule, working hard. If he’s like a lot of kids (and adults), he needs a few days at the end of the school year to slow down, find himself, relax. He might experience that as boring, but it’s important for his emotional and physical well-being.
  2. Exploration and self-discovery. A lackluster lack of engagement in anything, casting about for something to do—aka, boredom—is essential to trying out new things, and figuring out what it is you really want to do. If Ethan spends all his time engaged in activities created by others—school, sports, TV, social media—he’ll never do anything he doesn’t already know something about. Boredom is good for asking himself what it is he really wants to do, what he wants to learn more about, what he wants to do better.
  3. Authentic engagement. The self-discovery that can emerge from times of boredom is required for authentic engagement. It’s only when Ethan has had the time and opportunity to discover what he wants to do that he’ll be able to get engaged in actively doing it, whole-heartedly knowing it’s his.
  4. Coping skills and resilience. Boredom is good for teaching Ethan about mindfulness, the ability to tolerate frustration, and other coping skills that lead to resilience. Through experiencing boredom, he’s learning about paying attention to his internal and external worlds. By working through his boredom, he’ll be learning about managing his feelings, moods, time, behaviour, and intellectual focus.
  5. Creative problem-solving. Another reason that boredom is good is that it provides the motivation to think about possibilities, and work toward creative solutions. Learning how to be a creative problem-solver is an important learning outcome. It has implications for all kinds of activities—personal, academic, and (later) professional.
  6. Imagination, spontaneity, and improvisation. The boredom that happens in do-nothing times will help Ethan find his inner reserves of imagination, spontaneity, and improvisation. These are critical to subsequent exploration and invention. We can’t invent what we can’t imagine. Boredom is good for Ethan’s finding his imaginative strengths and depths.
  7. Collaboration skills. Boring alone-time is good, but also ensure that Ethan has access to other kids at least part of the time. Unless there’s a big age gap, siblings or neighbourhood kids are just fine, whether or not they’d be his first choice for companions. When kids don’t have any adult-imposed structures or activities, they work together to make up the rules and the games. That means they’re exploring and discovering how to interact successfully with others, a critically important life skill.
  8. Ownership of his learning. If Ethan spends this summer building forts with other kids, writing songs or plays, constructing action narratives of pirates, paupers, cowboys, and circus clowns, and generally thinking actively about what to do next, he’ll be more likely to take ownership of his own learning in future. He’ll have learned about the possibilities for exploration, and be less likely to be restricted to others’ agendas for him.
  9. Creative productivity. By stimulating Ethan to find his interests and become engaged in exploring them, boredom is good for Ethan’s creative productivity. It increases the likelihood of his developing the keen attention to detail, motivation, perseverance, and engagement that are prerequisites to creative productivity.
  10. Long-term success. One of the very few common factors in the backgrounds of successful artists, scientists, businesspeople, and others is the need they experienced as children to make their own fun. Real achievement and fulfillment in the long run is based on authentic engagement in one’s passions over time.

This summer, help Ethan discover all the ways that boredom is good. Allow him to invent his own ways of playing and learning, at least for part of each day. Eventually, he’ll thank you for not filling his schedule with activities created by others.

For more on boredom:


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