Before you start worrying what Class A drugs I’ve let her dabble with, let me just clarify that her addiction is to something entirely legal and available from numerous reputable organisations – including the BBC. Yes, our perfectly legal fix is kids telly. Not only is it legal, it’s available round the clock on numerous different channels , so it must be totally harmless, right? Personally, as I’ve written about previously, I’m starting to have my doubts.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children aged between two and six years old watch only one to two hours of “quality media entertainment” a day (So that’s Waybuloo out for starters). I’ve not found any such clear-cut guidance from UK based websites, however this report from the BBC in 2013 suggests that “too much TV does not breed badly behaved children” (But then a broadcaster with two dedicated kids channels running 12 hours a day would say that, wouldn’t they?) (And TV can’t “breed” kids of any behavioural type, surely? We’re talking nurture not nature here I think? Sorry, being pedantic.).
Personally, I’ve always used TV to keep both 3YO and 10YO entertained while I have a shower in the morning, attempt to cook them reasonably healthy meals, and do a bit of tidying and cleaning so that they’re not living in complete squalor. Unfortunately, the temptation is to use TV so that you can get on with laundry, unpacking the shopping, making a phone-call… before you know it, you’re parking them in front of the telly at any opportunity so you can get on with all the tasks that having kids can distract you from. And then, of course, they’re absorbed in what they’re watching, so the telly stays on…. This is the scenario that has gradually crept up in our house, to the extent that 3YO now largely ignores the wide range of educational and creative toys available in our front room, in favour of lounging in front of the TV. Matters came to a head yesterday when, during an eagerly anticipated visit from a nursery friend, my little addict crept away to put the TV on while her friend was playing in the garden.
So today the TV was turned off (at the plug, which is inaccessible to her) and all requests were firmly resisted. It started well. We got the toy pirates out, and sat down together helping them have sword fights, walk the plank, climb the rigging and then retire to the bed from the doll’s house for a nap. After a sleep, hungry pirates clearly need breakfast, so while I hung out the washing on the line, 3YO retrieved her tea-set from the play house in the back garden and knocked up some plastic food on plastic plates for the pirates. So far, so creative. And no mention of TV.
After drawing chalk pictures on the back door step, and practising writing her name a few times, it was getting towards lunchtime. Sensing that I might be going to cook, she asked if she could put the TV on. I refused. Offered a choice of alternative activities while I got lunch ready. This led to tears, noisy demands for telly and ultimately a few toys hurled at me.
The ‘naughty step’ has never much worked for 3YO (although it’s scarily impressive watching her trying to smash down the nearest door to escape!) so with a sudden inspiration I told her to go to her room and stay there until she could be calm and quiet and didn’t want to hurt me anymore. She stamped off upstairs and within minutes was back, proudly announcing that she’d dried her eyes with a tissue, and was ready to be calm and quiet. Result! She then proceeded to sit at the table and eat lunch without any of the usual kicking off, and after eating, we went straight into baking jam tarts, which went very smoothly until the tarts went into the oven…
At which point, cue more pleading for TV… normally I would say yes, as it allows me 10 minutes to tidy the kitchen. It’s not surprising therefore, that being denied TV on this occasion led to more tears and rage. I tried my earlier trick of taking her to her room to calm down…. And when I checked her five minutes later she was fast asleep!
Now, 3YO doesn’t normally have – or need – afternoon sleeps. But this impromptu nap got me thinking: is her habitual request for telly during the day really just a request for some ‘down time’, to have a break from engaging, interacting, learning and doing? Until the point she fell asleep, she and I had been chatting non-stop pretty much all day. Maybe she’d just had enough of me, and needed some time to herself?
We all know it’s mentally draining for parents to spend the whole day just in the company of their child. But today 3YO has taught me that one-to-one quality time with a parent can also be tiring for little ones! Normally her days are much busier than today, meeting friends, going shopping or to nursery. But I’m wondering how I can best teach her to play by herself for short periods, so that on the occasional days when we’re home alone, she has an alternative to TV when she needs to relax and slow down? And what would be the best thing to encourage her to do? I’d really love to hear other parents’ suggestions on this one!