What to do when your kids don't want to do the activities you prepared

By ibu Editor



We’re all stuck at home still with a tonne of stuff to do and because we know that our kids need something to keep busy with, we’ve prepared some activities for them.


But as soon as you set it all up, they play with it for 5 minutes. Or they don’t even come to the table.

What on earth do you do?


Address how that makes you feel


It's perfectly natural to completely ignore how you feel because it could be a really fleeting moment that passes almost unnoticed. Or you could feel really angry about it but not allow yourself to feel it.


Most of us didn't have parents that validated how we felt, so our capacity to sit with our feelings is limited, and honestly, there's so many things to do it's much easier not to.


The thing is, that the more we're able to accept our own feelings, our capacity to calmly deal with the big feelings of our children also increases.


So, ask yourself, what’s the emotion that you feel? Or if that's tricky try asking yourself, what you would rant about if you got to complain to your best friend? Some of the things that run through my head are:

  • It really sucks!! I made a tonne of effort and it didn’t get noticed

  • I’m so disappointed that the kids didn’t like what I prepared, I really thought it would be fun for them

  • What’s the point of making all this effort? Why should I bother if the kids don’t show any interest?

  • This is a waste of my time


If this is a trigger for you, allow yourself to feel how sucky it really is. Allow the disappointment and the sadness. The more you can sit and be with the discomfort of those feelings, the quicker they will pass.


Take some deep breaths in a way that feels good to you and slowly relax.


Most of us go through the day holding everything in and trying to be everything for our children, our partners, our work and running the home on top of that.


Don't hold it in! If your partner is home, ask them to take over watching the kids and give yourself some space to feel before doing something else.


This is what we do with our kids. We give them space to feel their feelings so that they can learn to process, let’s give ourselves the same space.


A quick brain lesson from the book “The Whole Brain Child”. The part of your brain that holds your emotions isn’t the same part of the brain that can solve problems. That’s why we deal with feelings first. Once you feel ready, you can move into the thinking part of your brain to solve the problem…. So that’s what we’ll address next.


Check the activity you planned


Sometimes, I’ve planned an activity for my son so that I don’t have to connect with him and can do other things while he plays independently. The times I’ve done that make it obvious that activities aren’t for us to connect so then he doesn’t want to engage.


  • Was the activity age appropriate?

  • What were your expectations?

  • What was your child expecting?

  • What level of attention does your child need?


My son is almost 4 years old, and he’s quite used to playing independently so as long as I’ve spent time connecting with him in the morning, he doesn’t need many activities (perhaps 1 per day) and he finds things to do the rest of the time. Every child is different, so what level of connection does your child need? How are you giving that to them before disconnecting and working on something you need to do?


Next think about your child’s reaction


What was behind it? Talk to them if they’re old enough to understand you. Ask them, what they liked or didn’t like about the activity you prepared? If it’s something that’s mandated by their school, was it the right time to be doing that activity? If not, when would be a better time to revisit it?


Problem solve with your child


  • You could ask them to choose from a list of activities by showing them the images

  • You could ask them what they’d like to do instead, you might be surprised by their answer

  • You could even leave the activity out for them to go to it in their own time


If your child is too young to have this kind of dialogue, get down to their level and say something like “I guess this wasn’t what you wanted to do right now” then and observe what they’re doing and see if you can extend their play a bit more…


Don't be disheartened


Try not to take it personally if the activity didn't spark their interest for very long. You could leave the activity set up and see if they naturally go back to it by themselves. Or you could take it as a "failed experiment" and try something else next time. At the very least, you've learned something new about your child's preferences.


Other activities you could try


  1. Choose 1 hour of the day for “YES time”, where for that 1 hour you’ll say yes to whatever they want to play or do in the house. This is what I do when I really need to make an effort to connect.

  2. If you child needs calming down or is feeling unfocused, start doing the activity yourself first. I.e. start drawing or colouring and see if they’ll join in with you.

  3. Reorganise or sort out their play area - anytime I start physically moving things around or giving things a new home it inspires my son to look at his things in a new way.

  4. Water play is always a winner in our house, so if in doubt we go to the bathroom and bring his finger paints to paint on the glass wall or tiles, or I’ll get different household containers, funnels, measuring cups and let him explore.


Since we’re not able to go outside and get that nature vibe to calm ourselves and our kids, it’s important for us to lead our kids into a calmer state but we can only do that once we feel calm again ourselves.


Has this helped you? What other roadblocks (pun intended) are you facing with your kids right now? Write to ibu@ibufamily.org or editorbonda@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to get an answer for you! Alternatively, you can comment on this article in our ibu Tribe Facebook group.


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