You know how before you become a parent you have all kinds of visions and ideals of what kind of parent you will be?
But when you are having those visions, you have no clue what the day-to-day reality of parenting actually feels like. You don’t take into account that maintaining all those ideals requires a ton of energy, but that becoming a parent means that you will be perpetually energy-deprived for the next gazillion years. That all those sleepless nights and constantly prioritizing your kids’ needs over your own will push you to your limits in ways that you can’t possibly imagine.
Case in point: kids and screen time. In my pre-actual-parent vision, my kids were going to watch very little TV. Maybe not at all. Maybe some carefully selected movies with important life lessons that we would all watch together as a family. Once a month max.
Wanna know what happened in real life? 😉
In real life, my first-born daughter didn’t watch any TV for the first two plus years of her life. Then I got pregnant with twins. I was morning sick times two, exhausted, and in charge of entertaining the world’s wildest two-year-old every afternoon.
Guess who came to my rescue?
Dora and Caillou.
To later be joined by Diego, Sophia, Doc, Arthur, Bob, and Sid.
And Chase, of course, is always on the case.
My new best friends became a daily fixture in our household, giving me the few moments of peace to catch my breath, to take a shower, to get dinner on the table quickly without helpers.
Screen time was here to stay.
With seven plus years of parenting now under my belt, I have long ago given up on my perfectionist super mom ideals. I can’t do it all and I can’t be on 24/7. But at the same time, I haven’t given up on trying to find the sweet spot somewhere between super mom and total slacker.
What this means in practice is that my kids do watch TV and play computer games, but I try to keep the amount of screen time within reasonable limits. This hasn’t been an easy feat, but after some struggles, I have found five strategies that have helped me reduce screen time without me having to turn into super mom. 😉
1. Limits And Routines
One thing that’s tricky is that if you let your kids watch some TV, they will always want more of it. It’s like eating Pringles. Once you pop, you can’t stop. One way to reduce the whining for more TV time is to establish clear routines and expectations. Here are a few ways to accomplish this:
- Only let kids watch TV at certain times of the day. They will quickly catch on to the fact that “we only watch TV right after lunch” or “we only watch TV between dinner and bath time”.
- Set a timer. When the timer goes off, screen time is over.
- For kids who are old enough to recognize numbers, teach them to look at a clock. My four-year-olds know that if the digital clock on the oven has a 2 on it, it’s time to turn the TV off and start quiet time.
2. Activity List
When kids are bored and whiny and running around like maniacs, TV is such an easy fix. But there is an alternative! A few months ago, I compiled a long list of 50 plus activities for my kids. Whenever my boredom detection radar goes off, I read this list out loud to give them ideas for things to do or toys to play with. And it works remarkably well. Probably 99 percent of the time, something from the list will spark their interest. And when they get tired of that activity, we just read the list again.
If you’d like to use our list as a starting point for your own list, you can find it by clicking here.
3. Organized Activities
Something I discovered fairly soon after becoming a parent is that entertaining kids is not one of my natural talents. I can rally, but it’s not something that comes to me easily or something I can keep up all day every day. Fortunately though, my kids can still take advantage of all the other amazing peeps out there who DO have a knack for leading kid activities and keeping the little ones engaged. Library classes, parks and rec activities, sports teams, dance classes, after school clubs… The possibilities are endless. And every hour your kid spends engaged in an extracurricular activity is an hour they are not glued to a screen.
4. Earned Screen Time
Another strategy I’ve had fairly good success with is making screen time an earned privilege. This is a simple tactic:
- If you play outside for an hour, you can play computer games for a half hour.
- Let’s do art until the timer goes off and then we can watch one show.
5. Audio Books
The most recent addition to my screen-time-reduction arsenal is audio books. Thanks to the Magic Tree House series, we just completed a 9-hour car drive twice without hardly any whining or complaining.* I was so excited about this discovery I’m trying to restrain myself from ordering every kids’ audio book ever recorded right this second, but once we discover more good ones, I’ll add my recommendations here.
What about you? Do you find it hard to keep kids away from the TV? Do you have any tips to add to my list? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. 🙂
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