They’ve got a few years before they’ll start the timeless childhood tradition of whining about how bored they are, despite the piles of toys they own, the stacks of books they could read, and the beautiful weather outside. But even babies can get bored, in their own way. That’s because they’re curious little explorers who rely on you to help them move about to conduct that exploring.
One moment of early parenthood has always stuck out in my memory. My son was just a couple of months old and he was having a generally fussy day. He didn’t seem to want to be held or put down; he didn’t want to be on his back or on his tummy. I finally put him in a baby seat, facing our sliding glass door where he could watch the rain, and just like that, he was content. Dude was bored and wanted to see something different.
General fussiness like that can be an indication they’re bored, as can crying or making grasping motions that indicate they want to be moved to check out something new. Researcher and psychology professor Dr. Celeste Kidd tells Fatherly that babies are learning machines:
Babies are constantly exploring and looking for novel experiences to gather more data about their world. Their boredom then is not a function of laziness, but a function of efficient discovery. “What that means is if they encounter something they already know everything about then they lose interest in it and want to go find something else,” Kidd explains. The problems come when they can’t find something else.
Especially before they’re able to crawl and explore somewhat on their own terms, they need a little help accessing new and interesting things. That being said, it’s also easy to overwhelm them, particularly if they’re being exposed to objects they have no context for — instead, Kidd says, they prefer “partially encoded” items that are somewhat familiar. That could be things like a wooden spoon, pots and pans, stacking cups, or plastic bowls.
If you need a few new tricks to entertain your baby, this video from parenting and lifestyle vlogger Emily Norris has some great suggestions. Her ideas include blowing bubbles for them to watch and touch, creating sensory bottles, and setting up what she calls “treasure baskets,” in which you fill up a basket with a variety of safe household items of different shapes and textures, such as a sponge, a clean feather duster, and a couple of different lids.
Here are some other ideas from parents in our Offspring Facebook community for the next time the babe gets bored:
- Create a “Montessori shelf.” “Put out four to six things where the baby can access the items themselves … Once she could crawl, she had a basket of plastic texture balls, four or five wooden blocks, a stuffy or baby doll with blanket, and a wooden car.” (Michael)
- The pipe cleaner trick. “Old spice container with holes and pipe cleaners.” (Erica) Another popular variation on this is pipe cleaners sticking through the holes of a colander.
- Destroy some magazines. “My son used to love ripping up magazines before he could walk; the bright colours pleased him along with the tactile experience.” (Kristin)
- Repurposed water bottles. “I used to give the girls empty water bottles to crunch. Cheap noise maker, if you can stand it.” (Daniel)
- Songs with finger/body movements. Group member Carrie recommends this YouTube channel created by two children’s librarians who share songs and rhymes: “This song is my go-to and my four-year-old even enjoys it now. It is much easier with babies, though.”
When it comes to babies, fancy toys are fine, but they’re most likely to find happiness by engaging their senses through the everyday objects of different colours and textures, and a variety of interesting sounds. And when in doubt, a change of scenery — whether that’s a walk around the neighbourhood or simply moving to a different room in the home — is often enough to offer something new to watch, listen to, touch, and explore.