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Help me brainstorm some gentle strategies for setting and enforcing TV limits

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
I'm hoping that all you wonderful GD mamas have some suggestions for me. TV has become a huge issue in our house. DS is 3.5yo, and, if allowed, would watch TV all. day. long. It's become a huge source of conflict in our family because of a number of reasons:
- he wants to watch for far longer than I think is healthy (he watches 5-6 hrs/day with all my current limit setting, and I would prefer that it was MUCH less than that)
- he doesn't let anybody else choose the program - it always has to be cartoons
- if we're in the living room, he has to be watching the TV. Sometimes, I'd like to enjoy the serenity of my living room without the TV blaring
- he doesn't play by himself EVER. If I'm not playing 1:1 with him, then he immediately wants the TV on.

When I attempt to set limits on the TV ("we're turning the TV off in 10 minutes" or "the TV needs to be turned off after this show" or "no, you can't watch the TV because you've already watched a lot today and it's not healthy for your brain") huge meltdowns ensue. He'll scream at me, throws things around the room, stomp off into his room, slam the door/open it again/slam it again/rinse and repeat, go into his room and push furniture (change-table) into the walls. It's not that extreme every time of course, but the best case scenario when I limit the TV is that he'll reluctantly turn it off, verbally voice his disapproval, then immediately ask for the computer/nintendo etc. I always offer alternative ideas for what to do (kick a ball, read a book, do some drawing, play with legos/trains, ride scooter, etc) which are all automatically refused. Sometimes he'll then suggest something that requires 1:1 assistance from me, e.g. craft, which we generally do a couple of times a day. I have a 16mo daughter who needs me too, and household chores that need to be done, so I don't think it's reasonable to have to provide constant play/interaction for all times when the TV is turned off. Is that a reasonable assumption?

I'm not particularly comfortable with the idea of letting him self-regulate, although I'd be happy to hear from other mamas who have tried it with this age group, and how much TV your child watched when allowed to self regulate.

I'd really like to know what are reasonable limits for me to set?
What strategies can I use to communicate these limits to DS?
What strategies can I use to enforce these limits?
Should I try to replace TV time with even more 1:1 play time? Or is it reasonable to expect him to amuse himself for short periods?
What is a reasonable expectation for how a 3.5yo should react when limits are set?
How should I respond when the inevitable meltdowns occur?

Thanks in advance mamas! I'm sure I'll get some wonderful advice.
post #2 of 32
My DD is 4.5 and sticks to our TV rules like glue. And for the entire year of 3, she fought with me about them. Constant source of conflict. Frequent meltdowns. Like you, I realized some time when she was 3 that she was putting more of her energy into TV than almost anything else. No matter how much she got, it was never enough. FWIW, these are the TV rules we eventually put in place:

* 1/2 hour of screen time per day (sometimes we stretch this to 45 minutes if it's the computer and 'educational' games)
* no TV before lunch
* no TV at all on alternating days - 'is today TV free?' she would wail.
* TV strictly limited to Curious George, Dinosaur Train, or half of a Disney movie (and we're fussy about these too - nothing scary and no princesses)
* computer games or youtube clips allowed on non-tv days. Strictly limited to PBSkids, starfall, and clips of sesame street, vintage disney shorts, bbc nature clips.
* maximum two youtube clips per day.

I'm no huge fan of tv under normal circumstances, and when I saw my DD putting her 3 yo heart and soul into it, I had a long hard think about what TV was valuable or at least harmless to her, and how much of that I thought was reasonable/good for her. Basically, I was afraid to raise a child who could only refer to TV programs in her conversation and pretend play being Disney characters.

Then, once we had the rules in place, we fought about them for the rest of the year. You're likely to have lots of bad behavior about it, no matter what rules you wind up with. So I suggest deciding how much TV you think is good for him, and then stick to it. Explain and explain your reasoning. He will fight you tooth and nail. But you will win. And as a four year old, he'll probably be just fine with the rules.

As for expectations for yourself and him, you should expect to go deaf to everything provoking he says or does once you've stated the limits. He will eventually get better at entertaining himself, especially if the TV is not taking the place of free play time! Maybe encourage books? Reading time instead of TV time?

Anyway, GL! Fight the good fight!
post #3 of 32
honestly, it's probably better for both of you if you completely detox from tv for a while. take the tv away from the living room and put it somewhere, away. closet, basement, garage. tv can be addictive, especially for certain personality types, and weaning cold turkey will probably be more productive for both of you.

i know i do not do well with arbitrary limits when i get into a rut of too much tv (or anything unhealthy that i like to do). 1 hour gets stretched to 2 hours, etc. however, if i purposely put away the temptation for a while, i can get over it, reset and come back with a much healthier attitude. it sounds like your son needs some help imagining his day without the help of a screen, and knowing it's there and available isn't providing much motivation to do anything else.

i would suggest at least one month of tv free time, if possible, for the whole family (or only adults watching when everyone else is asleep in bed). if it's causing this much stress and bad behavior, then you (and your partner) should be able to agree it's worth the sacrifice.

during the month, take some time to decide what kinds of programming you're comfortable having available. for our home, we will never have cable tv. i do not do well with having endless tv, and i don't want my daughter to get used to it either. we have certain weekly shows we download and play on a screen... no ads, and once the show is over, it's over. in your case, only having dvds (or downloaded copies) of certain shows available for watching might work better. when the tv comes back, choose the screen time you're comfortable with, and just stick to it. for such a young child, you will probably need to have a certain time of day which is tv time, not just whenever he feels like it.

i believe you can do it! Try starting with a clean slate, and hopefully his dependence will lessen.
post #4 of 32
I agree with SilverFish - completely unplug the TV for a while. No TV or video games available? No battles.

I'm mainly writing, though, to address your question about how much you should be able to expect of him in regards to independent play. My own DD is nearly 3.5 YO as well and she still would prefer that I play with her or at least be in the same room with her watching her play 99% of the time. I think it's mostly a personality issue. Some kids are like to play by themselves, others need someone else there. My DD is one of the latter - it sounds like your DS is too.

You can do it!!
post #5 of 32
I agree that a tv detox may be in order. What we do to avoid the tv battle is just a simple cut and dry tv rule. One video per week. DD (5) knows she can choose which one and which day but after that it's tv free until the following week. Works well for us. Only exceptions is sickness, and then I usually let her watch more. DS is only 18 mos so no tv at all for him yet but I expect to allow him the same one video per week.
post #6 of 32
My ds is older than yours (almost 7) but this might work for your kiddo too. We decided that one hour of screen time (tv and computer) is appropriate for him on school days. I made 4 "tickets" (bookmarks in microsoft publisher that I played around with altering slightly). Each ticket can be turned in to me or dp for 15 minutes of screen time. We set a timer so he knows exactly how much time is left. Once his 4 tickets are gone, it's done. No arguments. We are a lot more lenient on weekends and don't use the ticket system, but we do force him outside for most of the day (so today he watched about an hour of tv and played on the computer for about an hour but we played outside in the morning, he went to his soccer and played in the afternoon and then in late afternoon we went for a family walk/run to the grocery store). The ticket system is working well for us
post #7 of 32
I do "tv time" from 5-6 while I'm cooking dinner. My DD is five. We used to do TV Time in the morning, but now she is in kindy. She knows that TV Time isn't all the time--that it's special and a treat. If she is home, I have to keep her occupied to make sure that we don't get into it over the tv because she would like to watch more. So, today I played dolls with her for an hour plus when we had some down time. I have to really keep her active and direct her more than I would like still--I wish she'd just go play but for the most part, she's just not there yet.

TV Detox sounds good, and just try really hard to fill the time so it's not missed. She's older than your child, so maybe that makes it easier, but it never works here when I try to enforce anything--it's easier to just make day conducive for other things like playing outside or doing a craft or playing a board game.
post #8 of 32
When DD was 3, we did 2 shows a day. But I work outside the home and she goes to day care. So it was one in the morning if she was ready to go in time and one when we got home so I could fix dinner. She understood but sometimes gave us a hard time. Now we DVR things so she knows that when it "pauses" the show it over.
You are the parents and you get to make the decisions. If you decide one hour of tv time, then talk with him about how he wants to do it--2 1/2 hour shows, one hour show, 1/2 a movie, ect.
It's okay for him to be upset, IMO. You are setting limits and he is expressing his displeasure.
At 3.5, my daughter loved playing with other children. Is he involved with any play groups or preschool programs? I'm a believer of preschool age children playing with peers to develop social skills.
Good luck
post #9 of 32
i would go cold turkey as well. just put it up out of sight/out of reach. my dd does not have access to the tv (we use the comp and it is up high) but when we did have it down she would put in vhs/dvds on her own and it was getting a bit out of control, even if it was "cute" at first.

i don't really limit tv now at 3.5. some days we never turn on a show, other days we watch quite a bit, cartoons or animal shows, game shows, whatever show i want to watch (nothing bad). if i am watching something she will usually go off and read or play games alone quietly or with ds. (he is 15 months so they are just staring to play really).

since she does play on her own and always has i think that is more of a personality thing. my dn is always asking "come play with me?" or "come do it for me" for every dang thing. even for specific tasks shes asks for!! (ie painting, we get out the stuff for her to paint and the whole time you hear "come paint it for me!!" or "come paint with me! *pout pout*") yeah i have no patience for it but like i said, my dd isn't like that so i am just not used to it- at all!
post #10 of 32
Here's what we do:
- We don't have cable, it's DVDs only. The remote is kept out of reach and the buttons are awkward, so DD can't turn the TV on by herself.
- Limit for screen time is 1/2 hour per day, DD has choice of TV, computer (sesamestreet.com), or games on DH's iPhone. DD is allowed to play with the computer outside of that time to "type" and play with MS Paint. She will do this for a couple of hours once or twice a week. I have no problem with this and haven't set limits.
- TV time is after quiet time or nap, which is after lunch. If there are any issues with quiet time, no TV. I hate that I am so structured but it just works so well. Quiet time is alone time in her room, which helped her develop the ability to play alone. We also used to fight about naps, and since I no longer insist on a nap, she will just take one if she's tired.
- We set the kitchen timer and DD is the one responsible for turning off TV/computer when she hears it. We will allow to the end of the song or scene. If she doesn't turn it off right away we come and sit with her and ask her if she wants us to do it. Usually she is reasonable about it.
- Meltdowns: if there is a problem with turning it off, no screen time the next day. She will generally get one warning for this. I have enforced this, but haven't had to for a long time.

DH and I do not watch TV or play video games when she is awake, unless she is playing with the computer, and then we shut it off when the time is up.

We have talked to her about how it is hard to stop watching TV, and TV is lots of fun but you need to do other things too besides staring at a screen all day. Downside to this: gets thrown back in your face if you wanna check out MDC with your morning coffee

YES, it is reasonable to expect your DS to play by himself for short periods...eventually. He'll probably need to work up to this. You don't necessarily need to play with him if you don't want to - you can include him in whatever you're doing, set up activities for him, or do an outing or playdate.

I think you're right to worry about your DS's reaction to the change. Can you explain your problem with TV to him and enlist him in helping you set the rules and routines? Have him come up with a list of things to do instead of TV, then work together to set them up so he can do them on his own. When I first started SAH with DD after working for 2 years, we planned our day every morning and crossed things off. It really helped both of us get into a good routine.
post #11 of 32
Our tv rules are these, no tv during school days, this works really well in the summer when basically we can be outside playing, in the winter a selection of toys and games are provided instead. When ds was 3.5 I made sure that we had plenty of activity time, music, art, library and cooking to distract from the 'want' of tv. At the weekend they are allowed 1 film each, we also use a timer so that they can turn the TV off themselves and have done since very young. Also when the tv is not in use it's covered up with a funky piece of material or something - the out of sound out of mind really works for our kids. really nowadays they don't bother too much about it and dd much prefers going off and reading a book than doing the whole tv thing, ds is far more into the tv but accepts the rules and manages to play with his playmobil and legos really well instead.
post #12 of 32
We just cold turkey said that each of the older kids gets 2 shows per day, if all their toys were picked up and they've had some active time. My 6 1/2 year old was getting obsessed with tv, and it was starting to influence my 3 year old (my 1 year old doesn't care about tv so she doesn't watch it). And actually, it's gone over better than I thought it would. They have the option to choose when those 2 shows are (within reason--they can't start a show 10 minutes before bedtime, school, or when we have to go someplace obviously). And, it keeps my house cleaner too...if they want to watch a show, they run around the house cleaning up every toy they find. :
post #13 of 32
What helps for us, is that we don't have cable (or even PBS), and we don't have a DVD player. SO, that doesn't really leave any kid shows at all - except sat. mornings, but we almost always forget and the TV is off. My kids do watch shows via netflix and even youtube - but they just don't do so for hours and hours at a time, so it's not something I really am concerned about.

I agree with the TV-detox. I'd unplug it or make it not work somehow so it's not even up for discussion/fight. You can watch shows you enjoy on the computer when your LO is sleeping, if need be, or DVR or whatever the method of recording is.

I bet that will break the habit, and make it easier to slowly start watching it again. We were TV-free for a year (though, yes, we still had Internet, and eventually Netflix), and my kids were fine with it. They just found other things to keep occupied; they played outside a lot. This was good for our family, b/c before that we had lived in another state and our apartment came with free cable. It was too easy to fall into the trap of letting them watch TV all the time. DD loved the Disney channel, and even at 11 pm there was shows on. It was like you couldn't get away from cartoons - 24 hours a day. When we moved, we decided to cut the TV. And even now, with the switch to digital, since we don't have even basic cable, we only get like 3-4 channels. This summer, I did wish we had PBS, b/c honestly, I found myself telling the kids to sit down and watch a show/movie so they would stop fighting and stay out of trouble. But they rarely listened, and would prefer running around the house making me crazy.
post #14 of 32
about how to respond to the meltdowns (whether you choose to detox or limit). I remind myself often that "my child doesn't need to be happy all the time" (a Naomi Aldort quote). I don't need to feel guilty or bad or even sad for doing things that dissapoint, upset, frustrate him if I am doing them for his health and wellbeing.

Beyond that: I validate, validate, validate. Usually starting with a question. "are you mad because momma turned off the tv?" followed with a couple "i understand you are mad" then I start trying to work us on to the next thing "i understand you're still mad, would you like to (help me make dinner, talk about it, have a cuddle, etc)" and if he doesn't respond then I usually ask him if he need more time just to be mad and play it by ear from there. He's usually over it MUCH sooner than I am. =P and that's something I have to work on noticing too!
post #15 of 32
Darn!! My post got lost trying to report above spam! Bummer.

Basically what I said is that I agree with a TV Detox.

DC is a kid who can't really do a daily allowance of TV. Just doesn't work for her. We do no-TV during the week and unlimited TV during the weekend (works out to anywhere from 1-6 hours for the entire weekend). We're lucky that all the TV that DC watches is commercial-free as well.

We also do a family TV show once/week now that DC is older. We watch Glee. ;-)

It may be that your child is like mine in that daily TV no matter how limited will not work.

BTW, we did come up with these rules with DC. We hashed out few ideas and this was the one DC picked. This was when she was about 5.
post #16 of 32
I allow DS TV once a day, about 30-40 min, he mainly watches Cailou on youtube. There's no set time of day, I don't want it to become a part of his routine, some days he forgets and I like that best
post #17 of 32
I'd really like to know what are reasonable limits for me to set?

I can't find a good source for this but I've read that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for kids under 2 and under 1-2 hours of TV for young children. I think that for a 3.5 year old well under 2 hours/day is perfectly reasonable.


What strategies can I use to communicate these limits to DS?


Like I said in a PP, my DC can not do the "half-hour/day" thing. If your child freaks out when your turn the TV off, he may be one like my DC. When she was young she had a *very* difficult time transitioning away from TV. It worked way better for us to just not watch it and balance that with a day where DC could watch a lot.


What strategies can I use to communicate these limits to DS?


I would have a family meeting. Let DC know your concerns/issues. Employ the AAP - tell DC that his (if he goes to one) doctor recommends he cut back on TV. Allow him to help make the decisions.


What strategies can I use to enforce these limits?


Let DC help set the limits. Make sure the limits work well with DC's personality. Be kind but FIRM. Try not to have a lot of grey rules in the system. Some of the ideas mentioned here would not work for DC - the longer stretch of TV if it was something 'good' would have just meant that we were always debating what was good, what allowed for more time and etc.


Should I try to replace TV time with even more 1:1 play time? Or is it reasonable to expect him to amuse himself for short periods?


I think it's TOTALLY reasonable to expect your DC to play by himself for rather long stretches of time but *NOT* if he's accustomed to watching a lot of TV. During bad patches with media DC also looses her ability to play. When that happens we talk about "finding your imagination" and I spend a few days helping her do that.


What is a reasonable expectation for how a 3.5yo should react when limits are set?


I think that if you make these limits fair and you let your DC have a say in how they go and you choose strategies that fit well with his personality and you give him time to detox it is reasonable to expect that DC cooperate with the plan.


How should I respond when the inevitable meltdowns occur?


Personally, I think that if TV is causing frequent meltdowns, it may be too much stimulation for your DC. I don't mean to suggest you "remove it" as a punishment for his reaction but rather you think of it as something that is too enticing and complicated for him right now.
post #18 of 32
We had to go "no tv" for dd when she was younger. It was just too much of a mind-suck for her, and a power struggle for me.

We covered the tv with a piece of fabric during the day Then, every time she asked for tv (which was often!), I gave her 1:1 attention doing something else (lots of reading to her, some play, sometimes letting her play with water in the sink....). This was ONLY during the detox period, and I chose the timing carefully understanding that I'd need to be willing to drop what I'm doing and give her attention if she asked for the tv.

Within 2 weeks, she stopped asking for the tv. AND--the big bonus--she was playing alone much, MUCH better than she did previously. Without the "tv crutch", she had discovered so many ways to play that are more fun than tv.

Other hints: put music on while he plays so that the absence of tv sound isn't so noticeable. Books on tape from the library are another good idea.
post #19 of 32
Our tv is in a cabinet "out of sight out of mind"

we don't have cable and ds doesn't know that there are "channels"

we only do dvd's so it's easier to say "well it's over"

I just say "no" and let him whine if he needs to

We try to limit to 1-3x per week max (except when sick)

I have very little expectation that he will play alone. I figure if I want him to not watch tv then that means I need to be engaging with him or set up an activity for him, or plan an outing, or have a playdate etc. (btw my house is not tidy or clean, but it never was so we are okay with that)

Concrete ideas:
  • craft projects he can do alone (ds is really into gluing all of a sudden, so I got googly eyes, feathers, stars, pipe cleaners and glue sticks and I cut up cardboard boxes and he makes these mixed media projects)
  • books on tape
  • cut the cable (if you have it)
  • hide the tv (cabinet, cloth, room divider screen, in a closet etc)
  • plug the tv into a timer, so it just doesn't work at certain times or turns itself off (dp's dad did this when they were kids)
  • themed days (monday we bake, tuesday bff comes over, wednesday we go to the park etc)
post #20 of 32
I have found better luck requiring that other things/activities be done, instead of limiting tv. Meaning...instead of saying that she can't watch more than 1 hour (or whatever) of tv, I just told her that after breakfast she was going outside to play (or to practice softball or soccer or cleaning her room or whatever.) She's 14 and I still do the same thing with her. I require other things be done instead...chores, homework etc. For us right now, computer time is the big one, but yesterday for example, she had soccer right after school...she left the house at 7am and wasn't home until 9pm so there simply wasn't time for the computer.

I hope I am making sense. I was up most of the night with a newborn.
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