When Family Disagrees With Limiting TV

A mom shared about some family challenges she’s facing and asked for my advice.

“I enjoyed reading this post about fostering solo play even though my LO is 14 months. I have tried to foster her interest in independent play by creating a safe space in our home that she can roam around and she has responded quite well. It’s not unheard of for her to play by herself for 45-1hr.

My issue lies with not having much support from my family and sometimes my husband with this approach. My husband doesn’t object to her playing on the floor with toys. However, he feels that there is nothing “wrong” with watching television….his reasoning is “I grew up watching a lot of television and I’m fine.” Case in point today I came down to find that he had turned on the toddler channel and she was sitting on the floor staring transfixed at the tv. I asked him to turn it off, which he did immediately, but it just highlights to me that he doesn’t feel as strongly about television being totally unnecessary.

I have the same issues with the in-laws…They feel that LO is missing out because she is not watching t.v. They don’t believe that she should be left to play on the floor but rather put in her “pack n’ play” They are terrified of her falling and hurting herself and so don’t really let her pull up or try and take steps…I’ve had to tell them to calm down on several occasions because they were terrified about the possibility of my daughter “breaking her head” on a piece of furniture she was trying to pull up on. Don’t get me wrong, I want her to be safe, but I don’t want her to be afraid to try things because she’s scared.

Any suggestions on getting the family more in line with this approach to parenting? We have nieces and nephews who have grown up in this very protective environment, (one who is 20 “scared” and really needs her mom to help her with most situations that are outside of family interactions). I don’t want to say hey.. look at so and so she can’t even handle taking the bus at 20…that’s why I’m raising my daughter this way.

Sorry this has turned into a vent. We spend a lot of time with extended family and I am constantly defending my decisions. I don’t want her to be afraid, I really want her to be independent and resilient. Any advice would be appreciated!”


Please don’t ever worry about venting here! I understand your frustration. Parenting a toddler is challenging enough without having to defend your choices to others, feel like they are disregarded, or even undermined rather than respected.  Your daughter’s flourishing ability to play independently for such an extended period of time is a fantastic accomplishment and a treasure that you should continue to protect.  As you know, giving her TV time at such an early age can undermine it.  I applaud your determination and perseverance.

The trick is to help your husband (and maybe even your in-laws) understand the enormous value of inner-directed playtime the way you do. Her ability to entertain herself makes TV unnecessary (as you say) and is the healthiest imaginable way for her to spend her day.  My husband and I still tiptoe around when our eight year old son is drawing, making forts, or playing with his soldiers, knights or monsters, so that we don’t interrupt. We know how vastly important and therapeutic this kind of play is for him, especially as balance for all the time he now spends playing sports, socializing and watching TV (which we only allow on weekend evenings during the school year).

I don’t doubt your husband turned out fine, but I’m sure he wants to give your daughter every advantage he can. Every study I’ve read concludes that children are better off physically, cognitively, socially, creatively, even emotionally when media use is delayed past toddlerhood and then limited. I highly recommend the book, Endangered Minds, by Jane Healy, PH.D., which explores the affects of early TV use on the developing brain, especially its affect on listening, focus and attention skills. Doesn’t every daddy want his girl to be not only “fine”, but to live up to her intellectual, creative and physical potential?

By the way, the idea that children “miss out” when they don’t watch TV shows or movies is a total fallacy. You’ll realize the tremendous power of marketing when your 2 or 3 year old has intimate knowledge of every TV and movie cartoon character — without ever having seen the shows!  Children are easily caught up later when they are old enough to begin to truly understand the concept of TV and are able to watch more actively and appreciatively. There is NO downside to holding off on TV.

To help your husband and in-laws get on board with playtime, TV use, natural gross motor development and your daughter’s need to practice it, or any parenting choice you make, take the most positive approach possible. No one listens when they feel criticized. And whether it’s your spouse, extended family, a friend or even a professional caregiver, caring for children is something people seem to take very personally (especially if they’ve cared for their own children as your in-laws have).

So, rather than say, “I don’t want her to watch TV”. Or, “She’s working on standing. Please let her be. She’s fine.” I might say something like, “I’m trying some things I’ve been learning about and they’re working. I want to try giving her a couple of years to learn through play before we start TV. It’s so fun to watch what she does. I know this is different from what you did, but I’m really hoping you’ll try this with me. ”

Then be sure to report all the good stories, like the time your daughter fell three times from a standing position on the floor, but picked herself up, tried again, and on the fourth try…she stood for five seconds, and the look of satisfaction on her face was priceless.  Or, mention the way your daughter seemed a little unsettled, and the thought of entertaining her with TV crossed your mind, but you waited, and she eventually crawled towards her basket of board books and spent a long time looking at them one-by-one upside down.

Keep in mind that because of all the time your daughter spends in your care, you will always have the most profound influence on her development. I feel certain she’ll be the self-confident, independent, resilient girl you are helping her to become. So, don’t waste your energy being on the defensive. Stay positive. Ask your family to try observing your daughter when she plays.  Sometimes when we see it with our own eyes it suddenly makes sense.

(My husband was a little opinionated and stubborn about parenting at first, but he soon began to see the wisdom in facilitating natural development rather than teaching, stimulating or directing our baby. Here’s his story: Respecting My Baby (An End To The Daddy Doo Dah Dance)

Hang in there!

All the best,


(Photo by r. nial bradshaw on Flickr)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I am totally in your camp on how to manage limited tv for a toddler.

    We struggled with differing lifestyles with my parents, too, when our children were young. Winning-over a husband to a parenting style is different from the grandparents and the former helps the latter, I think.

    Just offering another approach (not necessarily better) to the grandparents – asking them if they received advice from their own parents and how they felt about that advice.

    1. Thanks, Barbara.

      Yes, getting a husband on board is different, and it’s obviously much more important.

      I like your idea for the grandparents as part of a nice, relaxed conversation over a cup of tea.

  2. Thanks a lot for the advice. I was having a particularly hard day that day, as we had just come off a few days with the inlaws and we had the tv “incident” with daddy in the morning. I’ll definitely try not being defensive and see if the “clash” between our parenting styles diffuses. I mean daddy and inlaws really do just want the best for her.

    I especially like your idea of reporting all of the positive stories. I don’t usually do that unless it’s a big milestone, but hey the small stuff needs to be celebrated too. I’m so proud of her. As I type she is playing with her stacking cups on the floor and singing her own made up song. I’m glad I found your blog.

    1. Thanks so much for allowing me to share your story, Suzan. You sound like an especially great mom.

    2. Its also worth highlighting to them how much tv has changed since your partner was a child. It might not have occurred to them that what he watched was probably far calmer, less realistic and less addictive than what is available now. Also the fact that childrens television is available 24 hrs a day makes a huge difference, as when a child is old enough to work the remote themselfs there will always be something for them to watch, whereas maybe when he was a kid he had far less choice and so would move himself from the tv to do something else when it finished. I think the odd program here and there isnt bad at all, but the danger of falling into using it more and more and your child becoming addicted and affected by it is so easy that its far better to just avoid it altogether! I know so many mothers who started off with a no tv policy when their babies were small who somehow or other now have little tv kids because its just too easy and parenting is so hard a lot of the time…me included!

  3. Maybe this is not the nicest approach but I don’t feel the grandparents have a say in how my daughter will be raised, and that comes across in how I talk about how we will raise her. I “state” that we will not have a TV or do TV-time. If anyone thinks otherwise, they have to convince me, not the other way around and that really comes across when I talk. No hesitation, no self explanation. I really don’t feel I have to explain myself to anyone other than my boyfriend. My typical response to everyone else is “why?” or a polite but firm end-of-the-discussion “no”. (I might need to add I’m on very god terms with my friends and in-laws).

    I really feel that trying to explain yourself just gives the impression you are not sure. And that invites all sorts of unwarranted advice. I just state what I will do and gladly answer questions when they come.

    Another approach is to tell a story or incident beforehand about some unwanted activity. The other day I told the grandma-to-be about a mom I saw that hovered over her toddler should he fall, how weird is that! Kids are supposed to fall (that’s what they have chubby butts for). That poor kid will have a hard time learning to take any steps without someone holding their hand.
    Call it preemptive strike 🙂 She (my MiL) was a bit taken aback for a second about my opinion but slowly agreed.

    1. Like how you found a non-confrontational way to express your point of view to your mother-in-law. You’re smart to do it in advance!

  4. Magdalena Palencia says:

    I think that in addition to reading the book by Dr. Healy, the author of the letter might consider reading your post titled “Accepting Grandparents.” (https://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/05/accepting-grandparents-good-intentions-with-humble-apologies-to-my-father-in-law/ ) I think in that post you do a wonderful job of explaining a good way to approach relatives that interact with your child in a way that differs from yours. Generally speaking confrontationally rarely leads to anything productive, but since you are dealing with family members, they will probably learn better if they see you in action with your child. In my work with different families in spite of getting similar resistance from all sides, I was able to demonstrate through the practice of the RIE methods with the child instead of resorting to lengthy explanations or uncomfortable confrontation. This way the results speak for themselves and the child benefits, which is the main goal of all of this.

    1. Magdalena, thanks! My experience as a teacher (and student of Magda Gerber) is similar to yours working with families. I have found that we all learn best when we can see an example, a demonstration, rather than being told what to do (or not do).

  5. These are all good posts to read. I have a hard time with my husband at times trying to instill the idea that if she is playing happily by herself please don’t interrupt her or show her something else. Often he can be on his computer and when he’s done (i.e. he’s done playing by himself) he suddenly decides he wants to play too and can take over what she is doing. Its great he wants to play with her but I know in my heart its better for her to learn she can play by herself and in turn learn to focus for longer periods of time. Its going to help so much when she enters preschool.

    He really is a fantastic dad. He does try I know and he doesn’t dispute what I am saying, its just that its often about him and not Saoirse.

    I just have to be patient. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Natalia. I agree with you, but I also understand your husband’s point of view. We get excited about connecting with our babies! It’s hard to resist interrupting, especially if what the baby is doing doesn’t look all that important to us. Share with your husband a story about when you thought your daughter would do “such in such” with a toy, and you were just about to help her do it when she ended up doing something far more interesting. That’s happened to me about a zillion times.

      Just today in class, a mom was telling me how her two year old boy was placing letters in his wooden letter puzzle wrong side up to see which ones would fit, (i.e., the letters O and A, but not P.)

      It’s so great that you’re patient. 🙂

  6. Janet, thanks for the comment you wrote on my blog. I enjoy your blog and all the great advice you have on caring for infants. I’d love to focus more of my work on infants, but haven’t had the opportunity yet. I’m also glad our paths have crossed.

  7. My MIL also has this weird thing that my son ‘should’ be watching more TV (he’s 3 1/2). It’s so strange, I really don’t understand it. Luckily, she lives on another continent, so I don’t worry about it, and I figure that for the week or so a year that we’re staying there he can watch it if he wants. I think part of it is a bit defensive because my SIL has always sat her kids down in front of the tv, even when they were babies.

    1. I should add that he doesn’t really watch any TV at all, and she thinks he should, I suppose!

  8. I’m really enjoying your commentary on these issues of different parenting styles. Do you have any posts on dealing with raising a bilingual child, and the sometimes left-out feelings (and other feelings!) that come with being around the other family in the other language? Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Elise. No, I don’t have a post about that… It’s a great idea, though. Can you share with me some specific feelings and incidents?

  9. This mom and I must have the same in-laws!!! I know all of these feelings! Every Sunday I get gasps and complaints. I usually say something like “we didn’t come over to watch t.v., we came over to visit you and so A can play with his is cousins.” Noone can usually argue with that…bc it’s true after all. And I totally agree with Janet, my son knows all of the characters from T.V… commerical/advertising power is crazy!! Some times I even ask him how he knows?! I especially hate when we he mentions sponge bob…as if I would ever let the show near a screen in my home.

  10. Is there any research that has followed children into adulthood who were raised with these “newer” techniques?

  11. I desperately needed to see this article today! My family is dealing with this exact issue now, and I’m really struggling with it. My husband and in-laws were raised with lots of TV, and they have said also that my 3 year old daughter and 1 year old son should be watching more. About a week ago, my daughter wouldn’t take her nap and ended up watching TV with dad. I was cooking dinner and doing other chores around the house and I realized she had been watching for quite awhile. I went into the TV room where my daughter was now watching alone, and said “You have been watching TV for a couple hours now, so I think it’s time to turn it off. It’s almost time for dinner anyway.” From another room, my husband told me that she was in the middle of a show and he thought it was rude that I had turned it off. When I went back downstairs to finish dinner, he put the movie back on for her. Since then, on two other occasions, I have paused a show or turned it off so that my daughter could eat lunch or take a nap, and he has turned the show back on after she cried to him, “Mommy turned off my show.” Obviously, this feels incredibly disrespectful to me, and seeing my wonderful little daughter being taught to manipulate us is killing me. It’s very frustrating, and I’m almost looking forward to next month when my kids will be in daycare full time and their TV time will be limited to when they are at home with my husband.

  12. Hello!
    I’ve had a similar tug-o-war with my partner/in-laws around TV… they even sleep with it on. One of the strategies I’ve been using lately is to leave music on (all day! At my house it is often commercial free cbc radio) but I find it becomes far less of an issue, and I have managed to discreetly change in-grained habbits easily, and without too much notice. given this isn’t a completely ‘media-free’ approach… But I have WAY more control over the kid friendly play list, than over the TV.

  13. This was reassuring to read! We’re in a similar place, but have gotten to the point where we’ve had to say consistently “I don’t want him to watch tv or use your devices.” The gentle approach got an “oh of course” but absolutely no respect. Unfortunately, his grandmother stays with us every other week and it’s extremely disruptive. We’re having these conversations weekly.

  14. Reading this just helped me realize how independent and resilient my child has become because of RIE! I am so happy to have found this method. It is truly wonderful! Plus – great tips on aharing with family without being pushy!

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