Despite all the negative outcomes of watching television, there are many positive influences that overcome it. Television provides the most entertaining and educational aspect to the children. They can learn about art, science and technology. They can learn about different cultures and travel across the world by sitting in front of the television. TV provide a varsity of experiences and helps them explore so many options. So as parents what can we do to make sure our child benefits from TV viewing. We need to step in and set a certain ground rules when it comes to watching TV.
Ways in which you can make sure your child benefits from TV viewing
Allow TV viewing only at certain times
Please DO NOT Allow your child to eat and watch TV ta the same. No child benefits from TV viewing while eating food. This is because the child who is watching something cannot pay attention to what they are eating and their hunger. They might not even pay attention to the amount of food they are eating. Eating should be family thing. Everyone should sit and eat together discussing about their day.
Also, when you have house guests or play dates tell them watching TV is not an option. Let them play with other children and learn to interact with guests. This ill help them learn communication and social skills which will prove helpful to them in future. No television times when there are holidays, family functions etc. Allowing TV time when the child is free (finished his homework, or done playing outside and have some time to spare before next routine) will help them learn that watching TV is to related to any other activity in their life. They will learn that it is just another fun activity along with all others.
Sit and watch together so your child benefits from TV viewing
Make TV time a “Family Activity”. You or your partner can sit with the child and watch with them. This might give you chance to interact with your little one as the show progresses. Ask them questions about something they are watching on the screen. For example “Can you tell me the colour of the car on the road?”, “Can you tell me which animal is that?” etc. This will prevent them from going into a trance like state while watching. If you keep this general habit of asking questions related to something you are watching, they might learn to start asking questions of their own as they grow. Consequently avoiding couch potato syndrome in their future too.
Set and Stick to limits
Parents need to set a certain limits while watching the TV. You need to set rules like the child can watch only one show or for half hour and then they need to start doing something else. You have to be firm about this. When the show is over, switch off the television to make sure they know you are serious about limits. (“Setting rules is one thing, sticking to it is another!!”). Keep some interesting activity planned for after TV so the transition from TV to other activity will be smoother. You involve yourself with them until they start accepting the limits.
These limits might need to be extended on “Special Days” like when the child is sick, when the child has gone through some trauma, life changing event for child. In such cases you can extend the TV times to help them relax. But make sure you let your child know that it is only for the “Special” days.
Establish Sensible limits now
If you haven’t yet set any limits for TV time then NOW would be the right time to start. As the child grows they become adamant and set in getting their ways. It is a good idea to set a certain sensible limits for the TV viewing for the child before he or she starts school.
Before two years you need not give them any TV time at all (Recommended by AAP and many other pediatricians). But after two years you can select the shows your toddler will watch until they are old enough to choose. Once they grow give them two or three options at max and let them know they can watch one out of the three and no other. Even after 2 years half hour a day is more than enough entertainment for the child.
On somedays you might need to stretch the limits for reasons like the child is sick or it might be a rainy day, preventing them from playing outside. But if you let a child watch for hours, the child who needs to be “doing more” than watching it might cause developmental delays.
Make TV viewing interacting
Once you are done watching the TV with your child, ask questions about the show. Help them draw the characters. In their free time help them create an imaginary play about the characters they love in the show. Ask them to enact a few characters. Soon enough they will surprise you with dialogues of their own. Take your own time making your own shows with the child. Record it and show it to them later. Both of you will surely have fun!!
Pay a lots of attention to your child and Do not substitute TV for your attention
Attention is what a child thrives on. All a child wants right from day 1 (birth) is complete attention from the parents and other primary caregivers. When you pay attention to your child and spend time with them they need no other thing to entertain themselves. Time spent playing (getting on their level) is what they need for optimal growth in physical, social and intellectual development.
In case you are unable to give them your complete attention do not substitute in with TV viewing. You can set up play dates or other interesting activities for them to engage them. When your child is cranky, upset try to find the reason behind it and deal with it instead of switching on the screen. Sure thing it is easier to turn on the idiot box (quickest distraction), but they are learning to distract from their problems and not dealing with them.
TV should not be a privilege
TV time should be an activity for the children. It should not be used as bribe to get them to do something (e.g. If you finish your food, you can watch TV etc). Also it should not be used as a punishment. (e.g. You are not listening to what is being told to you so your TV time is cancelled)
Children see and learn, so set a positive example
Children do not listen to what you are saying, they do what you are doing. So if you want them to view TV responsibly and if you want your children to benefit from TV viewing you need to set example yourself. You need to show them what responsible viewing is. Parents should not be switching on the TV for some background noise and keep it on just for the sake of it. You need to watch a certain show and switch it off once it’s done. Kids will learn to limit themselves too. If you need background noise (do not like the quiet) turn to radio for some music, news, weather report etc.
Select the shows for the child to benefit from TV viewing
You should be the one selecting shows for your children to watch so that they can benefit from that TV viewing. Select a variety of shows which children can benefit from e.g. rhymes when they are infants, art and science shows as they grow, animal and geographic shows when they are old enough to understand. Generally as kids grow if you ask them to watch a certain show, they might say No. So instead give them two to three choices, they think they have the power to choose and will end up watching something of your choice.
Before you select the shows, you should watch the shows to make sure they are not teaching any violent stuff or any negative aspects. Check programs which do not give any advertisements. (Children do not need to see these ads, they are not really benefitting from it.)
Counteract the negative setback of TV
If your child has been watching too much TV due to any reasons. Do not worry !! All the negative setbacks that have happened can be changed and corrected in very easy and simple ways.
Turning the family focus away from TV
Spend time on family activities like swimming, gardening, cooking, visiting Zoo or museum etc together as a family. When the focus shifts from TV to family gradually the children will start enjoying the other activities. If all of you are watching TV together have a discussion about the show or play board games side by side. This will keep the children getting completely engrossed in the TV.
Building Toddler Diet
Toddler needs to have healthy diet and healthy exercise time daily right from beginning for them to grow properly. When we inculcate these values right from beginning it generally turns into a habit. Gradually they will develop a healthy kind of lifestyle.
Teaching them values
Discuss the values “good” and “bad” with your children. Take examples from the shows. Let them know when some character from the show behaved in a good manner. Help them understand that bad behavior always hurts someone or themselves at some point. When we say we have to help them learn the values, we should make sure we are following the same values as well.
Stimulating creativity and intellectual development
Use TV to build their creative imagination. Make craft items similar to the ones used in a show. Make a puppet and say the dialogue of their favourite character. Let them know how things are done in the shows they are watching. If you are watching science shows, perform those experiments with them at home (simple ones). This will spike child’s interest in Science. Try to help them understand the sequence of the show. What is going on in the show and explain why is it happening? This will boost intellectual development in children and makes sure your children benefit from TV viewing. You need to encourage thinking, learning, imagination and creativity.
Understanding and fulfilling emotional needs
The most important need of every child in this world (apart from basic necessities) is “Emotions”. Children are too young and innocent to understand their emotions. They do not know what they are feeling. Distracting their emotions with TV might be destructive for them in future. What every parents needs to do is in such cases of emotional need or emotional breakdown, you need to sit on their level and help them recognize child’s emotion, feel it and let it pass. For example “You need to help them understand that confusing and scary emotion they feel is anger. You should not say anything or act when you are angry. “
Discussion about violence
If the children are exposed to violence on TV, parents need to help them understand that “Violence” is not okay. Violence hurts and as the child knows hurting is sad for everyone. Certain kids are not that sensitive to violence, but a few kids are very sensitive and can imagine violent things happening to them or their loved ones. Suppose your child watches a scary news story about fire, you might need to give them a comforting explanation like “Most of the people are okay. Sometimes fire incident happens and explain them what needs to be done in such cases.”. You can explain them that a person hurting someone else is a bad man.