I talked about here how the use of media in our home got a little out of control in 2014. It was mostly between me (with the phone) and Salem (with the TV), and the underlying problem was that I was escaping, rather than engaging my calling. It's been since the beginning of December since things started changing drastically in our daily routines, and I definitely feel more connected to Salem, and I've seen a lot of positive changes in him as well. I'm no longer glued to my phone, and Salem watches probably around 2 hours of TV per week, rather than 2 hours per day. He doesn't even really ask to watch TV much anymore, and it's no longer stressful to think of a day without TV. I wanted to share a bit of how I weaned Salem from excess media use, in case anyone else is looking to do the same in their household.
1. It starts with you. My pastor of my old church in Boston used to always say, "you teach what you know, but you reproduce what you are." (I may not have quoted it exactly, but it was something to that effect). What this means when it comes to the use of media, I can't expect Salem to not watch TV all the time if I'm watching it all the time or glued to my phone. He's going to emulate what he sees in me, so examine your own use of media, if you're using too much, than your child will likely do the same.
2. Connection is the foundation. After checking your own use of media, the next thing to focus on is connection. NONE of this will work if you don't have connection. To me, connection means cultivating closeness and trust. It means doing the things with Salem that sets his heart on fire and makes him light up with joy. It means that I pay attention to his bents, his tendencies, the subtleties that only mom or dad knows, and I treat him like a garden that needs to be watered and weeded in order for him to grow and flourish. I plan our entire day around our connection time. He'll be a better friend to his friends at a playdate if he feels connected to me first. He'll be better behaved at preschool or church if he's feels connected to me first. He'll want to play independently later if he feels connected to me first. He'll be much more inclined to obey me when I ask him to do something if he feels connected to me first. This is a season of their life and yours where their minds are like sponges and they want to be near you more than anyone else. Take advantage of that and tend to your garden.
3. Think more about what you want to cultivate and less what you want to get rid of. I wanted him to love the outdoors, riding his bike, artistic creativity, and have the ability to find joy in the little things. I didn't want TV to undermine any of those things. Instead of thinking about how to get more of the "bad" stuff out, think about how you can get more of the good stuff in. It makes it less stressful and more joyful when it's about nurturing the good stuff.
4. Surrender to the chaos. This one sounds weird and hard. For some reason when I first became a mom, I was never good at blending my life pre-baby with my life as a new mother. I always felt like the things I liked or wanted to do had to fit in a time slot when I wasn't with Salem, rather than trying to do the things I liked or wanted to do alongside of him. For me, this was getting ready in the morning. I like take a shower, and slowly get dressed and do my hair and makeup without him. I would usually let him watch a show while I did this. Finally, I've surrendered to the fact that I get ready with some chaos going on. If I'm not showering at the gym, Salem is usually playing at my feet and I'm trying to referee between him and Judah while I put on my mascara. It's not neat and tidy anymore, and sometimes we just have to accept that.
The above four nuggets are the foundation of it all. The next six are the practical things you can do to get the TV out and the connection in.
5. Plan a lot on the first couple days. I needed to plan the good stuff much more than usual to fill the void of not having the TV on at first. The boys and I would go on hikes every morning on a nearby trail instead of watching TV, which filled everyone's connection tank. Know your game plan, and fill the day up so your child won't really have time to think about TV. This isn't the long-term plan, to have packed days, but it is good in the beginning when you're needing something to fill that void.
6. Give them pretend jobs! Another thing the TV was a babysitter for was to allow me to get stuff done! Let's be honest, our kids need connection but we need some time to take care of the house and cook too! I try to get Salem involved in what I'm doing. If it's a recipe he can cook with me, I'm happy to let him pull up a step stool and let him get messy and help! If it's something he shouldn't do, like chopping up food with a sharp knife, I give him a bogus job, like have him stir up something that doesn't really need to be stirred but won't be a huge waste of food or money. Dried beans are good for this. Also, he loves pretending to wash the windows with baby wipes! Sure, it actually makes things messier, but I give him points for trying to contribute. Kid size cleaning items are great for this too. Salem has a kids size broom that he always brings out when I start sweeping. It also boosts their self-esteem to contribute! They love to be helpers.
7. Let them play independently around you. Salem will play independently as long as I'm in view. We have an upstairs play room, so most of the toys are up there and at first I wanted him to just go up there any play alone while I do things downstairs, but I find he likes doing his activities independently in my presence. He will happily color, do stickers, or play with Lego's at the kitchen table while I'm washing dishes, but doesn't want to do those things upstairs where I'm not in sight.
8. Create good boundaries. We DO still watch TV here, and I'm not saying all TV is inherently bad, but I do think it will help to have GOOD boundaries in place. A bad boundary might just create another power struggle, so I would avoid setting a rule like only 30 minutes a day of TV or only two shows. When that TV turns off they'll probably be mad, and you'll have another tantrum or place where a power struggle could form. And one day you probably won't feel like dealing with that so you'll just let them keep watching and then next thing you know, you didn't stay true to your word and it's now there's a problem for both of you. When Salem does ask to watch TV, I assess how the day has been. Have we connected? Has he gotten his need to release physical energy out? Have we been outside? Have we nurtured creativity? Are our daily chores taken care of (toys and books put away in play room and bedroom)? If I could answer yes to those things, than the answer is yes, let's watch something for a little while. I almost always watch it with him (while folding laundry) and ask him questions as he watches to see what he's learning and to make sure he's not zoning out! I make sure he knows what we're doing afterwards, so that when it's time to start that he knows what's next, but I don't set any boundary that I know I can't follow through with.
9. Do you really need help? Sometimes the TV becomes a babysitter when we really are just spread too thin. Preschool, a regular babysitter, or a maid service can be expensive, but what about a "mother's helper"? I know Salem LOVES older kids, maybe between the ages or 9-13 that are too young to be an official babysitter, but haven't forgotten how to entertain a kid without an iPad. Maybe a neighbor kid or another mom's older kid could come over while you're home and play with your kids while you get stuff done. You wouldn't have to pay them as much, and you'd be home in case they needed help. That way, when they are old enough to babysit, they already know your kids and have formed a relationship with them! You will have also built up some trust with them as well.
10. Give yourself grace! If your child is between the ages of 1-2, take heart! This is a hard age. They don't have the attention span to focus on something for very long and separation anxiety is usually at it's peak, so you may be desperate for a break. I know I was! If you're going through a big life adjustment like a new baby or a move, you know what you need and don't feel guilty if you need a TV babysitter for a little while. Just make sure it's temporary!