What happened when we turned off the TV for a week
A few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, Ava threw a tantrum because I dared to turn the TV off. It’s not pretty, but I filmed her, partly because it was quite funny, and also because she hadn’t ever really behaved this way before, for such a prolonged time. It’s no where near as bad as some of those tantrums you see on YouTube, but for me, it was a bit of a shock. This is a cut down version. And sorry about the aspect ratio.
I left her to it, but then turned around to see her in such a rage, that she was hitting the TV with the remote control.
Well, I couldn’t just ignore that. So I marched her upstairs to her room to cool off for four minutes. She kept coming downstairs so I added two minutes. This eventually worked, and when I explained there would be no more TV for the rest of the day, she looked annoyed but I think she understood.
This got me thinking about how much we rely on TV to entertain the girls. And I felt pretty ashamed of myself. It’s not their fault that they love TV so much, we have conditioned them into it.
I am a self-confessed telly addict so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the girls would be too. My dad used to get infuriated with us when we were so engrossed in watching TV that we were ignoring whatever he was asking us – he used to say “That thing’s a DRUG!” and I now know how annoying it is!
I waste so much time half watching TV and half emailing, texting and Facebooking, that I get cross with myself after yet another wasted evening when I could have been doing something constructive. I really don’t want the girls to turn out like that.
Am I a lazy parent? Or just knackered? Probably a bit of both.
I try and do one energetic or creative activity a day, but sometimes Ryan comes home and asks what we’ve been up to and the answer is pretty extensive when you see it written out: applying suncream, dressing children, Pre-school drop off, Pre-school collection, a load of washing, hoovering, wiping up sticky hands and faces, (and door handles when I’m not fast enough) changing nappies, picking up countless crusts and other discarded food, wiping noses, mopping up several spilt drinks, checking for nits, (which in itself takes ages due to the sheer amount of hair involved!) answering a hundred questions about death, administering medicinal kisses and plasters, making and forgetting about five cups of tea, often another load of washing, matching up little pink socks, sorting washing into four piles and putting away, fishing a toilet roll tube from the toilet, (hopefully) cooking a meal, some kind of baking/colouring/sticking and most importantly, keeping the children alive! Most of the above whilst being strangled or rugby tackled by Thea. I’m not complaining, I wouldn’t have it any other way… well, a ‘mute’ button would be nice sometimes! (I thought it would be easier now that Thea can talk. Turns out it’s just noisier!) So sometimes, after hours and hours of unrelenting demands, I just need a break, and TV really is a lifesaver.
With some trepidation, I decided to extend the TV ban for a week, and include myself in it, and see what happened. I didn’t make Ryan give up TV, but he was quite happy to go along with it – he hates me having the soaps on, especially as he knows I don’t even like them that much (Neighbours excepted, of course.)
My only rule is that if we’re at someone else’s house and they have the TV on, it’s fine for the girls to watch. It would be pretty rude to dictate to our friends. I did wonder if I’d find myself inviting myself over to friends’ houses, so I could watch TV!
Over the week I tell a few mummy friends what we’re doing and they look at me with a mix of horror, pity and confusion – why would I put myself through it?
Their main question is “How on earth are you going to make any food?” And that is where I knew I’d come unstuck if I didn’t plan easy dinners that required minimum attention from me.
Here is my ‘diary’ of the week:
Day 1. Saturday:
The day of the tantrum. After we get over ‘remote control gate’ we have to go out anyway, so the lack of TV isn’t really an issue. When we get in, both girls ask for it but I say no and explain why. Ava understands, but poor Thea is a bit confused.
Times Ava and Thea ask for the TV: A gazillion. Mostly during Ava’s tantrum.
Day 2. Sunday:
I get up with the kids to try and give Ryan a lie in. We go into the living room and start to get toys out. They’d like porridge for breakfast and I go and make it. When I call them, they come into the kitchen straight away. Normally, I’d have automatically put CBeebies on to keep them entertained whilst I left the room. And normally at least one of them would stay glued to the screen until I pretty much drag them away.
Things continue well after breakfast, as we play with the Duplo together.
I hang out some washing and tidy up the kitchen, and they are still playing nicely. They have both asked for Peter Rabbit but don’t seem too upset when I say no – maybe they’re just in the habit of asking.
But then the squabbling starts. Everything Thea picks up is immediately snatched by Ava. And she’s doing it on purpose and laughing at Thea’s cross cries each time.
Ryan comes downstairs and he plays with them whilst I get dressed. I can hear the arguing continuing, but when I get out of the shower, it’s stopped. Ava had taken herself off to her own room. Much to everyone’s relief.
We go for lunch at some friends’ house and the kids play well together. I go for an easy option for dinner, so I could play with them instead of putting TV on to help occupy them whilst I cooked.
I’m in bed by nine, after finishing a couple of jobs that I’ve been meaning to do for ages. I do forget to Series Link the new Poldark though, as I haven’t been reminded by the adverts. Rats.
Times Ava and Thea ask for the TV: 7
Day 3. Monday:
We have Pre-school and toddler group in the morning. We’re having Ava and Thea’s friends round to play tomorrow afternoon in honour of Thea’s second birthday so we need to make cakes. After lunch I tidy up the kitchen, throwing the inevitable pile of crusts out to the birds. Then we play with the Duplo for a bit until Thea starts whining, indicating she needs a nap. She drops off after begging for Peter ‘Raddit‘ and Button Moon.
I dash down to get our the cooking stuff and we hurriedly make buns for butterfly cakes. I push my luck and embark on some spinach muffins. By some miracle, Thea stays asleep until they were in the oven. They weren’t very nice, but nevermind.
We invent a game where Ava is a dog, pinching Thea’s too-big play shoes off her feet and ‘burying’ then under the table, then coming back on hands and knees with it in her mouth. Then we have to say ‘good doggie’ and throw her an imaginary dog biscuit which she catches in her mouth. They both roar with laughter. This game lasts for about half an hour!
I decide to make baked potatoes and vegetable sticks for tea as it doesn’t take much time to cook. My sister Debbie comes round for tea, so whilst the baked potatoes crisp up, we decorate the butterfly cakes. The girls are in their element. It reminds me how we should do more stuff like this.
After bath time and bed I’m dying to sit down and watch TV but manage to resist. I do feel a bit lost though!
Times Thea asks for TV: 7
Times Ava asks for TV: 1
Day 4. Tuesday:
I spend most of the morning cleaning and tidying up the house. Poor Thea’s a bit bored as I flit about trying to play with her and get the vacuuming done simultaneously. Eventually she looks tired so I put her down for a nap until it’s time to pick Ava up from Pre-school.
Our friends come round in the afternoon so I don’t have any trouble entertaining them, as they dig up bulbs in the garden together, and make mud pies. Then it’s time to make dinner. I had planned on spaghetti bolognese with Quorn and pasta sauce but I hadn’t checked to see if I had any sauce. I don’t, so have to make it, which takes longer than planned. It’s indescribably stressful trying to cook with two excitable, hungry and tired kids running around your legs, especially on a stove top. And even more so when the two year old drags over a stool so she can climb up and see “What you doin?” Argh!
I keep my cool (for once) and then Ryan comes home, and takes the girls into the other room. “I miss the TV.” he says, as he’s ridden around the room.
Ryan slightly cheats this evening, giving Ava a game on his phone, so I can finish cooking in peace, while he reads to Thea.
Day 5. Wednesday:
The girls are at Pre-school and nursery and I have a busy day with several meetings, so no time to miss the TV. The girls ask for it when they come in but I think they are getting used to me saying “no”.
After dinner Ryan and I sit and read. He posted this on a Facebook:
“After Ava’s tantrum we are four days into a week of family TV ban. It’s bliss. Relaxed on the sofa with no distractions, reading. I might fake the next tantrum!”
Times Thea asks for TV: 1
Times Ava asks for TV: 1
Day 6. Thursday:
I’m working from home today, so too busy to watch TV, and the girls are at nursery and Pre-school. Ryan brings them home at about 5.30 and Thea asks for Peter Rabbit. But only twice. Ava doesn’t ask at all. We run the bath and they’re ready for bed at 6. This is very rare, but on the odd occasion this has happened before, we’d go down and watch some of the bedtime hour on CBeebies. So we have a marathon book reading session instead. I ask Ava what she prefers, watching TV or reading loads of books, and straight away, she says loads of books. So that made us feel brilliant, and slightly guilty that we don’t read more to them every day. We normally read three before bed, but this is what we get through tonight:
After they’re in bed, I make dinner, and we sit down, still a bit lost, not having the TV on.
Times Thea asks for TV: 2
Times Ava asks for TV: 0
Day 7. Friday:
Phew, the last day! And it’s Red Nose Day. I keep seeing Facebook posts about how brilliant Dermot O’Leery is doing at his dance-a-thon. I love Dermot, so this is killing me! Ava’s at Pre-school, so I go to Wolverton to pick up a delivery and have a mooch round the vintage shops with my sister, mum and niece. Thea falls asleep on the way home so I’m so tempted to put Dermot on for a minute. But I resist.
I don’t get anything done this afternoon, as Thea needs constant attention. She keeps asking for Peter Rabbit but I manage to keep strong – pesto and pasta for dinner then! She tries to take matters into her own hands:
Even though we haven’t quite done a week, we put the TV on after the girls are in bed, so we can see Dermot finishing his dance marathon (what a hero) and because it’s the weekend. Also, if you don’t watch Comic Relief, it’s practically a crime!
Times Thea asks for TV: 3
Times Ava asks for TV: 0
Ryan asks what we’ve achieved. He says I’ve been angrier. That’s no good! Especially as it indicates that I am normally angry! The stress has obviously got to me more than I thought.
I think the girls have gone to bed better though, although Thea is still waking up several times in the night. Ava soon got used to not watching TV but Thea was more attached, still asking for it several times a day. But as Ava is four, she can entertain herself and do many more things than two year old Thea can. And I think it’s not just the TV that Thea loves, it’s the cuddles that often come with it. She would quite happily be carried around by me all day I think; she just loves her hugs!
We’ve certainly spent more time playing and reading together, which can only be a good thing. The girls have also played more together, without me, and it’s so delicious to hear their funny conversations. And it’s nice to have some peace and quiet (even if it is punctuated by squabbling on a regular basis) and no Mr Tumble in the background is a definite win! Really, I think it’s just a habit, and habits can be broken, apparently.
So what’s next? I can’t feed us pasta and pesto, or baked potatoes for the rest of our lives (though that’s pretty much what I lived on at university!). One of my very wise mummy friends lets her girls have ‘screen time’ per day. Her girls are older so that includes iPad/computers as well as TV. So I think that’s what we’ll do too. I couldn’t and wouldn’t live without TV – I’m not a maniac! But we could certainly do with cutting down…
It’s been a few weeks now and I have been limiting the TV. My new rule is that the TV only goes on in the afternoon, and I try and keep pushing that as late as possible, so it’s mainly when I’m trying to cook. But I (like all parents) do have countless other things to do, so sometimes I do have to put it on earlier, so that I can get stuff done without having to stretch round Thea’s body or drag her around when she’s attached to my foot!
It’s been pretty hard over the Easter holidays, when Ava hasn’t been at Pre-school. Ryan had the second week off so we went out on some lovely day trips, and we’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the garden – thank goodness it’s been such lovely weather!
The girls have definitely been playing more and staring-like-zombies less. They’ve been fighting more too, including wrestling. But I guess that’s par for the course! I haven’t gone as far as setting limits, as they can’t tell the time yet, and it seems to be Thea who is most attached, so she certainly wouldn’t understand, but I think that is something I will bring in, in the future.
Have you set TV limits for your kids? I’d love to hear your ideas and advice!