When Piper was born, I swore she would never watch television until she was older. When she was about 18 months, I realized that I could curb her frenetic energy (that would lead to meltdowns) by having her sit and snuggle with me for 25 minutes and watch a show. I didn't rely on television to "babysit" her, I didn't put her in front of the tv so that I could read magazines or not read her books, but I used television as an additional tool in my arsenal. Since the kids were young, I have been judicious about what they watch, and they know they can only watch what is on our DVR. Only educational programming, or programming that encourages pretend play.
Then came iPad. Frankly, we purchased an iPad to help pass the time on a 9.5 hour flight with Piper when she was three and a half. What a world opened up! We were able to load it with amazing applications and her favorite shows and let her play and watch when she tired of coloring and playing iSpy on the plane. It was amazing. As a parent, it was a lifesaver. When we got off the plane, people were shocked to see a young child sitting behind them. That's every parents dream.
As a stay at home mom, I made a commitment to my children to spend my days educating them, making time for them, and taking full advantage of having them home with me. It sounds like a natural decision to make, but I will tell you now, it is incredibly difficult when you are in the thick of it. After years of being a stay at home mom, sometimes you just want to put on headphones and tune out the squealing, fighting, constant noise, or just plug them in front of something and take a nap. I resist that urge and instead created some ways to survive with young children.
1. Read to them as much as possible. There is no greater gift you can give your child than your time, attention, and a love of reading. You are putting them first, opening their eyes to other worlds, new vocabulary, new cultures, and new speech patterns. I can't sing the praises loud enough of reading to your children. When Piper was little, I committed to her (she was six months old and had no clue) that any time she brought me a book, I would stop and read it. There were days that we read for over two hours straight! I still know most of her children's books by heart. But my investment in her has paid off ten-fold. Right after she turned four, she started reading sentences, then reading books, then reading chapter books, and now she is teaching Liam to read. When I need a minute, I ask her to read to her brother. It's wonderful. It's one of the best investments I have made in her.
2. Integrate the television carefully, and thoughtfully. Take the time to sit down and watch a couple kids shows. It won't take you long to see that some shows are pointless drivel that actually work against your parenting style. But there are some real gems out there! My personal favorites are Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Tinga Tinga Tales, Bubble Guppies, and Blue's Clues (just the ones with Steve, thank you). All of these shows are loving, informational, and let the kids imagination run wild. There are other good ones, but these are a great start. Watch your children and when they are playing or not watching the tv, turn it off. You might be surprised that they watch less than an hour or two a day. I find that when they do sit and watch, it turns into a snugglefest with mom, so it's a twofer.
3. If your child is five or older, use iPad as a way to give them quiet time in their room. Just as with other forms of media, I have been careful about what apps we have put on the iPad. It is pretty limited to eBooks and educational games, but the impact on Piper has been incredible. Her math skills are stellar from these little games and her reading only gets better. (A favorite in our house is Grandma's Kitchen, or Grandma's Garden. Any by that app-maker called Grandma something or Grandpa something are great, sweet games!) She has iPad for one hour a day, and she loves it. It lets her enjoy quiet time in her room, but also gives her a chance to be creative and internal. We put the iPad in airplane mode (disconnecting the internet) after a few incidents of her attempting to purchase apps or trying to watch shows on Netflix. ;)
4. When your kids come to you, stop and listen. I have it listed on the home page of this blog, but my favorite quote about raising children is this. "Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff." (Catherine M. Wallace)
5. Get outside! Don't trap your kids in the house, get them out to play. If you have a fenced in back yard, send them out. Keep an eye out, of course, but see what their imagination comes up with! I'm always surprised to see what amazing games or scenarios pop out of their heads. If you don't have a yard, find a playground or go for a walk. The time and fresh air will be good for all of you.
6. Don't let media raise your kids. That's your job. It sounds harsh, but I LOATHE seeing kids who can't be in the car without a movie playing (for the record, yes we have a tv in our car... It is carefully used for nap-inducing or road trips.) or at the grocery store without an iPad, or the worst - at a restaurant without an iPhone or some sort of tablet. Teach them to play iSpy or to just watch and absorb the world around them. If you are at a restaurant, show them the menu and have them find all the letters of the alphabet. At the grocery store, let them hold some groceries or put them in the cart. If you can teach them to live without tv and tablets, they will be happier and will enjoy it so much more when you put it on for them.
7. When in doubt, here is a great web site for checking to see if movies are good for your child's age. I have found their reviews to be spot on, and they even review movies for teenagers and adults too. www.commonsensemedia.org
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