Mar 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

The childhood benefits of adult-free play

Photo illustration of children running  towards a checkered banner with a checkmarks within them.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Boredom isn't bad for kids — it actually benefits their development, psychologists say.

Why it matters: Boredom that leads to unstructured play can curb attention-seeking behavior and inspire creativity.

What they're saying: A self-directed project might challenge and frustrate a child, but it can also build those "keep trying" skills, says Kimberly Alexander, a clinical psychologist in the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute.

If a child is struggling with independent play, a caregiver could offer them options so the child can "problem solve the situation of being bored," Alexander says.

  • She suggests telling kids they have few minutes to decide on an activity, and then a half hour or so to do it. Meanwhile, let them know "I'll be over here, continuing with what I was doing," she says.
  • Ideas for boredom busters can include anything from building with Legos to tinkering with remote-control cars.

Making sure kids have "real-world" activities — not just virtual ones — is also important for fostering interpersonal skills.

  • When kids play together IRL, they strengthen nonverbal skills like maintaining eye contact, Alexander says.
Go deeper