I think even a little TV was making my preschooler’s behaviour crappy (and killing her imagination)


play doughRecently Lydia’s behaviour was getting out of hand.

She’s always been a bit of a challenging child. She always seemed to have more energy, more passion, and more volume than other kids her age. She has always been demanding and resistant to instruction. She has Opinions and Big Feelings and an exasperating Lack of Need for Sleep.

But lately it just seemed worse. She whined, reveled in chaos, blatantly disobeyed us, and most annoyingly, kept complaining about being “sooo boooooooored.” She seemed to have lost her imagination. She wouldn’t play by herself. She just nagged and complained and followed me around, making messes and asking me to do things for her.

We were losing out wits. She was driving us crazy.

Finally Ben asked, “Do you think it’s TV?”

Lydia watched TV every single day. It was only 20-40 minutes a day — one or two episodes of Paw Patrol or Masha and the Bear on Netflix — but she bugged us about it constantly. Her TV time was the only quiet time I managed to get from her, so I gave in. But she never stopped nagging to watch more TV.

So we decided to cut her off.

I was reducing my own screen time for the season of Lent by taking all social media off my phone. I thought it might be a good time to also dramatically reduce Lydia’s screen time, too. It couldn’t hurt.

I explained to her that during these 40 days before Easter, I was going to stop looking at my phone all day and she was going to stop watching TV. It would be good for our hearts and minds, I told her, so we could think about good things.  (We would still watch a movie as a family on Sunday, though.)

When she asked to watch TV the next day, we simply reminded her that we weren’t going to watch TV until Easter.

She complained the first couple of days. And then you know what? She completely forgot about it.

She hasn’t asked for TV in over a week.

By the second or third day we noticed she seemed calmer. She stopped throwing things around just for the fun of it. She was more agreeable when it came to bedtime.

And best of all: she started playing again.

play dough

She started playing with her Waldorf doll again, which she hadn’t touched in over a year. (Right now her doll is naked except for a Viking helmet — “That’s how warriors dress” — and is in engaged in a lively conversation with the sock monkey.) We made a batch of colourful play-dough, and she started making food for me, delivering it personally in her delivery car (aka Plasma Car).

I don’t notice the absence of that quiet time because she isn’t following me around all day, asking me to turn on a show or make things for her.

Life is so much better without TV. I have my imaginative little girl back.

I think screen time affects different children differently. I can’t say how turning off the TV would affect your children. But for us it has been a wholly positive experience.

We’ll see whether or not we bring it back after Easter. We just might leave things the way they are.

(Update 3 weeks later: you guys, it just keeps getting better. She’s starting to play outside on her own initiative, and her imagination keeps expanding. Banquets for her mop and broom [i.e. pony and unicorn], imaginative drawings [like an octopus in a poncho eating a sandwich] . . . I LOVE THIS.)

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  1. Can you come over and do the same for me?
    I am so much more inspired when I´m outside, or in grandparents cabin in the forest, but at home I get sucked in and can spend so much more than my alloted time sitting and watching everything on internet. I have a big pile of books in my to-read place but none ongoing, I do have a knitting on the needles and I work on it when I watch a movie and I have more ideas for new projects – but I no longer have that “Oh maybe this…and if I do that…What will become?” I can go to bed and feel guilty for everything I didnt do and the time I spent just sitting and watching.
    Well I do have a severe depression ongoing so I really hope some of this will go away when I´m back to normal, but I want my new normal to have less screentime!

  2. I hate screens, in general. Since having baby Elijah, I let the other children watch a half hour show when they first woke up, to give me a few more minutes of rest. I know I have to stop it, but darn, it’s a great half hour. Thanks for inspiring me to push through the fighting :/ I should note, the boys have been getting a bit MORE computer time, but it’s been inspiring their play, and I can see that they’re learning a bunch. They’re 6 and 8 though, and it’s an open-ended game. It’s pretty cool. I was against that for awhile, but I’m starting to see that not all screens are evil. Just most 😉

    • That is exactly how the TV habit starts. That half hour is AMAZING. (Until it starts to backfire on you…). Sometimes it’s worth the payoff, though.

      I think active computer time is different from passive TV time. They’re still using their brains. It does keep them on their butts, so of course you want to limit it, but it’s definitely not all bad!

  3. We do very minimal tv watching here. Nik is lucky is he gets one episode of paw patrol a day. We did try Masha to switch it up. She is a horrible little fake child! I refuse to let him watch it now. Today I lost my phone. It was awesome! I have restricted my screen time already because I realize I am missing put on so much more!
    I think I might take your suggestion of taking facebook off my phone. Who knows what else I’m missing.

    • I think I was missing a lot when I mindlessly scrolled through my social media on my phone. Now I have to sit down in front of the computer to go on Facebook, so it happens a lot less. I think limiting screens is good for my own brain, too!

  4. My four year old’s screen time has been creeping up and up and, like the other commenters, I hate/love it. It keeps her out of the way while I put her sisters down for their naps, and gives me a breather from her. But I wonder if it does more harm than good. And lately, the two year old has been fighting her nap, so I’m out of the room longer and the iPad time gets longer. I’ve been trying to decide what to do about it. One of those apps that shuts everything down after 30 minutes? A rule that she can play games, but no shows? I haven’t decided, but your post is inspiring me to stop thinking about it and do something.

    • Ugh, I KNOW what you MEAN. TV can be a lifesaver and a life-ruiner at the same time. It’s tricky to use it well. I’m sure you’ll find a good solution! The positive side of my experience is that it only took at few days to detox. Even if you have to continue using screen time for another year for this purpose, it doesn’t take that long to turn things around when you decide it’s no longer serving you.

  5. I’ve definitely noticed the same thing in myself as an adult. In busy seasons, it’s so easy to slump in front of the TV after work. That seemingly innocuous half-hour (that, let’s be honest, usually snowballs into an hour or two) somehow has the ability to work backwards through my day and throw everything into chaos. I lose all my focus.

    Even the YouTube vortex is suspect…(though I spent twenty minutes watching baby panda videos yesterday and I HAVE NO REGRETS. Well, maybe a few. :)

    What is it about TV that deadens us so?

    • RIGHT?! We sit down “just to watch one episode,” but two episodes later I’m still craving more. It’s so addictive! And makes me so cranky afterward! Unless it’s a really good movie I’m really intentional about watching, it usually puts me in a funk. I’m wondering the same thing: what IS it about TV that does that?

      • My husband and I noticed we were more likely to turn to TV if we had been leaving areas of our live unattended…for instance, if we had neglected the company of friends for some time, watching Parks & Rec suddenly seemed like a great idea. And if I missed faraway family, we watched The Waltons. (And if I missed the feeling of meaningful work, I wanted to watch Call the Midwife…)

        TV gave us the illusion of having these things–friendship, family, meaningful work–but after the show ended, the illusion was gone and we’re left emptier than before. Nothing could be more natural than finding the next episode and pushing play.

        But you’re right, intentional movie-watching is very different. Maybe because it lets you get lost in a story, much like a good book…?

  6. My girls are now 7,6, & 4 so I started getting more relaxed about how much screen time I allowed. Still not every day and often only a couple of episodes of Little Bear or something similar but it seems the more they watch, the more they want it, want it, want it. And we both notice how it really impacts their moods, how they interact with each other and us, and their creativity…They also start wanting to go outside less and less. I really hate it. Lately I’ve been struggling with some health issues and they’ve had colds etc so it’s just been the easy thing to turn to and we are totally paying for it in the tensions that seem to be springing up over night. It’s not worth it. I don’t think that all kids are necessarily impacted this way but my three sure are. I feel like with them it’s a bit of a combination of their HSP’s and that they all are high energy….the screen messes with their minds as it does mine:(.
    Anyways, that’s just me totally venting my own current feelings on the issue. Good job Mama! For being willing to see what your girl needs and to give her that even if it’s not the “easiest” option initially.
    Marissa recently posted..{Nature School}My Profile

  7. I want to give a huge thanks for this inspiration – after writing my first comment I started thinking and then I set the eggtimer for computertime. Well so since that I´ve been at library twice, read eight books and am trying to learn how to do embroidery. I actually enjoy the quiet more than I thought I could and that hour fills my need to read,chat and blog.

  8. C ON V I C T E D.

  9. So I don’t have a lot to comment on because I don’t have children yet (though I’m definitely filing away tons that I learn here), but I just wanted to say that “an octopus in a poncho eating a sandwich” is the GREATEST, most creative drawing ever, and made me genuinely laugh aloud.
    Laura recently posted..What I’m Into : February 2016My Profile

  10. How awesome is that!! Thanks for sharing your experience on this. It’s a daily temptation to give our girl a little screen time, but thus far, and really only between 12 and 16 months, I may give in about 20 minutes a week when I need a moment to breath.

    I find anything water related helps a lot! She loves splashing around–even if it’s just a small cup on the kitchen floor or at the table. We’ll also take a pan of water out on the porch for the vitamin D and splash time (we live in a micro climate, so it’s a fairly easy activity all year).

  11. This is very true in our family as well. The children do so much better without tv. We still have quiet time, but they use it to play quietly in their rooms-no electronics or tv. The first couple of days were a bit challenging but now they look forward to that hour.

  12. Yes!

    Though I have found that it all depends on the tv show. Sesame Street results in horrible behavior, whiny, bored, hyperactive, etc. I think it jumps from topic to topic too much and is over stimulating. In moderate amounts my daughter can handle Daniel Tigar (actually often improves behavior!), Princess Sofia (in small amounts), and DocMcStuffins (in small amounts). The older version of Thomas the
    Train seems to be fine too.

    Unfortunately, between my almost two year old needing nap sleep, and me either needing a nap (pregnant again) or needing to get things graded for the University class I teach, I need that hour and half each afternoon so I do let her watch a few things on the iPad each day. Even once we have detoxed the iPad, she still won’t stay in her room playing quietly for an hour and a half. She wants to learn how to read so I’m hoping if we buckle down and finish the book and she can read basics that reading can take the place of iPad during rest time.
    Michele recently posted..Blog Deleted for NowMy Profile

  13. Uggggh I need to do this. My 3 yo is a freaking mess and so demanding. We watch waaaaay too much tv, and I am super addicted to screens, particularly my phone. I’m doing a bit better with my phone because I finally deleted a game that was super addicting and also inspiring me to spend excessive amounts of money on pixels.

    Maybe I just need to bite the bullet and tell my kid that we’re doing a screen cleanse. No more TV for the kids. No more phone for Mom.

    How do you get through those first 72 hours though? This sounds ridiculous, but what do you do with your time instead? I feel like I need some specific ideas. Like a plan until we adjust to the changes.

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