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The Competent Parent: Summer boredom

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Summer Boredom

Dear Dr. Debbie,

It’s getting to be that time of summer when my school-age children are saying they’re bored mid-way through the morning. If I don’t take them to the bowling alley, video arcade, go-kart place, movie theater, or other such (often costly) activity, they continue whining until bedtime.

When does school start?

Activities Director

Click here for last week’s column about how bottle feeding affects toddler independence.

Dear Activities Director,

It’s time to share the responsibility of planning activities with your bored children. You will still be the overall coordinator, especially if transportation and other costs are necessary, but they can each contribute toward a making summertime a fulfilling time of year.


Help them use the internet to scope out special events to plan around. New postings pop up all the time at chesapeakefamily.com/calendar. If you don’t yet know all the parks and playgrounds in your area, challenge yourselves to find some more. And it’s not too far (avoiding rush hour!) to head to D.C. for outdoor activities http://washington.org/visiting/experience-dc/family/outdoor-activities. Why not ride bicycles around the National Arboretum? It’s right off Route 50.

In addition to the internet, people can be good resources for projects and activities (see below).

The ingredient often missing in summer that’s present during the school year is friends. Help your child make contact with school friends, or take the bold step to introduce yourselves to children near in age who live right on your block. They may have just moved in, or may go to a different school, or may be spending the summer with grandparents, or they may split their time between two parents’ homes. Find out who’s available around camp and family vacations for “hang out” time. Could be there’s a child out there who is also missing some companionship. Imagine their delight to discover, “He’s got a line and I’ve got a pole!” and they both have a new friend to go fishing with.


If you have more than one child, chances are they are at times pulling in different directions. Take note of their individual interests so you can encourage pursuit of a new hobby – plant cultivation, magic, poetry writing, charcoal sketching, smoothy making, cartooning, backyard bird identification, harmonica playing, weather predicting, moon watching . . . the sky’s the limit.


Compared to free time during the school year, the summer affords a better opportunity for long-term projects. Maybe it’s time to sew some new curtains and pillow shams to update a bedroom. Have you started scrapbooking with your children? A great project in the lazy days of summer would be to add captions to digital or bound photo albums. Each child can create his or her own keepsake to take into adulthood. Their own words will add so much to these precious mementos of their childhoods.

Hassled by mosquitoes? A bat house is an easy wood working project and will help curb the mosquito population around your house. You can find plans at http://www.eparks.org/wildlife_protection/wildlife_facts/bats/bat_house.asp.

One summer my mother gave me just enough information and materials to make and tend a rock garden. I also remember putting on backyard plays and carnivals – at least a three-day project, and operating a few lemonade stands with friends and or siblings.


Including children in daily and weekly chores is a good idea at any age at any time of year. If you load the dishwasher strategically, even a toddler can reach in and pass you plastic ware to put away. A preschool-age child can refill the dog’s water bowl. By the elementary school years there should be many household tasks under a child’s belt. It may take reminders, but these are the years for mastering such things as caring for clothes and other personal possessions, and preparing and cleaning up from food.

If a friend is over, chore time can be cut in half. One summer day I decided to paint the front porch railing. Rather than expecting my children to help, I took a page from Tom Sawyer and casually asked two of their playmates (headed for our front door) if they’d like to join me. They were tickled. Soon enough my children caught on to what was going on out front and couldn’t jump in fast enough.

Chores are things that have to be done anyway. They can be a good motivator, too, as in “as soon as the _____ is finished, we’ll head out to ______.”


A big kitchen calendar helps children to visualize time and to be able to plan ahead. You can block out time for special events including trips to look forward to. Some families write library due dates here, or keep to a ritual of return visits every two or three weeks. Siblings may take turns having a friend spend the night, or you might plan a back yard cookout and campout with several friends at once. Don’t forget after dark attractions; check here for tonight’s sky http://earthsky.org/tonight and find links to alert you to future celestial events.

A long-term project may need dates planned out. Pickling, which my daughter and I enjoyed with a bountiful cucumber crop one summer, is a multi-day process. You wouldn’t want to open the jars too early – and interrupt the pickling – nor wait longer than necessary for your first taste. Why not plan a Pickle Party for the finish?

Back-to-school shopping will be on the calendar soon enough, so help your children plot out some special activities while their days are loose and there is still daylight after dinner time.

Accept the Doldrums

Despite all the interesting things there are to do with a glorious summer day, children (and over tasked parents) need to accept the fact that boredom happens. The next time your children say they don’t have anything to do (and you can’t convince them to take any tasks from off your full plate), you can say you feel badly for them, and leave them be. They’ll be fine. There should be some down time in childhood and summer is perfect for that.

Some day they will appreciate John Lennon’s sage observation, “Time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time.”

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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