As a first time mum it’s been driven into me a lot that young children cope well with having a basic routine for the day. It makes them feel more secure, they know what will happen and everything is not changing all the time. Speaking as someone who likes to have a plan in place (regardless of whether it changes later on) I can more than relate to this. However, sometimes the routine you create can be a rod for your own back rather than an aid to a peaceful (somewhat) and enjoyable day. Worrying about what they need to be doing and when makes you stressed out and irritable and can lead to a somewhat peevish child as right now they don’t want to be eating lunch and would much rather be playing, drawing or running around in circles (a favourite at the moment with the beanster). So while routine is important, mental flexibility is as well. Is it really important that they stop reading that book right now and eat their lunch? Forcing them to carry on drawing because they insisted on getting it out for half an hour and were interested for only five minutes before wanting something else can do nothing but cause friction (trust me I know!), instead show some flexibility and leave the activity out for them to return to when they’re ready.
Without a doubt we have had a routine as a family regarding nap times and meals. Now Beth’s a bit older we also have some regular activities we do during the week (bouncy castles for the win!!). However there is a certain thing that has insidiously crept its way into our daily routine, something that is a blessing and a curse in disguise, something that practically every parent of a toddler in the UK will know about….and that thing; is CBeebies.
It starts off so innocently at first, an episode of “In The Night Garden” before bed (developed by child psychologists to encourage sleepiness, but most people suspect acid trip) here, watching Zingzillas before the morning nap there. Then comes the discovery that the child sits still (actually SITS STILL!) enabling you to do useful household chores or getting everything you need for the day ready without said child clinging to your leg or running in front of you. You rationalize it of course “It’s educational” you say, “This one’s only 5 minutes long and they’re enjoying it so much it can’t hurt” and before you know it there are certain programmes that are a must have every day. They’re part of the routine. Suddenly, time gets that much tighter, there are more deadlines to hit, more things to do to make sure that your child feels safe and secure, you start feeling rushed and turn to your savior and oppressor CBeebies to help you through those tight spots where you need to spend time doing all the little jobs that are so much easier on your own. Before you know it the TV is the babysitter and while you might be able to get all the housework done (a rarity in this household at the best of times) there’s a sneaky guilty feeling that it’s at the cost of something a lot better. Know how I know this? Because slowly, but surely, I am heading that way with Beth.
Those activities I mentioned during the week that we do are more often than not in the morning going into her lunchtime nap. After breakfast I need to get lunch ready for Beth, make sure that the changing bag is ready, get myself ready (breakfast and being handed my clothes item by item by Beth), find shoes, debate the merits of walking vs pushchair and finally go. A fair few of these tasks were made easier by just some episodes of whatever was on “Beebies”, all of these tasks were completed with some breathing time with a lot of “Beebies” (and seeing it written down has just given me a cold shudder of shame). It has gotten to the point where Beth has her own spot in the living room. Well enough is enough.
Did you know that the recommended time for watching television for young children is two hours a day only. Strictly speaking as Beth is only twoandabit she shouldn’t be watching any at all! Watching television for an abnormally long amount of time has been linked to increased liklihood of Attention Deficit Disorder (however studies are unsure whether this was present in the children beforehand), increased likelihood of obesity due to the fact they’re sat in front of a screen rather than moving around and an incapability of dealing with lower levels of stimulation and needing to concentrate (for example when needing to focus in lessons at school). These effects are blamed on the way that programmes and adverts change focus very quickly and “wire” a young child’s developing brain to expect and need more stimulation than is normally provided in every day activities. In my mind I see it akin to my caffeine fix in the bad days of dissertation writing, after a few days of using coffee to help me stay awake and concentrate I couldn’t focus without it, without the stimulation and constant changes that they can get from watching the television a child finds it hard to focus and concentrate because their attention simply can not be held.
A few months ago our little family was away camping in a field full of buttercups and bar the usual discomforts of camping (which aren’t many given the size of our tent!) it was LIBERATING! All of a sudden we didn’t have time limits bar whenever food was required, there was no lingering murmur of “Beebies”, there was no mad scramble to get dinner ready and given to Beth before Driver Dan was on. There was no pressure. Admittedly we were more relaxed because we also didn’t have to work, but just being able to not have that option of TV distraction somehow made me more able to think of other ways for Beth to be entertained and for us to interact throughout the day. Turns out ripping up grass and putting it in stuff is an activity that can go on for hours (we’re thinking of hiring her out as a landscaper).
Now we’re back home I’m trying to make a conscious effort to rely less on children’s TV to keep Beth quiet. I’m trying to communicate more with her about what I need when I’m doing something (a task that can only become more effective the older she gets), I’m making more of an effort to be organized the night before to avoid that rushed “Oh crap where IS everything?!” feeling and now more forgiving about the fact that the dishwasher/washing/any form of housework hasn’t been done…it’s not usually done anyway, but I give myself less of a guilt trip about it. I am in no way saying that you should ban the television all together. Sometimes there are days when I or Beth are not feeling completely 100% (something which happened quite a few times since starting writing this particular blog for you all) and only Cbeebies will do for those all important necessary quite times. We still avail ourselves of the nighttime hour although with the warmer months she’s watched that even less because sunshine means we can play in the garden (and by play I mean make adorable videos of the Beanster doing the latest Tiny Tigers Kung Fu form with me).
But for the me effort is to make sure that it is appropriate viewing time that she has when we do sit around the glowing box. Considering what else is out there on the networks available now, a few children’s programmes (that in the end are actually designed more or less to be educational and developmental) aren’t so bad.