Parenting

What A Child Really Needs: Constructive Activity (Part 4)

We are in a four week series discussing the basic emotional needs of children.  I am using Dr. Bruce Narramore’s well-written and practical book, “Help! I’m a Parent” as a reference.  We’ve already discussed a child’s need for love, confidence and worth.  I will talk here about an often overlooked need which can cause more chaos in your home than most other unmet needs a child will have.

Children need constructive activity. 

Children at varying ages have different attention spans.  Some children have longer spans of attention than others and certainly we all are interested in a variety of things.  I find it so interesting when my five year old son has friends over how the playdates can vary radically based on who is here playing with him.  One friend will want to be on the playset in the back yard the whole time.  Another friend will want to dump out the Legos and build for hours.  A different friend is in the habit of setting up our Geo-Trax train set and sending the trains around it for the majority of his visit.  We have friends who love dress-up, others who love art and some who are into nerf guns and swords.

Our goal with our children is to help them develop into the types of people who can fill their own “empty” time with constructive choices.  This will not happen without training and guidance.  Of course, children in Africa and other countries where there is limited media, the majority of time is spent in relationship and possessions are few tend to naturally develop activities to occupy their time.  I have had the blessing of intimately caring for some dear African children and they told me in their country they play with rocks and sticks.  Their imaginations were able to do much with little.  Here in the States we have a problem of abundance, and ironically we end up with children who get bored easily and end up turning to not-so-constructive activities in response to their boredom.  The solution, in part, is to train your children into making wise, constructive choices with their time.

In order to give your children constructive activity you need to “learn your child.”  As I mentioned above, each child will have different preferences and abilities.  When we had our foster daughter, she loved to perform.  She loved dressing up, singing, playing music and dancing.  If I provided her with enough hand-me-down clothing and costumes and jewelry along with some music and a microphone, she was content to prepare her performance for some time.  When I didn’t do these things, she was prone to act out and demand attention in inappropriate ways.  She would start fights or do things she knew she wasn’t supposed to because she was bored.

My oldest son is a thinker and a doer.  He is not so fond of building unless he is doing something collaborative.  This has been his temperament and preference since a very early age.  He is physically active and loves reading as well.  But, he has to have just the right book.  He doesn’t want to waste his time reading uninteresting or poorly written books.  He likes to play piano and he loves to plan enterprising activities — like planning how he and his friend are going to raise money for something they want to purchase.  In order to fill his need for constructive activities, we spend a lot of time looking for good, parent-approved, son-pleasing books.  I’m training him to discern what to look for now.  Earlier in his life I figured out that unless I wanted to build with him, he needed other activities.  He used to spend hours in a fort we built setting up stuffed animals and giving them all a meal.  That was his form of constructive.  Once I learned his niche, I was able to give him things to do and it freed me up when I needed to get something done without him nagging me and feeling frustrated.   

My younger son is active, active, active and very creative.  He loves community and craves time with others, but can play alone if given the right things to do. His need for constructive activity is exponentially higher than my eldest and not just because of the age difference.  He just has creative juices and if you don’t channel them, be sure you will see them let out somewhere — in his own haircutting, in an uncommissioned mural on the wall, in a flood in the bathroom or in some other form of self-designed expression of his ambitions.

Youngest Son’s “Art on the Wall”

This darling son of mine has given me the crash parenting course in what it means to provide creative outlets.  If I give him something to do (and it can’t be something that I expect him to do forever) he will engage if it is (1) relatively new to him, (2) set up in a relational way (meaning I spend time with him setting it up so his love tank is filled too) and (3) something he loves doing.  I try to think ahead and have things like this available at my disposal (in my mind anyway) so that I can provide activities for him to do when my eldest and I are homeschooling together or when I need to complete something around the home.  My eldest son was never prone to want to help me with cooking, but my youngest son loves this, so I try to engage him when it is time to cook a meal.  As he ages, he is getting better at doing his own thing, too.  With training and example he is learning to provide his own activity and not be destructive as he does.

Youngest son’s birdhouse – a constructive activity

As you can guess, when a child is not given constructive activity, they often become bored, and as I have described here, they often turn to destructive behaviors instead.  As Dr. Narramore reminds us, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”  We can prevent this by planning ahead and providing options for our children as to what they can do. 

We don’t rely on screens in our home to fill the void of “boredom.”  I don’t want to develop that habit in my boys’ hearts: “I’m bored, I’m turning to a screen.”  There are numerous reasons for this, the least of which is that as they age, the temptations that come to men on screens are not things I want to cultivate in my sons’ hearts.  I want them to have productive ways to spend their time that involve real life.  TV is fine, and being on the computer is fine as well, but I don’t want screen use to be an answer to boredom.

One caviat about constructive activity: I don’t know if you are like me, but when I was little, my mom used to suggest activity after activity to me when I was bored.  I would sit in front of her saying, “nah,”  “nah,”  nah.”  Finally she would say, “well, I don’t know what to tell you, I’ve run out of suggestions.”  I remembered this pattern and the trap it created when I started parenting and purposed to avoid this with my boys in a few ways.  First of all, I rarely make a suggestion.  I either set something out and start engaging with it or I tell my child to go engage in the thing I am suggesting for five minutes and come back if they are finding it uninteresting.  An object at rest stays at rest and this isn’t just in the physical world.  We need to help our children get off the dime and engage.  When they do, the activity will interest them infinitely more than the idea of the activity ever could.  If I do make suggestions, I make three and leave it at that.  I often, instead of making suggestions, send them to a quiet place to come up with three of their own ideas and have them pick one after they have brainstormed.  Teach a man to fish.  Teach a child to brainstorm.


Constructive activity is not a substitute for loving time spent together.  A healthy relationship involves time spent together as well as time spent apart.  I want my boys to learn to be constructive and independently be able to fill their own time with activities that bless them and others.  I also want to be available to be with them throughout our day more than not.  These days are passing by like the wind and I don’t want to miss a moment.

If you enjoyed this post and want more ideas about boredom busting in your own home, visit my Pinterest Pinboard called, “Mom, I’m Bored: Not Anymore!” 

If you were blessed by this series, come back next week on “Parenting Wisdom Wednesdays” when I’ll be writing about Discipline vs. Punishment.  And, if you know another mom who would be blessed by this post, feel free to pass it on.  As always, thank you for coming to Hearts Homeward. 

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    HeartsHomeward
    January 29, 2014 at 4:33 PM

    Don't you just love that? It makes me laugh even now. He's such a ham sandwich! Thanks, sweet H West, for coming here and reading. You are dear to us.

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