The tantrums came out of nowhere. We had made it past the “terrible twos” We had made it through the transition of a new sibling (at 27 months). Now, at 3 ½, when our house was slowing down and our life was starting to get seemingly “settled” and easier, our sweet little boy was disappearing before our eyes.
“No! I won’t do it”
The Screaming. The kicking. The whining. The stubbornness and refusal to obey. The outright defiance. He was mean towards the dog. He was angry at his sister. He was easily upset. And then he started having accidents often (like every day, sometimes multiple times a day) (when he had been trained for over a year)
We could have chalked it up to a whole host of reasons … he’s 3. He is testing his will. Daddy is on the road sometimes. Sibling rivalry is part of growing up. It’s normal for 3-year-olds to be emotional. Maybe his sleep schedule is just off?
And while I agree that a lot of those reasons are legit, deep within I kept feeling I needed to limit his TV watching. I’d been thinking about it for a while, always waiting for “the perfect morning” or “when I get my life organized and my whole day scheduled”, then I’ll try to wean them off TV. Of course that never happens.
And then one night as we were talking together before bed, my husband brought it up. About having our family consecrated, and perhaps taking a TV Vacation for a little while, and seeing if it made a difference in the anger and exploding reactions that we were having with our almost 4 year old. Deep within, I knew it was the right thing to do. I agreed I was willing to test it, just to see if there was any difference. I wasn’t sure what I expected to see, as I didn’t really didn’t think THAT was what was causing all of his reactions.
Until we turned off the TV. Cold turkey. We eliminated his morning 60 minutes of TV. I deleted the PBS Kid and YouTube app from my phone. We limited his IPhone usage to only one short block at naptime, when he was allowed to play a few educational-type games.
I noticed the change immediately. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for or what I expected. But he was a different kid by the end of the first day. I chalked it up to … more time spent with him? Maybe a fluke? Maybe I was just looking for something.
And then day two went by.
He eyes were brighter. He smiled more. He was more talkative. He figured out how to build a 24 piece puzzle and built it by himself 4 times.
Then he took out two more 30 and 50 piece puzzles that have never left the shelf and wanted to build them. When I asked him why, he said, “because I can do it all by myself”. He tried harder. Usually, if he can’t do something, he gives up in a fit. “I’m too small” “I can’t do it” “I’ll never be first” etc. He was more ambitious. Multiples times I heard him say, “I’m getting better” “If I keep practicing, I can” And he did. He was sweet, and kind and more patient with his sister. He was eager to see his dad coming home from work and eager to wave goodbye in the morning. He responded much better to correction. We did have a run in or two and he did disobey a few times. But now, when I asked, “G, are you obeying?” He responded. He stopped what he was doing and obeyed. He reacted well to discipline. Instead of hostility, we had more hugs and less tears. And no long, drawn out – AHHH-stop-the-whole-day-because-I- have-to-deal-with-this-monster-of-a-tantrum-screaming-kid-in front-of-me-and-it-is-making-me-CRAZY. None.
Now you are probably asking … So what was his TV like before? Okay first…we don’t actually even have a TV hookup. So he’s never seen a commercial. But we have Amazon Prime, and he has watched 2-3 shows in the morning as part of his daily routine. I’ve always been pretty picky. Curious George. Little Bear. Thomas the Train. Lil Bill. Daniel Tiger. Sometimes UmiZoomi. Recently we added in the Bernstein Bears and Franklin the Turtle. These are the ones we have rotated between. Personally, I would vouch for most all those shows as something that is pretty healthy and mom approved. I even skip parts of episodes if I think there is something even the slightest bit inappropriate. So it’s not like he had free reign. (However, when I started letting him use my phone during his afternoon quiet time, he did have some freedom within the PBS App from PBS shows, but I checked in on him pretty often.)
On day 3, he discovered his abandoned toy box in the living room, completed the 24 piece puzzle about 6x, figured out the 30 piece puzzle and built it twice, and wanted to get outside at every moment he could (our biggest discipline problem today was getting him to understand that he CANNOT go outside without telling mom.) He tried multiples times. He got disciplined multiples times. But on other days, each discipline moment may have been a 30 minutes ordeal. Today, it was simple. Ended with hugs and smiles J. We went to the park. We went on a walk. We dug up dirt in our garden bed. They searched for worms. Less screen time for kiddos means less screen time for mom too (I would often do computer work while the kids watched TV, but hey, I’ll be the first to confess that at least half of what I do on the computer is a waste of time.) So its day 3 and even I feel better. Surprisingly … G jumped in with me to help fold laundry and help load the dishwasher. So I still am getting things done, even without them glued in place. That was an unexpected surprise.
Well … we completed 7 days without TV. I’m amazed. I will confess, my house is a little messier. I haven’t gotten done as much as I would have liked the last few days. There were days when I was worn out by the afternoon, or the baby missed her nap and I would have really liked to put something on for 30 minutes … but I wanted to make it through the week. So by God’s grace, we persevered in our experiment, and I just have to say … it’s been fun. Really. And very eye opening.
Our beautiful son is more smiley, and more talkative, and calmer. He never once went after the dog this week. He only had one accident the entire week (on day 1). He went potty without argument. He responded much better to my classic line, “G, are you obeying?” He calmed down much faster when corrected for something. His sister knocked over a huge tower he had just built, and as I raced across the room to intercept what I expected to be the incoming violence against his sister, he just looked at her and said, “it’s okay K, I was done with that.” I have NEVER. NEVER. NEVER…heard him have that reaction to his sister destroying something he built. We built puzzles. We rediscovered our toy boxes. We colored and drew and went to the park and spent more time outside.
Was mommy a little bit more tired? Yes. But did I have any 30 minute stop-everything-and-deal-with-my-very-highly-emotional-son-whose-having-a-meltdown-about-nothing … moments. No. I didn’t. Not once. Instead, my soul actually feels refreshed from the changes I’m seeing and joyful in conversations we are having. I really am amazed.
I thought as a mom, by limiting his TV shows to “good shows”, and keeping within that 2-hours recommendation of screen time a day, that we were somehow okay. I really didn’t expect it was impacting him this dramatically. Do I think no TV is the save-the-day-fix all solution? No. But it did make a huge difference with us. Will I continue to let me children watch TV? Yes. Occasionally. I have to think there is a time and place. But I’m thinking is more like dessert. Too much, you’re going to get fat. It’s going to slow you down. If it’s part of your routine, your body will show it. But an occasional treat? Probably still safe. You can’t hide away from everything. But this “TV cleansing” was really good for us.
Update: Day 8 I allowed my son to use my phone for an hour during his quiet time. That evening at dinner, he was different. He wasn’t bad, but he lost his conversational tone and his bright, clear, alert eyes, and was instead just silly and slightly out of sorts