How to engage bored kids in play

Bored kids ... Give their imagination a chance to grow.
Bored kids ... Give their imagination a chance to grow. 

It’s almost a guarantee that every parent in the past few generations has heard this phrase at least once – usually a lot more than once. But whereas a generation ago the most likely answer was: “go outside and play”, increasingly our solution is becoming: “well here’s the ipad/ipod/playstation controller/remote control”. Are we really doing our children a service though, or should we be practising a bit more tough love?

Michelle, Mum to an eight and six year-old is all for tough love. “My kids can be very creative and make up some fantastic games,” she says. “They’ll make cubby houses in the bushes in the garden, play hide and seek - and anything with a ball is a winner. But they have to be left alone with nothing to do for a while, then after a period of whinging and saying they are bored they will get their act together and play!”

It’s more difficult of course if there are no playmates and with an increasing number of single-child families, this is often the case. Thirty-seven percent of children surveyed for the recent MILO State of Play study reported that they don’t have anyone to play with, causing an increased reliance on technology with iPads, iPods, playstation and television filling the void. Children, in fact, are spending nearly half of their free time ‘plugged in’ to technology.

Child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg reassures parents that a bit of time on technology is not a bad thing – but that families overall need to find the right balance.

“Just like their parents, kids do need down time,” he explains. “And I do rail against the “hurried kid syndrome” where the children are rushed from place to place doing numerous activities that in the long term create more stress than enjoyment. It’s about finding balance though; children most definitely need times when they are engaged in activities that they enjoy and this can be balanced with both time spent on technology and with down time spent doing other things.”

If you feel that your child is spending more time bored than engaged though, try some of these tips:

Phone a friend. If your work commitments allow, set aside a regular afternoon each week for your child to invite a friend over after school. It will actually do you a favour as well because two children are usually far easier to entertain than one.
Consider after-school care. If your budget allows and your school offers it, consider booking your child into after-school care for one afternoon a week. It’s a great opportunity for them to enjoy some free lay with their friends.
Catch up at the local playground. An easy after-school activity is a group afternoon tea and play at the local playground.
Get active. Swimming, roller-blading, bike riding, skateboarding, walking the dog, practicing cartwheels, kicking a ball, shooting some hoops … There are dozens of ways to enjoy an hours of active fun with your kids.
Go to the library. Reading books is so much better for them than electronics, so take them to the local library once a fortnight to borrow a stack of books. If they’re a reluctant reader then perhaps institute a rewards system -  an hour of reading scores an hour of playstation, for example. That’s a win/win for everyone!       

“I urge parents to use common sense and also to exercise control,” encourages Dr Carr-Gregg. “A little bit of boredom isn’t bad for anyone; just make sure that it’s balanced with some fun activities.”

Do struggle to get your kids outside to play? Share your thoughts on the Essential Kids' Forums.

My kids can be very creative and make up some fantastic games ... but they have to be left alone with nothing to do for a while.