The Three Best Ways To End Your Kid's Winter Break Boredom

Boredom over winter break is rough on parents. Rich Legg via Getty Images

 Every year my daughter looks forward to winter break.  She wants the extra time with family, and unstructured time to herself.   When she was in elementary school she was excited to meet new relatives and explore our destination in the years we have travelled to see family.  Now that she is in high school, she looks forward to catching up on sleep.

Despite the anticipation, when break finally arrives each year she always ends up complaining that she's bored.

 Some years she complains a lot - like the year we visited my parents and it rained non-stop for the two weeks we were there.  Other years it was very brief, just during the times I was the one catching up on rest in the mornings.

My friends and relatives with kids all tell me they go through same thing with their children.  Oh, and during that rainy winter visit I just mentioned?  My own mother gleefully pointed out how often I had complained about being bored during school breaks as child, and now I was getting to listen to it from the parent side.

I don't like listening to kids complain about being bored.  The whiney voice is annoying, and besides, I want my child to be happy and have fun.  I would rather put an end to winter break boredom, so we can all get back to having a good time and creating those special memories that will still with us throughout our lives.  To put a stop to the boredom, find the cause and implement a strategy.

Cause #1 Your Child Is Unsure Of Themselves In a New Situation

Your child has been going to school every weekday for at least the last three months.  This is what they are used to.  Now they find themselves with friends and relatives coming to your home, or you went to someone else's home.  Your child is in a new place, with new people.

 Oh, but wait, you say - they were around the same people last year.  Well, children grow a lot in a year, your child has changed since then.

Your child could be feeling out of place, not really knowing what they can and can't do, or how to best relate to the new people around them at the holidays.  Your child may drop hints that this is the problem by saying things like "I don't know anybody here."  or "I can't find anything." or even things like "This place is weird."

The strategy here is to help your child bridge the missing information they need to feel comfortable.  Use what you know about your child right now and tell them just enough to get them started on creating a relationship or doing an activity.  

If you know your child has a favorite extracurricular activity or interest, and you know that someone else in attendance has similar interests, tell  your child about the common interest and give a suggestion for conversation.  For example, if your child loves their Lego robotics club at their middle school, you can tell them that their college age aunt who is studying engineering was on her high school robotics team and won several awards.  Then suggest to your child that they ask their aunt what got her interested in robotics, what the competitions were like, and what her engineering classes are like.

Cause #2  Your Child Wants To Do Something With You

If you have extra time off around the winter holidays, your child may be wanting some extra attention.  They get you to themselves.  And they want you to take that parenting lead and show or do something with them that is something only you can do.  This is your chance to share your experiences, thoughts and interests with them, so relish it while you can.

The trick with this cause is teasing it out from the other causes.  Often the best way to tell is by eliminating the other two major causes, and if you still have a child who is following you around, then this is probably it.

 They might make it easier by asking you a lot of questions about you. Questions like "Is blue still your favorite color?" or "When you were my age, what did you like to do?"  Rarely is it ever this easy to tell.  Instead, they may be following you around and staying close under foot  while occasionally saying they are bored.  They could be playing with other kids their age, or playing with their toys, but they just keep hanging by you.

The strategy here?  Ask them what the two of you can do together, and then find an activity you can do together.  Sit down and drink some hot cocoa, or go outside and play in the snow.  Try to look for activities that require some interaction and talking.  This is your child wanting to spend time with you - make sure you enjoy and relish these moments with your family.

Cause #3 Your Child Doesn't Know What To Do With Unstructured Time

By this point in the school year you child has spent their weekdays following and participating in activities designed for them.  Many summer child programs for kids have time that is structured - kids have been directed on what they are supposed to be doing.  Your children might have the occasional break of free time for a few hours after school or on the weekend, but sometimes that is nothing compared to the expanse of a few weeks solid on winter break.  

You can tell this is the cause if they seem a little edgy, complain that they are bored and just don't know what to do.  They may come and complain to you, then walk off, flop in a chair or on a bed, and return complaining a few minutes later.  This boredom has an edgier feel to it than the last cause.

You can use this moment to teach something very valuable.  The strategy here is based on looking for internal drive compared to external push. The strategy for this one is to put the responsibility for their boredom right back on them.  I tell my children "Boredom is a choice, not really a feeling.  What can you do so you are not bored anymore?"

As children grow older they make more choices for themselves.  Help them take responsibility now.  By taking the situation over and structuring their time for them, you rob them of the opportunity to grow and develop into their own person.  You risk teaching them to be reliant on you instead of gaining a little independence.  If you always take over for your children, you run the risk of becoming a helicopter parent.

When you ask a younger child what they can do so they are not bored anymore, they may be a little surprised and need a few suggestions from you over what they can do.  The older the child, the more responsibility they should be able to take in finding something that occupies their interest and time.

When you look back at each of these boredom causes, you have a child who doesn't really know what to do given how they feel.  Your job as their parent is to teach and then coach them into meeting their own needs.  You will know your succeeding when you hear "I'm bored" far less often.  It may not go away, but it can become a rarity.  You will know your child is developing into someone who can manage themselves without needing someone else to do it for them.

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