Thursday, July 2, 2015

Go Screen-free in Two Steps

I have written about the process I have been going through to reduce screen time for my children. Our problems with screens started when I introduced it to my 1 year old. It escalated. I changed some things. It escalated again. I eliminated them. I reintroduced screens. And now I am vigilant about regulating the time my children spend in front of TV programming or our iPad.

I have seen the "conversation" on Facebook and other social media about whether or not to control screen time for young children. How some children seem fine with a daily dose. How some children are terrified of the things the see. How some parents have come to rely on that peace and quiet that comes when your children are engrossed in a TV show or game. Some of it is judgmental and some of it isn't. I am not writing this post to prattle on about recommendations for development or anything like that. I am writing to encourage you to look at your life and take control of it.

Step 1: Determine if you have a problem and, if so, what it is.
We had daily disputes over screens. The first problem was the immediate craziness that happened directly after turning the TV off. The bickering. The inability to go play by themselves. It was driving us all crazy. Things escalated and the arguing was turned away from each other and they focused their energies on me! The 30 minutes of quiet was not enough to compensate for all the stress after turning it off. So I determined that we had a problem.

What I didn't realize is that our problem extended into nighttime. My five year old had never slept through the night. He required nighttime parenting his entire life, usually two times per night. We tried EVERYTHING but the vomit-inducing/self-infliction-to-bloodiness anxiety was more than we were willing to deal with in traditional, commonly recommended ways. After 10 days of screen-free life he was sleeping from 7:30PM-6AM without interruption. No other change was happening concurrently with our screen elimination so I say with full confidence that the screen was responsible for my son's sleep problems.

So, do you have a screen-related problem? If yes, what is it?

Step 2: Do something about it. 
Maybe you want to reduce your child's screen time. Maybe you want to change the time of day he or she is allowed to play or watch. Maybe you want to eliminate it entirely. No matter what you want to do, the change will require some plan. Decide if you want to discuss it with your child and have them help make the change. Maybe you want to be a dictator and say "we're doing this now." I have done all of these things! Each time required some change to our day, our routine, our flow. It wasn't easy but it was worth it.

You might want to leverage summer time and plan to be outside during the time of day when you would otherwise be screening. Get take-out and have a picnic dinner. Go to a playground. Send your child into your back yard and find one rock. Have them draw a picture or color something for you. Let them play in the sink while you're preparing dinner. There are whole websites dedicated to helping you come up with creative ways to occupy your child (I'm partial to The Artful Parent and Tinkerlab). You will know how much you will have to do to "entertain" your child and help them with a new routine. If you're like me then you will also have to prepare yourself as well. Build in a little extra time and patience for your kids and yourself when you embark on a big and possibly contentious game-changer.

So...what's your plan?


For more on TV time I love Janet Lansbury's stuff:
A Creative Alternative to Baby TV Time
How to Break Your Toddler's TV Habit

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fulfilling the Right Desires

Our local grocery store has a playhouse, pretend kitchen, and child-sized picnic table plus some pretend food toys to go along with it. I try to make time for the children to play there every time we go together. It is a nice place for them to try out their communication skills and for me to sit on a cushy couch instead of a park bench.

One day, when my son was at preschool and it was just the girls doing the grocery shopping and food prep play, my daughter became so immersed in her work that it was hard to pull her away. When it was time to go she came to me and said, "I want a playhouse at home." First, I panicked. I love to listen to my children's desires and think of creative ways to surprise them with the things of their dreams. But a playhouse was not likely a wish I could fulfill. Then I realized that I may not have heard and understood what she liked. I asked for clarification. "You really like playing here. What is so important to you that you want your very own?" Her answer surprised me: "The cookies."

The cookies were Melissa and Doug Slice and Bake toy cookies. Again, I asked for clarification. "What do you like about the cookies?" Her answer? "The sprinkles on top." That I could do! I fact, I had been saving can tops in our engineer's stash for a rainy day project. So when we got home we got busy making our own cookies.

First, we needed circular cookies. Lids from various containers were perfect.

Next we needed frosting and sprinkles. I had Anna help me trace each lid on some frosting-colored paper. I did most of the cutting while she put on the sprinkles, which were puffy shape stickers from the Art Cart.

When Mikey got home he wanted to make some cookies too. He topped his cookies with frosting and multimedia sprinkles (pink paint, pink sprinkles and pink sticker). In the end, we were left with a handful of cookies with sprinkles and had had a nice afternoon of keeping busy with purposeful play. And yesterday Anna took the cookies she had made out of the "food play" bin and had fun with them. It made me wonder if playing with reminded her of our day when she spoke, when I listened, and how that conversation led to a fun project and toys she can be proud that she helped make for herself. I certainly remember.

Plastic container lids are the easiest thing to wash and store for a project. But the tops from canned goods are a great size, too. I remember can tops with edges so sharp that they were a hazard. But a new can opener is available and it affords new materials for preschool play. The OXO Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener cuts the can lids off beautifully and leaves us with a nice little circle for preschool play. They can be money, cookies, airplanes...anything really! Like many slow toys can tops afford play opportunities that are limited only by one's imagination. Plus, I use the bottom container part of the can for holding pencils, scissors, markers or paintbrushes in my Art Cart.

So this post is about many things: a craft project, a new kitchen tool, and, most importantly, practice in listening to a child. Had I not taken the time to follow up on my daughter's first declaration of wanting a playhouse you might have found me scavenging the local Recycle store in search of materials for a DIY backyard building project. You might have heard me exclaiming frustration over hammering my thumbs or not having straight lumber. Instead, because I have been practicing and practicing and practicing listening to my children I am able to tell this story about how a child's ideas can bless us with innovation and fond memories.