How Can I Keep My 5 Children Entertained Without TV?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Big Kids

Dear AdviceMama,

I have five children under the age of 9, and on Saturdays, when my husband is working, we are stuck in the house because of weather and finances. I want to do stuff together, but there is only one of me and five of them. I would like to find a way to entertain all of them because I don't want them in front of the television or computer all day. Any advice?

Stuck Inside

Dear Stuck,

A mother once told me that when her kids complained that they were bored, she would respond by saying, "Do I look like an entertainment center to you?" (In "the olden days," this was the cabinet that held the TV and stereo, which have largely been replaced by laptops and iPods.)

With the infinite offerings of television and computer in today's world, it can be challenging to pry kids off the screen and convince them that fun doesn't require electricity -- or parental involvement! Here's my advice:

Create a "What can I do?" box with your kids. Encourage them to brainstorm as many ideas as possible on slips of paper that they drop into the box. If they come to you because they don't have anything to do, invite them to reach into the box for an idea! Here are some possibilities:

  • "Take Turn" stories, where each sibling writes two sentences of a story and then passes it on
  • Marbles
  • Make sock puppets
  • Living room obstacle course
  • Chair tents
  • Homemade board game
  • Puppet show
  • Theatrical performance
  • Playing the recorder
  • Collage from magazine pictures
  • Bean collage
  • Clay or playdough sculptures
  • Finger painting in the bathtub
  • Beading
  • Make juice popsicles

Don't be afraid of your children whining about "being bored." There's nothing wrong with kids wandering aimlessly around the house, as long as they aren't allowed to get into trouble. Once they discover you aren't always available to liven things up, they'll tap into their natural stores of creativity.

Clarify when your children will and will not have access to their electronic toys. Be prepared for angry complaints that "it's not fair!" Be that Captain of the Ship that I talk about, and remain lovingly firm. If your kids know when you are available to play with them, and when they're on their own, they'll soon figure out how to occupy themselves.

In the long run, helping children learn to entertain themselves gives them the chance to create the kind of fun that doesn't come with a plug. Be patient, and your efforts will undoubtedly pay off.

Yours in parenting support,

Watch my video for even more tips on how to get your kids to entertain themselves.

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available onAmazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.