Summertime Blues

School is ending across the country, and with it, wails of distress from parents as they scramble for ways to fill their children’s time during the hot, sticky days of summer. I’ve heard numerous parents express dismay at the end of school, and have felt in the minority that I don’t feel as miserable as they do about having my children around all the time.
For families with both parents working, or for single parent households, I can well understand the need to find adequate childcare or camps in the summer. But for families that have one parent at home, summer is a wonderful opportunity for you and your children—and it doesn’t have to mean you are responsible for entertaining them day in and day out.
Fighting chants of “I’m bored,” or “I don’t know what to do,” or “I have nothing to do,” can be downright exhausting if you hear those or similar phrases as soon as your little darlings wake in the morning. But do not despair! I have a solution that, if followed to the letter, will ensure a summer filled with innovation and inspiration, all with just a little bit of work on your part.
First, draw up a list of things your child or children can do on their own. This can be as simple as play with a certain toy or read a book. Tailor it to the age of your child. Write down as many things as you can think of that require a minimum (read barely any) assistance from you. Type it up and label it “Things to Do When You’re Bored” or something equally catchy.
Note: Your summer will go smoother if you limit electronic screen time (TV and video/DVD watching, computer, and hand-held electronic games, etc.). Studies have shown—and, if you have ever interrupted a child involved in one of those activities—that screen time is highly addictive. Better to encourage your children in other pursuits in their leisure time. This is not a popular view, I know, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the hassle to get your kids disconnected for most of the summer.
Second, write down a list of extra chores not included in the daily or weekly list for your children. Cut into slips of paper with one chore on each slip, fold and place into a jar or other container and label “Chore Jar.”
Third, on the first day of summer vacation, sit down your kids after breakfast and hand them the “Things to Do When You’re Bored” list. Tell them that this is what they can do when they’re feeling bored or have nothing to do. Inform them that if anyone utters the words “I’m bored,” or “I have nothing to do,” or any variation thereof, that child picks a chore to do from the Chore Jar. That chore must be completed immediately to the parent’s satisfaction. Failure to do so will result in being confined to his or her room for the rest of the day and to bed after supper. This is called “making them an offer they can’t refuse.”
Fourth, follow through. When I introduced this last summer to my two older girls, they immediately said they were bored to see what kind of chores were in the Chore Jar. After completing a particular onerous task, I didn’t hear “I’m bored,” the entire summer.
For those of you who need ideas, my booklet Boredom Busters has dozens of ideas for children, as well as some chore ideas for the Chore Jar. Boredom Busters is available on Kindle and Smashwords (for the Nook, iPad, and other e-reader devices, as well as in a PDF) for only 99 cents. Leave a comment under this post for a chance to win a copy of the Boredom Busters.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.


  1. Melissa Jagears June 14, 2012 at 6:26 am - Reply

    ha ha, I love that they said I’m bored to see what they’d get.

  2. amy June 16, 2012 at 12:09 am - Reply

    I love Sarah Hamaker! She’s amazing!

  3. Naomi Rawlings June 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    Oh goodness, Sarah! That sounds so hard. Maybe my kids aren’t really old enough. But to send them to their rooms for the rest of the day? What if something happens at 9:00 am? Wow!

    My house is working on cleaning up their own messes this summer. Incidentally, I don’t have a whole lot of trouble with hearing the words, “I’m bored.” But your book looks interesting. I should probably download it to my e-reader. 🙂

  4. Sarah Hamaker June 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    There’s nothing in their rooms that will harm them, right? Just four walls, a comfy place to rest. This works best when the kids are school-age, but I have confined my five year old for an afternoon to his room as a punishment and it does make an impression–which is the entire point. And knowing that you will follow through is a fantastic determent.

    I’d rather start with the big guns and nip a behavior in the bud than fool around with penny-ante stuff that just drags out the misbehavior until both parent and child are way more frustrated.

    I’m sending Melissa, Amy and Naomi a copy of Boredom Busters:)

  5. Melissa Jagears June 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    I’ve had my 4 year old in her room all day – we let her out for meals and then she went right back until bath time. We took out her toys. We left her books. So she looked at books, jumped on the bed (I don’t really care about that b/c well, um, I jump on beds), talked to herself and took naps.

    When she got out for dinner, she thought it was over and did put up a huge fit when we told her to go back–screaming and everything. But we reminded her that we said all day, and you know what, after about 5 minutes of that, she took a nap and when we got her out the next time, at bathtime she met us with a hug and an “I’m sorry” and told us how much she loved us. Took a bath and went back to her room to go to bed without a fuss.

    She never spit at anyone at church again.

    And the punishment should be hard for them, easy for you. Containing them in a room fits that advice rather well–it’s almost like vacation. 🙂 We haven’t had to do it often, but I agree with Sarah–you pull out the big guns right away and you don’t mess with it anymore once they’ve had enough of the big guns. Sometimes I mess with the “penny-ante” stuff feeling like a big meanie to do the “shock and awe” technique all the time, but it generally just drags on and on when I do that and makes discipline hard. Then I remember it’s SUPPOSED to be worse for them than me, they’re the ones in trouble, so I pull out the big guns again and things go much smoother.

    • Naomi Rawlings June 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm - Reply

      Yeah, I guess I feel like a big mean jerk who’s failing to address the deeper issues of the behavior when I send my oldest to his room for a long period of time. I do use that for short periods. He has trouble with whining and throwing fits. So the rule is he must go to his room for at least five minutes, and longer if he can’t call down and act like a big boy. That seems to work very well for him. I don’t think I’d want to do it longer for something like whining. Something that’s malicious toward others I would give a bigger punishment for though.

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