7 Ways to Cure your TV Addicted Toddler
Tips from a stay at home mum
When we first moved into our new home, my son Benedict was only 3 months old. As a new mother, my life revolved around caring for the needs of my son, settling the laundry, cleaning the home and cooking dinner. I had a lot of free time on hand and was constantly bored. In response to my gripes, my husband began a Netflix subscription.
It was wonderful. I spent the first two months watching House MD and Sherlock Holmes on Netflix. As I sauntered around the television, my son would spend his afternoon sleeping in my baby carrier.
Soon, my son was older and awake for more hours. Very serendipitously, I became acquainted with Netflix Kids. To me, it was the motherlode — a treasure trove of animated series targeted at children. I used it as my babysitter. My son loved the programmes. He was naturally drawn to the television and that freed up lots of time for me to complete all my housework and even partake in some hobbies like baking and sewing. Life was bliss. Motherhood was easy.
Nonetheless, I could not shake the guilt welling up inside of me. Deep inside, I knew that this could not be healthy for my son. The mothers in my community chatgroups regularly shared articles of children whose growth were impeded by too much television watching. Babycenter.com actually recommends only 1 hour of high quality screen time per day for children below the age of 18 months old. My son was getting much more than that. He was watching a good 4–5 hours of television a day.
One afternoon, I walked out of the kitchen and found that my son was sitting right in the middle of the couch with his eyes glued to the television. He was totally still and his eyes blinked only occasionally. He looked like a tiny zombie. I felt so guilty.
I knew that this television addiction had to come to an end. I needed to change. When it comes to toddler television addiction, parents and caregivers are to blame. Below are seven changes I implemented/recommend to help reduce the screen time of toddlers.
In my opinion the main reason why mothers stick their children in front of the television is that they are at a loss for activities to do. Not knowing what to fill their time up with, many mothers simply resort to the easier option — the big black box.
Hence, to solve the problem, one should not focus on keeping the television off. Instead, the focus should be placed on filling the day up with meaningful activities that could benefit both mother and child.
- Morning Walks
On the top of the list is morning walks. Buy a good and sturdy pram and make it a habit to bring your child out every morning for a good long walk. Take your time to admire the surroundings. Pause at any moment to point out interesting objects to your child.
Also, consider taking walks to the nearby supermarket to teach your child about the names of foods and grocery items. The world is your textbook. Seeing the objects first hand is far better than seeing them on television or on the pages of a story book.
2. Play dates
Get connected with the community and organise play dates with other mothers. This way, your child gets to interact with other children and you get to interact with other mothers. Playdates are a wonderful way to relieve stress for mothers and also to encourage the development of social skills in children.
3. Baby Led Weaning
A toddler typically sleeps 12–14 hours a day (including naptime). This means that they only have 10–12 waking hours a day. Subtract 2 hours of that time (morning walk time) and you will be left with only 8–10 hours of time left to fill with meaningful activities.
There are some parents who choose to park their toddlers in front of the television or tablet during meal times. The child’s eyes are usually glued to the screen as parents shove spoonfuls of food down their little throats. This manner of feeding usually lasts only fifteen to thirty minutes. It is fuss free and clean and hence, the preferred feeding method for most mothers.
To make meal time more meaningful (and longer), I recommend implementing baby led weaning. Baby led weaning is the practice of allowing your child to feed himself. The caregiver simply cuts up the food to bite-sized pieces and places it on a bowl/tray for the child to self feed.
Yes, the method of feeding will be messy at first, but soon, your child will be proficient at feeding herself. She will also be able to identify the foods fed to her. The dining table is now an informal classroom where your child gets to learn about the flavours, textures, scents and names of foods.
For Benedict, a baby led weaning meal typically lasts between 45 minutes to an hour. This is usually followed by bath time and clean up time (the time in which mummy cleans up the mess). The whole activity lasts between 1.5 to 2 hours.
When you consider the fact that a child eats three meals a day, the practice of baby led weaning actually occupies 4.5–6 hours of time. This helps greatly in meaningfully filling up the 8–10 hours of waking time a child has every day.
4. Extended Bath Times
This is an advice I recommend but do not implement. My son’s skin condition (i.e. eczema) prevents me from giving him long baths. However, I do recommend this activity as most children absolutely adore playing with water.
You simply fill a tub up with warm water and plop the baby in with a couple of containers and floating toys. Viola! A meaningful and fun activity is created! This activity can last anywhere between half an hour to an hour.
5. Home Based Enrichment Classes — Run by You!!
This activity was inspired by an enrichment class I attended some months back. Instead of continuing with the expensive enrichment classes, I decided to prepare my own enrichment class for Benedict.
Armed with a set of flash cards, picture books, rattle, toy truck, and colour bricks, I designed a slew of meaningful activities to entertain Benedict for up to an hour.
It is important to incorporate an element of involvement to keep him excited. An example of an activity could be to show your child two building blocks of different colours. Say out the colours slowly (“Blue, Red.”) and ask him to point at one of the colours (“Choose the blue one.”). This way, your child gets involved in his learning and is more likely to absorb what he has learned.
6. Visit the Playground
Visiting the playground is another wonderful activity to introduce to your child once she begins to walk. She will be exposed to other children at the playground and is hence able to pick up basic social skills. Together, the children will learn how to take their turns on the slide and how to work together to work the see saw.
A word of caution — it is important to pay constant attention to your child but also to keep a good distance to allow your child to interact with other children. A little bit of bullying by others is harmless. It is important to let him figure out simple social skills on his own.
7. Visit the Library
Bringing your child to the library is wonderful as it exposes your child to a wide range of books. Not only will he be able to assist you in the choosing of his reading materials, he will also observe other children and adults reading in the library. This goes a long way in building up a lifelong habit of reading in your child.
As with most things, there is a trade off to this method of child-rearing. During the child’s waking hours, there will be little time left for the caregiver to pursue other hobbies (i.e. baking, sewing, writing). This bothered me for awhile. I wanted to have some time to pursue my hobbies as well.
However, upon further thought. I came to this conclusion — What is the outcome of a baking session? A nice cake. What is the outcome of a sewing session? A nice new piece of garment. Is my son’s well being and development more important than all the cakes and garments in the world? YES!
I implemented these steps and never looked back. Yes, it is true that my son still watches television from time to time. But after I began implementing these tips, the screen time has reduced greatly.
I hope these tricks will be helpful to you. I look forward to sharing more tips with you in future.