How to stop a child from watching too much TV


(Hadley Hooper for The Washington Post)
October 17, 2013

QMy husband and I have a dilemma about TV. ¶ We let our very bright, intense 31 / 2-year-old watch an educational TV show in the morning before he goes to preschool and child care, and then we let him watch another show in the evening so he can get some downtime while I take care of the baby. ¶ Lately, however, our son has begun to engage in power struggles with us whenever it’s time to turn off the television, and I’m not talking about a little fussing and whining. First he pesters us, badgers us and begs us to let him watch TV a bit longer even though we always set the timer when the show begins and repeatedly tell him that we will turn off the television as soon as the show is over. ¶ Although we never give in, our son continues to beg us and then to argue with us, and when it gets bad enough, we put one of his favorite toys on the mantelpiece for the rest of the night: the price he has to pay when he acts like that. Once it escalates to that point, however, he starts yelling at us, and then he goes into full tantrum mode. ¶ How can we have a little time together in the morning and evening without all this angst and all these arguments?

AYoung children are an awful lot like young teenagers. They will be fairly obedient most of the time, but only if you give them some say-so, if you give them a lot of sympathy when you have to say no and if you look at the situation from their point of view.

Although your son knows that he is the center of your universe — because you and your husband are the center of his universe — he also knows that he is only half as high as you are. He knows that he knows much, much less than you do, and he doesn’t have the words to tell you how much it hurts when you raise your voice (or even your eyebrow) just because he has done something wrong. So how does he respond? He yells loud and long because he do esn’t know what else to do. Anger is a child’s favorite weapon, and parents are the targets he likes best.

Your child’s anger is also a sign of the power you wield. But you must never, ever abuse it — and you won’t, as long as you realize that you and your husband run the house, but it’s your child who runs the show.

He runs it not because he is smarter or better than you, but because he is growing — mentally, physically and emotionally — which makes his behavior change a little every few weeks. And when that happens, your discipline has to change a bit, too. It’s like a game of catch-up. You’ll always be a little late, but most of your new corrections will work as long as you trust and respect your child and let him be as independent as you possibly can.

This approach should even curb your son’s love of TV. But if he keeps begging for it, then turn the set off for a couple of weeks — without saying why or for how long — and just play CDs during his down time instead. He won’t fuss for TV nearly as much when you turn it on again.

One family day-care provider also likes the idea of a timer, as you mentioned you use. She found that time limits work best if they come from the kitchen timer rather than the caregiver — or the parent.

Another family day-care provider said that her kitchen timer gives out some orders, too, because she found that her young flock paid much better attention to it than to her — or to their parents. She never told the children to turn off the TV when the show was over, however. Instead, she said, “Mr. Buzzer wants you to turn off the TV now” and the children wou ld turn it off, without any argument, any tears or any meltdowns because they knew that there wasn’t any point in arguing with a kitchen timer; because they were expected to turn off the TV themselves; and because they were being treated like intelligent human beings. For all of those reasons, those children could save face. And when a child can save face, he knows that he is respected, that he is independent and that he doesn’t have to throw a tantrum to get what he wants.

8 Send questions about parenting
to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/parenting , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns.

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