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Breaking Your Kids' TV Addiction

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Child-behavior guru Noel Janis-Norton tells you how to make your kids watch less TV.

There are so many studies out there about how watching too much TV just isn't good for our kids' brains. That seems way apparent when you observe children watching TV -- all open-mouthed and zoned out. Most of us here at momlogic have gotten into the (bad) habit of letting our kids watch TV in the mornings, and we can't help but think: Aren't our mornings stressful enough without the added hassle of trying to extract our kids from the weirdly captivating "Go, Diego, Go!"? But how can we implement a new TV rule without suffering tantrums or total child-revolt?

We askedNoel Janis-Norton, creator of the "Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting" system, for her expert advice."Of course your children will be upset, because you're making a change that they don't like," she says. "It's OK for them to be upset!" Here's her simple, three-step solution for reducing the "upset" and having a successful family transition to the new rule of "less TV":

1) Make sure that you and your partner agree on the new rule completely, so you can back each other up.

2) Tell your children about the new rule several days before you plan to implement it, and at a neutral time (dinner, bedtime, etc.). Clearly explain what the new rule is once and ONLY once. ("Starting next Monday, we're going to have a new rule about when you can watch television. The new rule is that there will be no TV before school. You can watch TV for a half hour in the afternoon after you've finished your homework.")

3) Ask your children repeat the new rule back to you. ("So: What's the new rule?") Follow up with more questions, until it is clear they understand. ("And what day will we start it? And when will you be able to watch TV? And for how long?") This is called a "talk-through," and it will maximize the likelihood of your children cooperating by jogging their memories about the expectations: Whiletheyexplain it toyou, they are creating a mental image of themselves following the new rule.

The talk-through also gives them the respect they deserve. They receive a fair warning, and you can empathize with how they feel about it. ("This new rule may make you feel angry or disappointed because you've been used to watching TV in the morning, and I know you love TV.") If they ask you why you're making this new rule, just remain calm and friendly and let them answer their own question. ("Good question. Why do you think Dad and I are making this new rule?") Kids always know the answers. If they say, "I don't know," just ask them to take a guess.

It's important that whenever you are changing rules, you have many "talk-throughs" with your children in advance, because it will reduce their resistance. Talk-throughs always mean asking, not telling. When you ask them and they tell you, they are the ones doing the thinking, so whatever it is they need to do will stick in their long-term memories.

Don't get drawn into arguments or start reasoning about the new rules. If they complain, you can respond and let them know that you care and are on their side. ("You're probably upset because this is a rule you don't like, and you wish you could still watch TV before school.") Once again, if they ask you why, just ask them to take a guess -- and praise them for knowing the answer (or any part of the answer). If they say, "You're doing it just to be mean," stay calm and don't rise to the bait. Just say something like, "I can see you're angry about it." They will get over their upset feelings sooner if you don't argue or reason with them. They will also learn that it doesn't work to try to get you to argue when they aren't getting the kind of response they want.

We are trying Noel Janis-Norton's system out tomorrow!

next: My First-Month-of-School Staycation
166 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kim September 1, 2010, 11:07 AM

We just got rid of our dish and got netflix. Our son is allowed 2 hours a day total to watch tv and play video games. I make sure and do it in spurts throughout the day. When they are watching tv or playing games, that’s my computer time also. When they aren’t, then I’m not on the computer. It has helped all of us tremendously to do more things together as a family.

Spottedfeather September 11, 2010, 2:50 PM

What’s the matter with you ? Only two hours for tv AND video games ? There is absolutely nothing wrong with as much tv as you want. I watch tv from 2 pm to 7 am. That’s 18 hours a day. I can fit in so much because I often watch a tv show on my computer while watching one on tv at the same time. Or I’ll listen to the radio while playing a video game. Also, during the summer, I’ll go in the pool for an hour or two. I don’t see a problem because there isn’t one. If it’s winter, do you still expect your kids to go out and play ? Really ? You’re right. It’s much better that they roll around in and throw snow and get sick than sit inside all nice and warm watching tv for a few hours ? You’ve got a strange sense of how the world works, lady.

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