One of the main issues in the last few decades has been the involvement of TV, computer games, and tablets in our parenting. Perhaps you are finding that your kids won’t sleep without an obligatory 30 minute iPad time? Maybe they turn the TV on as soon as they are home from school? Do you wake up to find that they’ve been sat in front of the TV or playing on their Xbox or iPad for 2 hours? In some ways, you are grateful that it’s keeping them from misbehaving… but is it? Studies have shown that kids who have less screen time; sleep better and longer, eat better, get better grades and get more exercise.
You know it’s time for a change but you don’t know how right? I get it! When mine were young I had no idea how damaging extended periods in front of the TV were. Mine were terrible sleepers. They still are, though I’m not sure if that’s just because they are now teenagers. Having done some research on the matter, I’ve put together a few ways that you can make changes that benefit the family as a whole.
- Begin the day right. Before you go to bed, unplug TV’s, hide iPads, remove batteries etc… How many times have you desperately tried to hurry your kids along in the morning when they are dragging their feet whilst glued to some screen somewhere? This includes you! Don’t browse Facebook while your kids are eating breakfast. Put them all away, spend the time attending them while they get ready. By attending, I don’t mean waiting on them, just watch over them and assist where necessary. You can use this exercise to teach them independence. To wash, dress and eat their breakfast independently. In the long run, this will free up your time. Perhaps one of these days you will have time to brush your hair properly and put your make up on instead of tying it up in a messy bun and throwing your make up on in a hurry whilst yelling ‘I said, GET YOUR SHOES ON!’
- Move the TV. I’ll bet your TV is the main focal point of your living room. This makes it very hard for children to see it as anything less than the main point of the living room. Do you leave the TV on when no one is in the room? Do you ever turn the TV on and then realise you’ve spent 7 hours binge-watching something on Netflix? You can appreciate why this makes it all the more difficult to enforce limits on screen time for kids. The easiest solution? take the TV out of the equation. Move it so it’s not the focal point, and use something to cover it the rest of the time (like a tablecloth) or just move it to another room altogether.
- Don’t eat meals in front of the TV. When kids eat in front of the TV they are more likely to not eat enough. They have a tendency to be distracted, and so eat less. Eating mindfully is something all children should learn. If nothing else but to allow them to learn to enjoy eating. When our kids are young they can be very fussy with their food, which makes for stressful mealtimes as it is. Add a TV show in the mix to distract the child from the task at hand (eating) and you’ve all manner of trouble brewing. When you take the TV out of meal times, you set a precedent that meal times are family time.
- Encourage messy play. Now I don’t mean tell them it’s ok to trash the house…but I do mean sensory play. Painting, crafts, water play, slime. There are so many different ideas for fun ways to play which help children develop. It’s far too easy to stick your kids in front of the TV than to clean up the mess they make, right? Wrong. Sensory/messy play is a developmental must for children. Without developing a child’s senses they are at risk of sensory food aversion. The bottom line is, get your kids away from the TV and get their hands mucky.
- Go on adventures. These do not need to be expensive. When my kids were younger, they loved nothing more than exploring the woods. On one such adventure, we found wild garlic… My eldest son who was around 8 or 9 decided that he wanted to eat it and stunk for days! Nevertheless, it cost nothing and was enormous fun. It tired them out and they still remember it now almost 10 years later. There are many woodlands, parks, moors, that cost nothing. There are also many activities that are cheap enough to do once a week, like swimming or soft play areas. What child needs TV when there are adventures to be had?!
- Emergency Activity Kits. These are genius! This is your chance to use your imagination. Build a kit of items that your child will enjoy playing with, you could use colouring books, puzzles, blocks a small toy car etc… The trick is to put it all into a box that looks special. All it takes is a little effort to decorate the box (cover in old wrapping paper/write their name on the box etc…). When you are in a bind and you need something to occupy the kids for an hour you can pull out the box and tell them its a special gift for whatever reason, perhaps they brushed their teeth well that day? You then have a very happy and excited child who will feel proud of themselves and be kept out of mischief!Finally, and this seems obvious. Pay attention to your child. You will probably already know that as soon as you get engrossed in your own activity that is separate from your child they will start to play up. Perhaps you’ve started scrolling through Facebook, or put your laptop on. You know full well that if you are doing something that they can’t do, they will suddenly become whiny, clingy or naughty. Why? Because they want to either have your attention or they want to be able to do what you are doing. This isn’t entirely unreasonable of them. They just want your involvement. If you notice that when you are doing the same activity as them (say baking) they don’t harass you for your attention, this is because you are all ‘playing the same game’.
Parenting isn’t easy. No one said it would be. Sometimes, you will find that tiredness gets the better of you all and you inevitably end up putting the TV on for a film so that you can have a ‘sit down and zone out’ bit of time. That’s ok to do sometimes too, just don’t make a habit of it.