When used the right way, TV time can be one of the most useful tools we have as parents. Unfortunately, it can also be a very slippery slope. What starts as a survival tactic for busy parents like us can turn into a daily dependence--leaving us feeling guilty and anxious. On top of that, reliance on TV can cause some undesirable behaviors in children. So there comes a time when we need to kick the TV habit.
This can be a tricky transition. Terminating TV time can cause tantrums and meltdowns and leave you feeling worse than before. If you’ve ever found yourself in this position--looking to kick your TV habit but struggling to figure out how--I have a few tips to help you.
When I've been ready to pull the plug, the best success I’ve had is taking it away cold turkey. No TV all day, every day. It sounds intense because it is. I try to stick with this until the tantrums stop and I have developed a better schedule. Giving your children a warning that this will happen is always a good idea, though. They will cope a little better with shutting down TV time if you give them a heads-up a day or two before and remind them often what's coming. That being said, the first few days will be rough--really rough--so having activities on hand is critical.
So what do you do instead? I found this part especially difficult after having my second baby. The TV had given me the help I desperately needed while attending to my newborn. Whatever your situation, whatever your reason for relying on the TV, cutting it out leaves a big hole in your day. On top of that, cutting TV time can make your children especially needy. It’s a lot to handle! Here are some of the easy, low-key activities that can help fill up your time and distract your distraught child:
- Sensory bins: Rice, popcorn, soapy water, flour, pasta--the options are endless and kids go crazy for them.
- Painting, coloring, crafting of any kind: The prep and clean up can seem a little daunting, but art is a great avenue for independent play.
- Racetrack: If you don’t have a racetrack rug, you can make your own on the back of a cardboard box. Add all of your kid's favorite cars to it and you have yourself a race! You can even build up a town around the road with blocks. Be creative--the possibilities are endless!
- Boxes: Speaking of box crafts, a few moving boxes from your local hardware store can make for boundless creativity: box cars, box houses, box slides--anything your kid can imagine. Boxes offer tons of potential. Plus, it seems like kids' favorite toys are never really toys at all.
TV as a Tool
Once I've established a healthier, more balanced relationship with the TV, I usually feel comfortable adding just a little bit of TV time back into our routine. For me, it’s important that I use TV as a tool: to give me a break when I desperately need it; to help my toddler relax after an intense day; as a reward for good behavior; for a fun family night. There are countless reasons and ways TV can be useful and helpful to us busy moms and dads. Thinking of it as a tool we can control rather than a habit that controls us will give us much more power and make our time with it more productive.
Even after you’ve established a better relationship with TV, turning it off can still lead to tantrums. Turning it off abruptly is a sure-fire way to tick your toddler right off. I use a timer to help manage this better in our home. Sometimes I'll start the timer when we turn on the TV, making sure my little ones know exactly how long they have to watch. Other times I'll give them a five-minute warning that TV time is almost over so they aren't surprised when it ends. This seems to help avert meltdowns. I usually put the timer somewhere they can easily see it. I also let them turn the timer on. That way they feel a little more in control of the situation.