Tag Archives: screen time

Tiredness, TV, and Tantrums

One of the best-loved things in our house (at least by one member of the family) is Thomas the Tank Engine. We have two identical toy Thomases who ride on the classic wooden track. We have a big toy Thomas that our little guy fell in love with at the local consignment shop when Daddy was buying him waterproof mittens. Thomas comes up frequently in family conversations. Thomas often sits on the dinner table to watch our son eat, perches on the counter at bathtime, comes upstairs to read stories before bed, and gets a kiss goodnight once the stories are finished. Happy dancing ensues if we play his 30-second instrumental theme on repeat on Apple Music. If we had a stuffed Thomas, I think Arlo’s faithful elephant (“Elly”) would be quickly discarded as a sleeping companion.

Unfortunately, we’ve also made Arlo aware that there is a TV program of Thomas, which has resulted in our first ongoing struggle with tantrums. We’ve generally tried, since our wee one was born, to limit screen time to a bare minimum (ie. when he was sick, getting his nails cut, or at someone else’s house), and this has been fairly easy to do at home, since we don’t have cable (we’re Netflix people), and our only tv is in the basement, which isn’t baby-proofed and therefore we don’t spend much time with him down there at all.

But, as Mindy Wood of PurposelySimple.com observes, TV is sometimes entirely too accessible and helpful an option for childcare. As she explains, “We all know that screen time in excess can be harmful to infants and toddlers, […] so why are so many young children still watching too much TV? Well, because parents are tired! [and] it’s totally understandable to want a few moments of peace every day.”

I’m seeing lately how this is especially resonant if you’re a mom eight months into a second pregnancy… and not really able to do much mobility-wise with your toddler… or if you’re a dad and your partner is experiencing the aforementioned, so you’ve been assigned more of a single-parent role lately… and your kid is having trouble sleeping but at least when he wakes up at 5am on a work day, if you put on Thomas, you can lay down with your pillow on the couch and a blanket and pretend to still get more sleep until 6:30…

…And I’m sure many parents out there have completely different but just as valid and understandable circumstances that also, bit by bit, bring them to allow a little more screen time. It’s so easy to justify, too:

“It’s not like we’re letting him watch things with commercials.”

“It’s just a little bit here and there.”

“We’re going to let him watch TV eventually anyway, so it’s not so bad to introduce it slowly now.”

“It’s so snuggly.”

“It’s so PEACEFUL when just this short program is on!”

Even though Arlo didn’t watch every day, or even close to it, I knew things were headed out of a realm of control I felt comfortable with when one unusual afternoon, his grandma dropped him off  with me after caring for him for the day and he cried because he wanted to go straight downstairs to watch “Thomas” on the “Fee-Vee” (TV), and I told him that wasn’t an option.

A few mornings later, when Arlo decided 4:50am was an appropriate time to wake up, his Dad tried to get him to go back to sleep but eventually resorted to the Very Useful Engine (oh, so useful indeed!), as that would be less stressful pre-6am for everyone within earshot. Unfortunately, this backfired when it was finally time to get ready for the day, and Arlo threw an absolute fit about Thomas being turned off – a fit complete with wailing, leg-kicking, and ultimate despair that lasted through changing his diaper, choosing clothes, putting on his shoes, and finally getting out the door. We parents both managed, somehow, to keep our cool during this fit, and I heard myself saying, repeatedly, “Well, Arlo, if you can’t handle it when Thomas gets turned off, then next time we won’t be able to turn him on at all.”

Right now, my biggest issue with screen time for a toddler isn’t the recommendations from experts that kids under two shouldn’t have screen time at all, or that too much video-watching inhibits communication and social skills, or that it decreases attention spans or reduces kids’ abilities to explore and discover through active play. It’s that it turns my kid into a whining, wailing, tantrum-having toddler in a way that nothing else really seems to do. He simply doesn’t seem mature enough to handle screen time.

The tough part, is, of course, that in moments that are already difficult, or leaning toward a possible tantrum, screen time is a pretty surefire way to derail that train – at least for the moment. Other options for distracting, re-directing, or otherwise dealing with undesirable behaviour all seem to require a lot more energy, which sometimes, you just don’t feel you have as a parent. (Wood actually has some helpful, tangible ideas in her piece on raising a low-media child without going insane, but they do require efforts in pre-organization and maintenance that switching on a video just doesn’t.)

I’d like to get rid of Thomas (the video version) altogether as a coping mechanism for the trickier moments of parenting, but it seems unrealistic to do so. Do we really have the willpower, even in moments where we feel depleted already, to avoid that easy fix? What if we just do it even less often – is it really so bad if it hardly ever happens? Shouldn’t we really just cut ourselves some slack in this particular period surrounding the arrival of a second child into our family? We’ll have plenty of time to figure it out later, right?

I don’t have any answers today, so I’m more looking to my fellow parents for your thoughts. What are your theories on screen time with toddlers/young children? How do you use TV, or determine when your kids can watch it, and how much?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

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