One of the transitions my kids like the least when we move from summer mode to school mode is the return of strict limits on screen time. We are barely one week in, and already our heads are spinning from the number of things on the calendar. With all of the sports, extra curriculars and playdates, there just isn’t time for television during the week, so our house rule is no television until after school Friday. We usually have a movie night on Friday, and weekend mornings are fair game for whatever screen time the kids want (if the hockey schedule allows!) and it’s back to no screen time on Sunday nights.
Even with these limits, and even with a whole morning of available screen time on weekends, we still have a hard time when it comes to turning off the tube. The kids resist unplugging, and there’s inevitably a squabble once the television stops entertaining them.
So at CBC Kids’ Days, when I met with Dr. Lynn Oldershaw of CBC Kids, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask her:
1. How can television teach kids how to regulate their emotions when the t.v. goes off?
2. How can we turn off the television without the meltdown that almost inevitably ensues?
Oldershaw pointed out that as part of their teaching of emotional intelligence, CBC Kids shows teach kids how to name their emotions, regulate their emotions and then problem solve to cope with their emotions. Shows like The Adventures of Napkin Man and Poco teach strategies for how to manage anger or sadness, for example. I’ve taken to getting Youngest to name the sense of aimlessness he feels when he unplugs. At least if he’s able to recognize the pattern of feeling at a loss when the tv goes off, he can begin to find ways to overcome it.
Her advice for how to turn off the screens without a meltdown is to make empowerment the key. Give your children choices. The more control they feel they have, the less they will resist the limits you impose. Have a family discussion about what is a reasonable amount of screen time and when it can happen. Present them with choices before and after screen time:
“Do you want to watch television or play on the Wii? It’s your choice how to spend your screen time.”
“Do you want to put in a movie or watch a television show?”
“Do you want to have lunch or go to the park? It’s your choice what to do next.”
What do you do to help your kids unplug? Is it a difficult transition?