Not Bored. Self-Engaged.

An article from BBC reports that Children Should Be Allowed to Get Bored. The common "cultural expectations that children should be constantly active" may be doing more harm than good, when it comes to development of children.

I am in agreement with this principle, I don't like the term "bored" (though, as a fellow writer, I recognize that that word may be used in the headline as an eye-catching hook). Boredom has a negative connotation. A better term may be self-engaged.

Why? Because the goal isn't for children to have nothing to do. The idea is help children learn to engage their own imaginations when they play and create. So instead of another hour in front of a TV or computer screen, time may be allotted for drawing, writing, playing with Lego bricks, and other creativity-inducing activities.

For our own children, this tactic started when they were less than a year old, with "pack-n-play time" (or "crib time"). We would give them a few toys and books, and set a time where we left them to play. Of course, the younger the child, the shorter the time we would expect them to play by themselves. Our toddlers could often entertain themselves for up to 45 minutes.

As they got older, this transitioned into "room time," when we knew that they could understand and comply with our instructions to stay in their rooms until time was up. The important thing in this case is to assign them a fixed set of toys. Giving them free reign of every toy in their room does not help them learn to be self-engaged.

Looking back, we see some characteristics that we attribute in part to using this technique:
  1. Their imaginations in creating "worlds" and "scenes" with Lego, action figures, stuffed animals, etc.
  2. They still have afternoon rest/play time where they can play by themselves for an hour or more (just the break we need!).
  3. Their love of reading.
  4. Their love of drawing and other art projects.

For more on this topic, check out this review of 10 Ways to Destroy The Imagination of Your Child, by Trevor Cairney.

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**image courtesy of christiem via


  1. Nice post! I agree with what you said and I think you articulated the main ideas well. One of the things that I am trying to convey to my daughter (who turns 5 years old this week!:) ) is that with discipline my goal isn't to control her (sometimes I guess it feels that way to me, and I'm sure she feels like that's what it's about too usually) but to train her to be able to control herself. I think that helps her a lot because it empowers her to be more proactive in the process and it reminds her that grownups have to act differently because there is greater accountability with age/ experience. This self engaging concept seems to be another part of helping train children to be autonomous. As little babies and very young children everything is done for them, but there has to be a process by which they learn to do things for themselves, or else the consequences become unpleasant. I think this is a great reminder of the benefits of instilling independence in our children and it is also liberating for parents to know that it's ok to give children responsibility for themselves- within reason of course- because while we are older, and hopefully wiser, we still can't do it all ourselves. :)

    1. You're right, "self-mastery" is a very crucial idea. And a principle that is just as important at age 5 as it is at 15 (and every age).

      This idea, and others that you mentioned (responsibility, independence, etc) were also some that I heard in some teaching recently. I plan to share more about that teaching in a future blog post.