elevating child care

How To Break Your Toddler’s TV Habit

Hi Janet,
I have got myself and my toddler into a bit of a bad habit. K. is now 27 months old, and on the whole pretty wonderful! (I could talk about him all day long!) But he really likes watching TV (which is my fault), and I totally know this is not good for him, and am not trying to make excuses for it!
It mainly started when I got pregnant again just over 3 months ago, I was hit really bad with morning sickness and tiredness, having days on end when I was vomiting everything I ate and often every time I got up from a resting position. I felt really helpless, as much as K. is pretty good with his independent play, me needing to lie down or rest hours on end between running to the bathroom proved too much for me and him (it also coincided with him deciding he no longer wanted to nap in the afternoon, though I know he still needed it – which is a whole other issue) so I resorted to TV during the worst times. I did try to choose the ‘best’ or least hectic TV I could, but now I am starting to feel better (have had 5/7 sickness free days this week!) it has become a bit of a habit which I am really struggling to break! We had already let TV slip into his day a few months early when he starting waking at about 5:30am, and I struggled not to just want to sleep on the couch with him while he watched some TV…
Any advice?
Helena

Hi Helena,

I have a couple of thoughts about the TV use. First, it’s totally understandable, especially given your situation. BUT, this is also well within your power to change if you want to. Remember, you are in charge here.

The way I’ve always looked at these tough changes is: I have to be the very best mom for such an incredibly wonderful boy, so I’m going to face these seemingly impossible tasks with conviction.

Conviction, resolve, fearlessness — whatever you want to call it — is the most important thing by far, because without that, K. doesn’t have a prayer of accepting your limits and moving on.  My experience (personally and with the parents I’ve worked with) is that these things are much easier to change than we expect them to be, but only if we have resolve.

If we come from a place of confidence in our decision, our child will probably still object strongly for a bit, but underneath that there will be a lot of relief. “Mommy’s got my back. She took charge.” And even, “She cared enough to do something that was very hard for her. She’s my confident leader.”

Whether or not you decide to cut out TV entirely, do it cold turkey or in stages, I would get rid of the morning viewing time immediately, because that one is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.  Watching TV changes brain waves, dulls and slows the mind. Expecting K. to start his day in a stupor and then snap out of it and play productively is not reasonable.  I understand why 5:30 may seem too early for you, but this is probably prime time for K. in terms of his energy…and that energy is being zapped by the tube, setting the tone for the whole day. School teachers can attest to this, since they are the ones who commonly deal with children coming to school like zombies after watching TV at breakfast time.

Parents of preschoolers have asked me why it’s such a struggle to get their children out the door, and then it turns out that the child is watching TV first thing in the morning. Granted, it’s hard for us to recognize this because we are not nearly as sensitive to the effects of TV as our young children are.

But I don’t want to make you feel guilty! I really don’t know why this information isn’t more widely disseminated.

So, tell K. the night before what the routine will be for the morning. Give him the blow by blow with as many details as you can. This is the way to help K. feel participatory in this change in his life. Acknowledge the change and that you realize how much he likes his TV show…and you know that he will miss it. Tell him that after you give him his breakfast (together…remember that care-giving times need to be times of connection), he will get to either play or help you clean up, or watch you clean up, etc., as you wish. (You might want to offer a special “mornings only” play material like playdough.) Keep him fully informed in advance.

Then, when the time comes and he screams or cries (if he even does those things), acknowledge how hard it all is and how much he misses seeing the show. Be available for cuddles if he wants them. Don’t talk him out of his feelings or try to get him to feel better, just keep acknowledging the truth. (I know this is challenging and very counter-intuitive, but it’s really important).

Remember that K. probably has lots of jumbled up feelings right now. He’s feeling the stress you are feeling regarding your pregnancy. Whether or not he knows much about the meaning of the pregnancy, he senses tension, which is likely making him anxious and uneasy. Crying about TV will be a great excuse for him to get some of these feelings out. Tell yourself this again and again, because it’s true.

Every time he brings it up, acknowledge, “Yes, you used to do that, but I can’t let you do things that aren’t good for your brain and body anymore. You’re too special. I made a mistake.”

Remember: Resolve, resolve, resolve. He’s worth it!

Warmly,

Janet

P.S. TV and his resistance to napping might well be related. Even though TV has a mind-numbing effect, studies show that it interferes with healthy sleep. Imagine a tiny, sensitive person passively absorbing all of that stimulation.

 

Recommended resources:

Watching TV is Relaxing by Teacher Tom

Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can do About it, Jane Healy, PhD

What Does TV Do To My Kid’s Brain? by Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE  (featuring an enlightening TED talk by Dr. Dimitri Christakis of Seattle Children’s Hospital)

A Creative Alternative To Baby TV Time (on this blog)

 

 

(Photo by Jude Keith Rose)

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

I LOVE your comments and questions. Please add them here...

28 Responses to “How To Break Your Toddler’s TV Habit”

  1. avatar Mara S says:

    I just wanted to say I’ve been there, done that. Not exactly the same scenario but I have 3 children under the age of 4 and about 1 year ago, we got rid of our tv. It was a hard decision on my part for I was staying home and thought I ‘needed’ it to get anything done. I am wrapping up the LifeWays childcare program and learned how detrimental tv is to a child’s health in all capacities. I never felt good about letting them watch it, always felt guilty for I already knew it wasn’t really “good”. In your case, I can imagine how you felt you needed it. The reality is giving it up cold turkey is the best way to go and so much easier than you think it will be!! ANd you will be amazed at the type of play and imagination that comes from it. It will challenge you to be more creative but that is a great thing:) Good luck and blessings on your family!

  2. avatar allie says:

    I love reading your blog, and I read it as a teacher, not as a parent. But the idea of TV and the brain resonates with me personally because my husband and I got a television for the first time, and I feel how mind-numbing it is to me, I can only imagine the effect on the developing brain. My personal thoughts on young children and television are related to how addicted I have seen children get, and how accustomed parents get to sticking a toddler in front of it so they can take a shower or a break. Its not meant to be a babysitter, and the more children are plopped in front of it, the more they’ll crave it.

    Once again, thanks fo a great post!

  3. avatar Jalucido says:

    I like the whole article till the last sentence where you tell your toddler you made a mistake. Didn’t we spend the first two paragraphs talking about how the use of tv was understandable and even appropriate? If we expect our children to learn from their coping mechanisms and not call them mistakes shouldn’t we do the same?

    Thank you for your compassionate advice. I’m enjoying it.
    Janelle

    • avatar janet says:

      Interesting, Jalucido. To be honest, the “I made a mistake” was a bit of an afterthought that I added in later. I like modeling for children that we make mistakes and change our minds, so they know that it’s okay for them to also. But I see it your way, too. Maybe, “I used to think this was okay, but I changed my mind” would be better.

  4. avatar Jalucido says:

    Also, my daughter started napping less around this age. It makes for harder evenings but meant she was sleeping better and longer at night. Peace.

  5. Just from a practical point of view (not worrying about whether mistakes are made and who made them and who should feel innocent and all that — don’t feel guilty just move ahead): I think it is hard to just eliminate parts of the tv schedule from a day. Your child (and you!) will see the tv, and know that it’s only a button push away. My recommendation is to get rid of it. At least move it into a room you don’t use during the day or on a trolley that you can roll into a closet if you want to keep it for events like family movie night or karaoke, etc.

    People, grownups and children alike, who are addicted to TV don’t actually know how fill up time with useful activities. Therefore, if the TV is there and the person is bored, the TV seems like the best choice. It can’t be harmful because there is nothing else to do, right?

    The second “bad” thing about having the TV around is that it will seem to the child that the parent decides everything about the TV. TV is for when mom or dad want to watch, but the child is unreasonably restricted. If there is no TV around then it’s more fair. Nobody can watch TV because there isn’t one!

    Don’t worry, within a week or two, you won’t miss it. Your child will probably be over it within 3 days.

    Great post as always.

    • avatar Tim says:

      I did not find your comment helpful and that you term yourself “Perfecting Dad” tells me that your child is probably going to grow up hating you.

  6. avatar R says:

    I let my toddler listen to Pandora on my iPad. But recently he has been staring at the screen (even though nothing moves) and playing around with the buttons. He gets in an almost trance like state and has been requesting it more and more. I am torn because I want him to enjoy listening to music but this way seems to be the equivalent to an over priced light up noise making toy. Should I follow the same steps you listed above?

    • avatar janet says:

      R, I would. Listening to music is one thing (and healthy) but screens have a hypnotic effect. If this is becoming a distraction for your boy (and possibly addictive), I would lose it for now.

  7. avatar Jefra says:

    When our son was about your son’s age (he’s 3 now) we decided to change his TV viewing habits. He actually wasn’t watching a whole lot of TV, but we did get into that habit of letting him watch a short show when he first woke up in the morning(which was early too!). I’m not a morning person and I admit that I used that time to rest on the couch while he watched his show. The first few days were the hardest, but not as hard as I thought it would be. Yes, he was upset about it and I supported his feelings. But then he was okay and played. And after about a week or so, he stopped asking for TV. Something that has helped for those early mornings when I’m not ready to dive into things with full energy is that I set up a play “invitation” the night before. That also helped him to get into the habit of playing first thing in the morning instead of TV. The play invititions are always something he is interested in anyway, so he immediately goes to it. I have found lots of fun ideas online. Then I can sit with him a watch him play for awhile or make breakfast.

    Oh and the napping. My son went through a similar thing too where he didn’t want to nap or they were short, but it was a phase and he went back to taking naps. Having him play more during the day instead of TV did help with his naps. Shortly after he turned 3 he stopped taking naps everyday (once in a while he will), so that may have been his body’s way of starting that slow transition.

    Good luck!

    • avatar janet says:

      Jefra, this is really good advice and much appreciated.

  8. avatar Jessica Z. says:

    Thank you for this! I have tried my best to keep my 2 year old away from TV, but it had crept in a bit. When she went through a stage where she was waking up at 5 a.m. I was lazy and turned on the TV. One day I realized it was my issue not hers, and it was not fair for me (the grown-up) to give in to the TV for entertainment. I just make a strong cup of tea and faced the day. And I did notice a big difference in her demeanor once I stopped (and she started sleeping in more, too). I had also resorted to a small amount of Sesame Street (10-15 minutes) before her nap to get my very active girl to calm down. Recently I wondered if that was necessary, and we just went up to read stories and get in her crib. Sure enough, she cuddled right up with her crib friends and fell asleep. So she is joyfully TV-free now.

    I did want to also thank you for re-posting all this research since I’ve been hearing a lot of comments from other moms about how much their kids have learned from educational programs on PBS like their ABCs, counting, etc. Similarly they’ve been commenting on all their kids skills like counting, ABCs, etc. I was feeling insecure about my choice not to do those things with my daughter and to let her focus on what she is interested in and problem solve on her own, telling myself there is no rush to learn letters and numbers. This post along with a conversation with my mom (who is very supportive of the RIE philosophy even though she doesn’t know it as RIE) has reaffirmed that I am giving my daughter the space to learn problem solving and gain confidence in her own abilities. Thank you for that!

    • avatar DeeDee says:

      Jessica, this kind of bragging annoys me. It really drives me around the bend. Does anyone (even my awesome mother friends) honestly believe TV is going to stimulate a love of learning? Or that a child will never have learned to count without that show. Is TV really connected in a positive way to reading (early or otherwise)? Sure, when children are older, they can watch truly educational tv. (And for older children I think non-educational tv is fine too.) A two year old doesn’t need a tv show to learn about feelings, colours or to learn a few words in another language.

      When my nephew was tiny, my parents had a video about the planets he loved. Everyone marvelled how he knew all the planets a little facts. At the time I didn’t have children, but still thought it was silly to be so amazed. After all, he watched it dozens and dozens of times. Not that remarkable he was able to remember what he saw.

      TV may be harmless (I don’t know…), but I doubt it’s necessary or really educational.

      My child/ren won’t go to high school confused between red and yellow. (Though my eldest has learned to identify colours at daycare. But he would have learned them eventually if he was home with me in a more relaxed environment.)

      • avatar janet says:

        Dee Dee, I couldn’t agree with you more. Memorizing is a low-level brain skill. It is far more important that children learn how to be active explorers, solve problems that interest them, reason, etc. These are high-level skills children learn organically through self-directed play…and cannot be taught to them by a TV show. In fact, TV gets in the way.

    • avatar janet says:

      Well done, Jessica, and thank you for sharing.

  9. avatar Lori says:

    Thank you for this post! Right now we are definitely in a situation where we watch too much tv and are trying to break the habit. I did well and didn’t let my daughter watch tv at all until she was two, and received a lot of guff for it.Lots of people flat-out accused me of being a snob or hippy, and harming my child by not giving her the “learning opportunity” that comes with watching tv. When she hit 2 years, I started letting her watch a little tv and realized why its something other parents loved so much. My busy 2 year old was still for however long it was on! I could wash the dishes in peace, or cook dinner without interruption… Now its become a household staple, and she watches at least an hour everyday, and multiple hours on weekends. This is just the kind of thing that I needed to read to help me toughen up on this matter. :)

  10. avatar Alex says:

    I liked this article and agree with everything. TV is an insidious time-sap and so many people I know just waste their lives vegging in front of the TV. I’m not talking about a half hour here and there, but literally all day, everyday as they lack the skills or energy to do anything else. I agree that healthy habits are best established when young. But we also need to give our kids some choice and control, so they learn how to make the decisions themselves. As they get older, we have to move away from simply ditating when and what they can watch to discussing with them the reasons for limiting screen time and coming up with reasonable limits together.
    A more modern problem is screen-time in general. Our kids see us using our laptops/iPads/smartphones all the time, but then we say ‘No’ when they want to watch TV or play on the iPad too. It’s pretty unfair and we need to model better behaviour ourselves. This also means limiting our screentime to what is really important, not checking our email every 5 minutes,’just in case’. It’s very difficult particularly as our kids move into the teen years they will be spending more and more time in front of the computer for school, and then naturally want to relax with computer games or watching TV. It is very difficult to find balance and I will be interested to hear from my friends as we deal with these issues over the coming years.

  11. avatar April W. says:

    I agree with what I have read in the article, and I feel really guilty over how much television I allow my children to watch. The amount I allow them to watch is partly out of my laziness (I am coming to terms with admitting this) and partly out of my feeling it was a necessity to get things done. It’s been a tough few years in my house. I am a part time stay at home mom, a full time student with four online classes and one face to face class per semester, and I work nights. During the day, I have to juggle homework, housework, and entertaining an energetic 3.5 year old. PBS kids seemed like a great option, especially during mid terms when I cannot stop the test to run to her playroom to play with her. I am in my last two semesters of school, and I am determined and much more comfortable at this point with stopping our TV habit. I feel awful that I have allowed my children to waste so much time in front of the television. Is it unhealthy to have the radio or a CD on during the day? I just really cannot stand the quiet, especially when I’m studying. Any advice would be great!!

  12. avatar letishia says:

    Just wanted to say that there is a lot of great advice on this forum! Some people have suggested getting rid of the TV which may seem a bit extreme, but I would like to share an alternative that my friends and I use. The TV is a flat screen and we keep it tucked under the couch, it is very light so if we want to watch something we just pull it out and plug it in on the coffee table. This helps because if their is a situation where we really need to watch it (exhaustion, sickness, some other atypical situation) or after hours when we want to watch a film/documentary. This works really well for us as it loses the ‘easy’ factor that TV has, and isn’t as tempting as we can’t see it.
    Another option could be to place a sarong/blanket over the TV to lose the tempting factor.

  13. avatar emma says:

    by far the best (and easiest) way I’ve found to break the tv habit is to get kids outside. There is no tv out there and there is so much else to do and look at! I also think that fresh air and nature seem to have some sort of magical anti-tv effect!

  14. avatar Sarah says:

    Hi Janet, I found this article really interesting as I have been thinking about this issue a lot for a few reasons.

    Firstly, my husband has just started a job which requires him to travel a lot. He is currently on a 5 week stint away and I am 34 weeks pregnant (eeeek!) so I am trying to find some ways to manage my 27 month old whilst still allowing myself a much needed break. Obviously there is help here and there from family and friends but I’m talking about something that I can do within our normal daily routine.

    Secondly, my daughter is extremely busy and very interactive and extroverted. Although she is happy playing by herself sometimes, her favourite thing to do is read with me or explain to me the games she is playing or activities she is doing. Often she just likes me to be there so she can just chat to me whilst she is busy doing things. Some days she will have a nap but some days she won’t, and often on the days she wont she gets tired and a bit manic by the afternoon. On the days that she won’t I find myself looking for a way to get her to stop for a few moments and be still – but all of those ways currently require me being there with her (i.e. reading, lying down with her,etc)or putting on the TV!

    We have cut out TV in the morning but I am sill letting her watch Playschool (an Australian show, not sure if they have the same in US?!) for 30 minutes in the afternoon if I need a break or to get some things done. As much as I would love to say that I am ready to give up cold turkey, I also know that I need to take care of myself and my sanity! Do you have any suggestions for ways that I can encourage her to have some independent quiet time that doesn’t involve turning to the TV?

    Sorry for the long post!
    Sarah

  15. avatar Liz says:

    I have a suggestion for Helena regarding the no-napping and her sickness/exhaustion. We went through a similar time while I was pregnant – our son was 2 1/2 and stopped napping. So, I started lying down with him at naptime after we read a little bit and he would usually fall asleep and I would get some much-needed rest also! We don’t do a family bed at night or anything, but it really helped the naptime. I will say that it was hard after the baby arrived and I could not always lie down with him at nap time, though I did when I could – and the rest was still much-needed. Also good alone time with him to help with the arrival of the new sibling.

    Good luck to her with the TV thing – we cut it out first thing in the morning, and really only have it on 1 movie night a week and then weekend mornings one 30 minute show. It was a little tough the first two or three days – lots of crying and screaming and feelings, but he is much happier and mornings go much smoother!

  16. avatar Evs says:

    I have a question about TV in morning routine.
    I will describe what it’s like now and ask question at the end.

    Firstly we don’t have a TV, just laptops. My almost 3.5 year old asks for videos in the morning and he watches 15 min total of videos on youtube with me sitting beside him (with coffee :) ). He usually watches “How its made” or cooking demonstrations.
    Then when after 15 min is over he tries begging for more but I don’t give in and try to calmly explain that he used his time up and he can watch more tomorrow (we usually have an upset episode in the evening because he wants to watch videos, but I say that he used the time up. Recently he started saying that he wants to keep some time saved for later but haven’t done this yet).
    He gets more videos when he is too ill to play. So we alternate between videos, books and sleeping it off.

    I noticed in your article you say that it is better to play in the morning instead of TV so getting ready is easier. I seem to have opposite experience – when TV is done it’s done (and the following 5 min of him trying to bargain), however when he starts morning play (which is lovely to watch) it is hard to pull him off it to go to daycare because it’s something elaborate and time-consuming, like building a fort or teddy bear picnic and he really gets into the flow and dragging him away is quite challenging.

    What I wonder about is whether I’m setting up a bad TV habit at the moment or not.
    I have also recently introduced “If you really want an extra video in the afternoon do an X housework job”.

    I can’t say we have a “problem”, but because his video watching only really strted a few months ago I’m really new to this “media and children” thing and I would like to set up a good system from the start.

  17. avatar Ildi Kovacs says:

    Agree with most things here – I haven’t had a TV in my house since I moved away from my parents 15 years ago. My son is 4 now, we never owned a TV, sometimes watch cartoons (average 1/week) on computer. He is great at independent play – AND he is awfully hard to get out the door in the mornings anyway – because he is busy playing whatever. So not sure if that will get much easier once TV is gone…

  18. avatar Amanda says:

    I certainly agree about not watching TV first thing in the morning. My 5 year old is miserable to be around for the rest of the day when he has any screen time during the 1 hour after he wakes up. We have a rule about no screens without asking. So if he asks to watch tv or play with my phone in the morning within an hour after waking, I tell him that it is too early, that it isn’t good for his brain to have screens this early.

    we also know he does better without any screens within an hour of bedtime, so i have an alarm on my phone for 1 hour before he goes to sleep and it reminds us all to turn screens off.

    since implementing these two limits, his mood is overall much improved and he also doesn’t ask for screens as often during the day. When he does ask, i usually let him have some time because i don’t want it to be a big deal.

    Some other things I do is that I only have educational games on my phone, encourage watching oeta kids (usually sesame street) instead of nick or disney, and encourage Wii Sports instead of just Mario Kart.

  19. avatar Grace says:

    Although I don’t agree allowing young children to watch TV for a long time, we do allow my son to watch TV in the morning. Yes in the morning – for half an hour. and in the evening for another half an hour. For us the things that work is consistency and personal authority (Janet called it conviction, resolve, fearlessness). He has a routine after he watches TV downstairs, he goes upstairs to get changed ready for the day (nursery some days, home on other days) or for bed in the evening. We don’t make a meal of it and he doesn’t. It’s time to go upstairs. It’s time to switch the TV off. He doesn’t struggle much now. He expressed his disappointment and said “I want to watch TV”. We told him “Of course you do. You still want to watch TV and you can do it tomorrow/later. right now it’s time for bed/getting ready.”. I would switch the TV off and offered my pointy finger for him to grab on and together we go upstairs or I carry him (transition to getting change both in the morning and in the evening). I don’t find him watching TV in the morning creates a problem for us or him to move to the next stage of the day. If he’s at home, after he gets dressed, he would go out to the garden typically and do his exploration or stay in his play room if he chooses. I am not saying it’s right or wrong to have TV in the morning. My point is that consistency, a clear expectation, and routine can assist a child on transitioning from a TV mode to a play mode. My son can switch between the 2 modes readily. He can completely ignore the TV and continue to play, and take himself out from play to watch 5 mins of TV, and back to play again.

Leave a Reply

©2014 Janet Lansbury  site design by Zaudhaus, Inc. | Riviera 4 Media
Pinterest