5 Tips for Curbing Preschooler TV Time
Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics advise no more than one to two hours of quality TV a day for children 2 years old and older. These tips can help your child develop healthy TV habits.
Be smart about your preschooler's solo TV time.
If you must use TV as a temporary babysitter, be mindful of how long your child is sitting there, says Donald Shifrin, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and a member of the committee on communications for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Choose calming, educational shows, such as Dora the Explorer or Blue's Clues, or a video that features singing and dancing.
Avoid the advertising trap.
Children see 40,000 commercials each year on TV. And, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics, children under age 6 don't know the difference between the ads and the actual show. Avoid the ad exposure by choosing non-commercial TV or educational videos instead of commercial broadcasts. One study found that of more than 12,000 food ads, 67% were for unhealthy food. The majority of those commercials were broadcast during children's programming.
Watch TV with your preschooler.
First, find an age-appropriate show or DVD, and then sit down together to enjoy it. That way, watching TV becomes an event, Shifrin tells WebMD. Resist the urge to channel surf when the show ends. Instead, turn off the TV and move on to something more active.
Tell your preschooler why you're turning off the TV.
"You might say, 'I'm going to turn off the TV now because I'm not going to [be] distracted by TV all the time,'" Shifrin says. "Tell him, 'We've watched enough shows for now.' Narrating emphasizes your family values and explains your actions." But be sure to give your preschooler a heads-up about how many shows you will watch before you even start watching. Kids need to know what to expect.
Use TV to encourage activity.
If you're worried that your preschooler isn't getting enough exercise, consider popping in a children's exercise DVD or switching on a gaming system that encourages players to get up and move while playing. But do the exercises with your children. "At this age, the only way they'll respond is if you're doing the exercises, too," says Michael Brody, MD, chairman of the media committee for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and a professor at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Set the right example.
If you don't want your preschooler to watch too much TV, then you shouldn't either. Get the TV out of your bedroom as well as theirs. Avoid turning it on the minute you enter your house or leaving it on when your children aren't watching. Turn off the TV during meals, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. "TV becomes background noise that they need to fill a void," Brody says. "Then it becomes a habit."