Last week, we discussed how parents can get on the same page when it comes to children watching TV/video or using technology. While I didn’t mention how important it is for parents to present a unified front, that is imperative. One of the biggest gifts parents can give children is predictability and security. When mothers and fathers enforce different rules, children are the losers. The discussions about watching TV, or any other area where mothers and fathers conflict, should not be in front of the children. Since children are equipped with X-ray eyes and hyper-sensitive hearing when they are interested in a conversation, these discussions should best take place out of the home or, at least, in a private room with relatively loud music playing (even if you are sure your children are asleep).
What can children do instead of watching TV or videos? Let’s compare this to food. What would you do if your family was accustomed to a diet of nutritionally empty snacks and fast-food main courses washed down by soda and you reached the conclusion that this wasn’t a great idea?
Here is what you would not do: You would not get up and lecture about the dangers of sugar and the importance of cruciferous vegetables. You would not insist that you could only switch to a healthier menu if it took exactly the same time and cost the same as a fast-food supper. You would not choose to make this change the same week as you have two overdue projects at work, your daughter’s best friend was moving out of town or your annoying cousins were coming to visit.
What you would do (I hope) is recognize that often the immediate reaction to making an improvement seems to make things worse. Do you want to renovate your house? Get ready for expense, dirt and noise. Do you want to get in shape? Prepare for sore muscles and aches. You get the idea.
Make a strategic plan. Pick a stretch of time when you and your wife will be more available than usual. Make time each day for playing with your children. If your children are not accustomed to imaginative and independent play, you are going to have to help ease them into this.
Invest in art supplies, games, building and construction toys, puzzles and books. Don’t overbuy—too many “things” tend to lead to boredom. You have lots of supplies already at your fingertips: empty paper towel and toilet rolls, empty matchboxes, socks without matches, etc.
If you and your wife’s imaginations could use a boost, there are thousands of ideas online as well as tons of craft books in the library. Spend time together discovering if your children enjoy board games, books on tape, building towers or having relay races. If you invest time doing these things with them now, they will grab the initiative down the road and be able to do these activities on their own.
Yes, this will make for a messier house. Establish ground rules for cleaning up after each project/game before beginning a new one. Make designated places for library books and art supplies. The time and thought the two of you put into converting your household from passive to active past-times will pay off down the road.
You mentioned “young children,” but did not designate an age. Toddlers can entertain themselves as can eight-year-olds, but obviously not for the same amount of time. Be realistic. If your children are very young, you and your wife may well have to take turns being on call and playing at any designated hour. Maybe a pre-teen or young teen-age neighbor can play with your children while you are in the house getting some work done.
I don’t think of watching TV as the equivalent of giving a child arsenic, but I do think of it as junk food. In small amounts, it is a treat. In large doses, it is harmful. I hope this discussion helps you and your wife figure out your own views on the subject.