Guest Post by Morgan at The Diet Coke Diet
I absolutely must start this with a clarification: You do not have to ban TV and DVDs forever if you choose to “unplug.” You can use the following tips to eliminate or cut back on TV watching and video games. Only you know what your children need.
We all know that kids need fresh air, fun projects, free play time and lots of time reading books. But personally, I have found (and maybe you have too) that if I am not very careful about how and when I use television or DVDs, it becomes my go-to — my cure-all for rough days, for busy days, for lazy days, for sick days. It’s just quick and easy.
In my case, there was no cable needed. Good old PBS kids + a TIVO was just enough for an unfortunate television addiction. So, I decided to undo what I had done. I unplugged my kids, and I did it in one day. Cold turkey.
Before you do it:
Make sure your spouse (and all caregivers) are on board.
First and foremost, your spouse must be on board and willing to uphold the new regime. If the kids know as soon as you walk out the door that Daddy will turn on the television, you will not be successful long-term. If you and your partner can have plans together on how to handle tough moments, you’ll be stronger and more prepared for road bumps. You have to be a united front; it’s vital.
You need to know when you as the parent are at your weakest and more likely to turn on the tube. You also need to identify when your kids get whiny and start asking for the television. That way you’ll be prepared to confront those moments. For example, if you always use TV while you shower and get ready for the day, try showering at night, or getting up before the kids. You can enlist your partner in this too.
Part of planning ahead is carefully deciding when to end the TV habit. If you choose to turn off the TV on a rainy, freezing cold day, you’ll have a much more difficult time of it than if you choose a warm, beautiful day. You’re going to need to use the outdoors to your advantage.
Young children thrive on routine, and they recognize and depend on TV time just as much as you do. To be successful, you’re going to need to have alternative activities planned and scheduled for the times when you usually use television. Fun and engaging activities keep little ones occupied so they don’t miss the TV.
1. If the TV always goes on first thing in the morning, try to get plenty of sleep the night before so you can get up and get going rather than turn on cartoons and go back to bed.
Start your day with breakfast instead of TV. If that isn’t an option, provide your kids with a basket of toys and books for the morning time so you don’t have to get up before you’re ready. Carefully select toys and books that won’t be destructive or noisy.
2. If your weakness is to turn on the TV for your preschooler during the baby’s nap, then get play dough, crayons, pipe cleaners and other simple craft supplies and set up special “Quiet Time” play opportunities. That way, your preschooler will be so excited to do “new” things with you that the loss of his movie time won’t bug him as much.
3. If you tend to turn the TV on to beat the afternoon blahs, turn to the outdoors (this is where a nice day is key to unplugging). Children need fresh air almost as much as they need food.
Kids who spend all day in school (even when recess is included) need the freedom to run and jump and twirl without structure. Preschoolers need to learn motor skills. Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. I completely believe that media is a key component to that.
Fresh air is vital. If you’re home all day with preschool children, the minute you start to feel your fingers itch for the remote, hit the playground or the back yard. Get up, get out! GO!
4. If you just want to check your email and write a blog post, and your kids bug you unless they are plugged in, carve out time once the wee ones are in bed to be on the computer for an hour. If that’s not an option, provide them with fun activities right next to you, such as drawing or puzzles, so they aren’t feeling like they need to be obnoxious just for attention. Keep computer time to a minimum to avoid disasters.
5. If your hard time is when you’re trying to prepare dinner, have a family pow-wow in the kitchen. Have the older kids do their homework and tell you about their day, and the younger ones “help” you with dinner.
Tupperware and spoons with some dry rice or noodles can seriously entertain a toddler for quite a while. You can also enlist older kids to read stories to younger ones. Anytime you can replace TV-watching with book-reading, you’re doing a good job. Visit the library one afternoon a week to keep the literature new and interesting.
6. If your children are old enough, use the late afternoon to help children enhance talents or hobbies. Art, music, photography, dance, scrapbooking, and writing are all great things to do instead of television-watching. This is also an excellent time for school-aged kids to practice those instruments or whatever skills they are working on. If you can stand to listen to violin practice and provide feedback while the pork chops broil, then you’re in a great place!
7. If you use TV at the end of the day for a treat or to unwind, replace it with family game night. Games like Apples to Apples or Cranium are fun for all ages. Toddlers who are too small to play are usually content to hold a game piece and feel like they are participating. Books before bed are always a nice, quiet way to end the day as well.
8. If you are used to having the TV on all day as background — or to watch shows you like — you can replace the noise with music from an Mp3 player or CDs.
By the end of a no-TV day, you will be so tired, and yet you will feel so gratified! You did it! You actually did not turn on the TV for your children even once. If you feel like it, do it again tomorrow. It gets easier every single day.
But let’s get real here: Kids who have been raised on a steady diet of lots of television or DVDs are not going to give it up easily. Older kids, especially, are going to notice the lack of television. They are going to complain, they might even weep and wail and gnash their teeth.
Decide what’s right for you and your family
You can decide what works for you, but I suggest having them earn their media time (I say media because you can apply all the above to computer time as well). They want a half hour of media? Then they have to practice piano for 30 minutes.
Use chores or homework to earn their time. This teaches them that media is a privilege, not a right. If you really want to undo media entirely, then have open discussions about your feelings and why you’ve made this choice for them. Since families are not democracies, they do not have to agree, or like it. They’ll adjust. Really, they will.
Don’t cave. It’s just one day at a time. Be strong.
Children absorb media, even if they aren’t specifically paying attention. Bad language and violence affects them, even if they are not directly watching. If you find that the TV habit is yours to break, then apply similar tactics for yourself.
I’ll repeat this point: Unplugging does not mean sledge-hammering your television. I still turn on the TV probably three days out of a week. However, there are days (or a string of days) when the kids don’t watch anything. Those tend to be the best days.
Morgan writes real, do-able how-tos for life with zero money and zero time at www.thedietcokediet.com. She mothers three boys, a dog and wifes a really nice guy. She lives south of Salt Lake City, UT and looks forward to the day when her husband finishes school. She is a doula in her spare time.
photo credit: Mike Baird; DebCll; D14BLO