How to Raise a Low Media Child (Without Going Insane)

How to raise a low-media #child without going insane - via

Hey mamas! I’m enjoying some downtime with my new baby girl here, so I have a few guest posts lined up from some of my favorite bloggers. Today I’m excited to share this comprehensive and creative post from Mindy Wood! Mindy writes about simple living over at, and you can also catch her on FacebookTwitter or Pinterest. Enjoy!

Enter Mindy

We all know that screen time in excess can be harmful to infants and toddlers, and that it isn’t great for older children either. And I would guess that there aren’t too many parents out there that want their children to struggle with things like obesity, ADHD or or cognitive and language development; so why are so many young children still watching too much TV? Well, because parents are tired! Caregiving—especially quality caregiving—requires a ridiculous amount of attention, patience and energy. It’s totally understandable to want a few moments of peace every day to (gasp!) use the bathroom alone. So, are a few minutes of television going to irrevocably damage your child? Of course not. But what if you could have a break without using the TV or your iPhone to entertain your little one?

Luckily there IS a way to have a low media (or media free) child without losing your mind. The answer is…

Self-directed play!

Self-directed or independent play is play chosen, initiated and directed by the child. When your child is able to engage in independent play, being with your child becomes less demanding. You are no longer the entertainment. You can sit back and just observe what your child is exploring. You may be able to read, check your email, work, eat chocolate—whatever—and all while he plays and explores. What a relief! Cultivating intrinsically motivated, independent exploration does more than just give parents a break though. Self-directed play builds social and emotional health, confidence, creativity, self-discipline and problem solving skills. TV can’t even touch those awesome benefits! In fact, TV damages a child’s instinct for discovery and self-directed play. Not only is increased TV viewing linked to shorter attention spans, but TV viewing encourages the need and desire to be entertained over interest in discovery and exploration. So the more TV they watch the less they are able to engage in self-directed play and the more they “need” TV. Well, that’s a bummer. Luckily, self-directed play can take care of your need for a break as well as encourage your child to engage in more self-directed play! So, the 10 million dollar question is: how do you get your child to play independently?

Turn Off the TV

As I said, watching TV can actually decrease children’s ability to engage in self-directed play so stopping TV viewing is an obvious first step. Some families will find that going cold turkey works best while others gradually wean TV watching out of their child’s daily schedule. It will also depend on your child’s age. The AAP recommends no TV for children under 2, and no more than 1-2 hours a day for older children. If you need some help breaking a TV habit this article written by Janet Lansbury is very useful.

Create a Safe and Engaging Environment

The way you design your environment will depend on many factors but here are some guidelines to get you started. Don’t be overwhelmed; there are many inexpensive ways to create an appealing environment for your child. Be creative! Safety is the number one concern. If you want to be able to leave the room or focus your attention elsewhere, the environment must be 100% safe. This might mean gating off unsafe rooms or gating an area of your living room for the child to enjoy. If you can, an outdoor space is wonderful! If you have an open floor plan, a wood stove or lots of stairs it can be challenging but gates, outlet covers and drawer locks are your friends! Organize your child’s play space so that it is engaging and orderly. Children are especially sensitive to disorder. Keeping things neat, tidy and uncluttered (as best you can!) helps your child to stay focused. Instead of putting toys into large toy boxes, place materials in smaller baskets, on trays or on shelves. This makes viewing and choosing materials easy (learning to put them away is much easier too). Make sure all materials are accessible to your child (they don’t have to ask you to get something down) but remember that if they are not using a material appropriately you can always put it away for another day. Find a balance between enough toys to offer choices but not too many so that your child feels overwhelmed or overstimulated. When there are too many toys children tend to play with each one for a shorter time. You can store excess toys and rotate them out depending on what she is most interested in. When you rotate these toys back in it’s like having brand new toys! Child sized tables and chairs are a great addition to the play space. When a child sits in a chair that is just his size he is more confident and able to focus on his activities. Child size furniture can be expensive but you can save a lot by finding them used or you can get creative and use what you have available (we used a file folder as a mini table for the longest time!). Stools are great for cultivating independence as they help your child to do a lot for themselves that they would otherwise need help with (reaching the sink, removing clothing, helping with cooking).

Choose Toys Wisely

When selecting or deciding whether to keep a toy remember that simple is good. Choose toys that will foster imagination and discovery rather than toys that move or make noise. In fact, get rid of (or take the batteries out of) all battery-powered toys. As infant expert Magda Gerber said “Active toys make passive children; passive toys make active children.” And active children are wonderful at discovering fun and entertaining activities that will keep them engaged! Here are some ideas for toys and stations that you can incorporate into your child’s play space.Young Boy Playing at Montessori/Pre-School

  • Montessori style grasping toys
  • Montessori (rolling cylinder)
  • Textures basket
  • Containers to be opened and closed. Recycled food containers are great for this.
  • Art table. Add crayons, paper, stickers, and scissors in neat containers. You can opt for washable crayons, for easier cleanup.
  • Dress up basket. Collect old clothes, costumes, scarves etc.
  • Nature tray. Go outside and pick up a few leaves, pinecones, rocks etc.
  • Blocks
  • Cars or trains
  • Books
  • Musical instruments
  • Kitchen with play food, pots and pans, broom and dust pan, and dust rag.
  • Puzzles
  • Sensory materials that your child can put her hands in. Offer different spoons, cups or other tools for her to manipulate the materials with. Some ideas: sand, rice, water, beans, play dough, ooblek.
  • Sorting or matching trays.

How to Cultivate Self-Directed Play

Observe and follow your child as they explore their surroundings. You will learn more about which materials she enjoys and which ones she ignores (those can be put away).

  • Resist the urge to help. Allow your child to struggle a bit. It’s all part of learning. Don’t show them the “right way” to use a material. Let them explore! If you choose materials that are age appropriate then your child will be able to use them without your help anyway. There will be times when you may need to offer some support and that’s ok too.
  • Don’t interrupt. Children are doing very important work when they are playing. When you let them explore their environment on their own terms they are learning that what they are interested in is worth being interested in.
  • Trust him. Let him decide what to play with, how to play with it, and for how long. Some days he may focus on one toy for a long time, others he may jump from one toy to another. Both are ok. The important thing is that he learns to follow his inner compass and develop the ability to direct his own play for long periods of time. It will take time and effort but soon you will find that your child is so focused on what she’s doing that you can read a few lines of the newspaper, get dinner started, or just relax… Phew!

What about you?

How do you limit screen time and encourage actual play in your home?

About Genevieve

After battling weight, digestive, and immune system issues for years, I know firsthand the harmful effects of conventional life. Through a long road of detox, I discovered the healing power of natural living. This transformation spread into every area of my life - physical, emotional & spiritual. Now I'm on a mission to help other mamas live happier, healthier lives.

Please note: Many links on this site, especially those to Amazon, are affiliate links. Should you click on these links and purchase something, the price is no different for you and I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting Mama Natural!

Disclaimer: The statements made here have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure or prevent any disease. This notice is required by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.


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  2. Jenn @buildingmommymuscles March 9, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I have really been struggling in this area. When it’s too cold to play outside for long, movies are just SO EASY. But I know that they are detrimental. Thanks for the encouragement to cut way back.
    Jenn @buildingmommymuscles recently posted A Mom’s Worst Moments

  3. Free Instagram Followers February 28, 2014 at 1:00 pm

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  4. Leslie Loftis February 28, 2014 at 9:28 am

    I should’ve posted this earlier as live stream almost over, but hopefully will be available afterward. It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens
    She discussed how we introduce younger children to media many times. Highly recommended. You can get a gist from the hashtag #networkedteens. Watch the show if you can though. It is worth your time.

  5. Daniela February 26, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    This is a great article!
    It takes being fully involved with the kids and don’t take any of their attitude, personal to be able to raise a little person without social media. It helps them to have more human connection, that at the end I feel is the most important lesson in life.
    P.S:I’m into giving educational toys as puzzles, potato head, etc to children I have babysat before.

  6. KD February 16, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Great article, great resources too. I do not yet have children, but I am definitely saving this article. I very much agree with the message. As I was an introverted child, I often chose to spend hours of time inventing elaborate play with my Disney figurines and remember little time in front of a television. I want to give my children that opportunity. Thank you!

  7. Jennifer February 13, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    I appreciate this article because my husband is always on my case about the amount of time we watch television. In reality, I’m the worse culprit! I definitely watch way too much while my 2 year old isn’t even interested when I watch. I do need to curb the habit and probably just have it on during naptime. Thanks for the article!

  8. Nina January 29, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    We don’t have cable so my kids don’t watch that much TV. In the winter now though they watch more. It is too cold and dark to play outside in the winter in PA. But for Christmas my inlaws got my older daughter a Nintendo DS and I really hate it, she wants to play with it constantly! Now I have to be “mean” and limit it.

  9. M Burns January 12, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Actually parents should stay away from screens too! So many get absorbed with iphones and other devices, texting and searching, they ignore their children unintentionally. Save the screens for after bedtime. Observe and engage your children while they are awake. Then they will learn to interpret social cues, facial expressions, body language, gestures before school age. Less of a struggle for a child to adapt to school expectations.

  10. Julia January 6, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Hi Everyone,

    I wanted to get some opinions on a unique problem regarding media. I am very anti TV/computer/whatever when it comes to my 3 year old, but recent circumstances have shaken me up and I need some input on this. I am a single, bilingual mother and we recently moved back to the U.S. from Italy where my daughter was in school full time and speaking Italian whenever she was not with me. I thought I would switch on her and speak to her in Italian when we moved here, but she is absolutely refusing to speak in Italian after only 9 weeks out of country. She doesn’t even want to read Italian stories with me, and at this point the only way I can get her to pay attention in Italian is to let her watch Italian kids videos on you tube. She even gets mad when I speak to her in Italian. I am desperate not to have her lose her language skills, but it completely freaks me out to see her on the ipad even at all, and I agree with the above posts that it is addicting, reduces attention span, and is bad for social skills, not to mention that she and I don’t have enough time together in the first place. I don’t live in a city that is large enough to support any sort of Italian community, so community involvement is not really an option. Please, I am desperate. I will consider any serious suggestions….

    • Leslie Loftis January 6, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      Once and future expat here. London. International school. Many friends with bi- and tri-lingual families. This is pretty common.

      You’ve got two separate issues going on. The first isn’t about Italian refusal but your switch in languages. You broke her rules. Mommy speaks English. She’s resisting your switch, not Italian. The second is about peer language. Kids will speak peer language if they know their parents understand it. I had more than a few friends who would speak to their child in, say, Russian, but the child would only answer in English. (Peer conformity also applies to accents. At our international school, majority dual or more language kids with obviously accented parents, but the kids all spoke English with the same British school kid accent.)

      A few suggestions:
      Allow limited video, but only in Italian.
      Speak to everyone you can, even imaginary phone callers, in Italian in earshot of your daughter. Absent mindly read recipes, books, articles aloud in Italian. Not to her, but around her. When she asks tell her with a shrug that it is easier for you and then move on. No issue. No challenge. Just your pref.
      If an opportunity presets, make Italian y’all’s little secret. Here you can tell secrets to each other in public. Speaking Italian is your own mother daugher game.
      Play Italian pop music, nursery rhymes, etc. in the car.
      Italian restaurants usually have a few native speakers. Scope one out. Talk to the Italian speakers in advance about only speaking Italian to her. Make it a weekly treat. And note that if she hears her Italian correspondent speaking English, she might switch to answering in English, but as long as she understands Italian, then the language skills are holding.
      Skype some of her school friends, neighbors. Granted 3 year olds on Skype is a bit of an adventure with the directional microphone, but the language skills are too valuable.

      Since she’s already talking you don’t have to do the exposure constantly. A few times a week just to keep her Italian database in good practice.

      • Julia January 7, 2014 at 1:02 pm

        Thank you!!!!! I will implement some of your suggestions TODAY!!!!

  11. Milly January 4, 2014 at 1:28 am

    Our ped recommended that its best to set rules before age 2. The reason being is kids (especially toddlers) do not handle change well. So we made it a house rule to only allow minimal screen time on the weekends. When school & homework come into play, we hope continuing to lay down this rule will be less stressful. Every parent is doing the best they can, with different schedules, kids temperament, etc! For me as a parent the rule its less about positive attributes, and more about laying down the law now. Of course TV has some very educational & beneficial programs. But, everything should be in moderation & kids learn more from playing outside, exploring their world, etc!

  12. Stephanie December 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I love this article! I already employ most of these suggestions in my home, they really do help encourage active, self directed play. With normally active children I can imagine this would create a very serene environment, indeed. I would like to note that I have unusually (seriously) active children so limited screen time still is a necessary evil for me. When my son was younger it was literally the only way he could be still and awake at the same time. Limiting screen time and setting up play areas with carefully selected toys really improved our lives. But…I have a 5 and 2 year old at home full time. If I need to complete a task that I can’t break up into 15 minute blocks (and Dad isn’t home to help) I must use a screen to do it. I find the historic alternative of tying one’s child to a tree or post to keep them safe while mom completes a task less attractive. ;)

  13. Caitlyn December 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Great article! A much needed discussion in modern families. Thank you for this!

  14. Ryan December 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    If you fill the screen with good stuff, why limit it?

    Screen time, as with access to something without parental involvement, certainly could be a bad thing if you just hand your kid a device and a payment-enabled account and expect the device to raise your kid for you.

    I suppose that’s the greater evil than the sanctiparents who project their own fears and limitations into the screen.

    Alternately it’s just one more thing that’s new and that you don’t understand or have enough other parent monkeys around you to see-and-do what they do to help you accept it.

    Probably a high correlation between “screen-time” angst and wi-fi fear (as they use their smartphone to co-cluck with other tech-phobic parents about such things.)

    Super amusing are the parents dragging around several pounds of gear, usually a mix of nearly-dead electronics, books and drawing supplies who tisk-and-cluck ever wisely when they see my kid with one simple long-lived device that does all of those things and far more.

    (And is relatively cheap. You can get a decent Android based tablet for under $300 new, or a bit more for an iOS tablet, or spend half that and buy used.)

    Better still are the ones that say my kids are spoiled, after they blew several thousand on the in-car DVD screen option … that only play movies from discs you have to carry around and that does not leave the car, that’s permanently part of a car they’re bound to replace in as many years as I’ll get out of a tablet.

    My preschooler has fallen asleep watching Dr. Suzuki’s “Nature of Things” … or stayed up a bit late playing a numbers game, or building and moving around in a 3D house he built.

    I see no need to limit that

    especially if your alternative is to have them sitting in front of Treehouse anyway

    and they’re just passively absorbing the same things over and over with no interaction.

    Your kids might vary, but with unlimited access to their tablets, as often you’ll find my kids playing LEGO, running around the house playing tag or wrestling, or watching Treehouse (Netflix Kids, actually, give us a little credit) too, like every other kid.

    But hey, if you’re able to turn your limitations and fears into sanctimonious positive attributes, then that’s quite a superpower you’ve got there.

    Just keep your clucking and tisking and hand wringing to yourself … and immunize your kid.

  15. Erin December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    “Screen time” is not necessarily a bad thing. Or a good thing. IT ISN’T ONE THING.

    If I hear one more parent (usually sanctimommies/daddies) declare they limit their kid’s “screen time” Imma gunna lose it!

    Define what the hell “screen time” means and why exactly you are limiting it.

    Screen time could be more educational than reading a good ol’ fashioned book. It also could be gruesome, shoot-em-humans-up video gaming.

    Don’t limit your children from learning (even via a seemingly uneducational app – some are incredibly useful for fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, etc.). Non-interactive, zoning out screen time? Sure, limit that. But again, EVEN THAT has its uses and benefits, within ‘limited’ times.

  16. S December 11, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    This is such a great article. We make a huge amount of effort not to get any battery operated toys. If we do get some from family or friends, we only use them once in few months. In an attempt to keep things interesting we do a lot of up-cycle projects for fun. I recently started a blog where I share these ideas along with some kid friendly recipes.

  17. Lovey December 10, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    What are some good activities or items to have for my 7yr old boy? He more than my younger two (4yr and 1yr girls) really struggles with self play…he seems to always need someone to play with or he begs and whines to watch tv or play video games

  18. J December 10, 2013 at 9:19 am

    We gave away our tv 15 years ago when our oldest was a baby. We have been a tv-free family ever since. Four kids later, I think it was one of the best (and sometimes hardest) decisions we ever made. The benefits are that our kids love to read, they know how to carry on conversations and they love imaginative play. Oh, and they also spend a lot of time outside playing in our backyard. We really haven’t missed tv, except when the olympics or other major sports event is on (like the World Series). We do have a mac with high speed internet, so if we really want to see something we can find it online. Each child has their own account on our computer with a set amount of time they are allotted. When the time’s up, it’s up and they can be mad at the computer, not me! Living this way has really allowed us to fight less with our children and helped them to be more interested in the world around them.

  19. terri December 9, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    We have kept all screens away from our child since he was born. We finally had to use the TV (Charlie Brown video) this weekend because my husband and I were exhausted. Having no screens was a commitment we made when he was born as we knew we were going to use the Montessori approach to child rearing. It has been hard and yet so rewarding. BTW, our son is 7 years and 9 months old. It can be done. It takes a lot of work:)

  20. Rosemary December 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    I want to know how to avoid TV when it’s used to keep kids from fighting. My first two are 17 months apart. They play wonderfully when they’re alone, but most of the time they’re together, especially when I need to get dinner ready. Once or twice a week my husband isn’t around to spend time with them before dinner and if they’re fractious (especially if the 2 3/4yo has declined his nap and everything is setting him off) or I’ve just had it for the day I let them watch tv to keep my sanity. What I really want is a magic formula that will make them leave each other alone (there’s plenty of space in our house, but they just won’t!) and play independently instead of driving each other (and me) crazy!

    • Leslie Loftis December 9, 2013 at 7:32 pm

      Rosemary, if you find that formula, would you please pass it on? The only thing that I’ve found that stops the bickering is bedtime. Suddenly my eldest, who have likely spent daylight getting on each other’s last nerve and my husband’s and mine, when its time for sleep, they are chatty besties. This vexes me greatly. I am told this bodes well. Maybe, but it wreaks havoc with my blood pressure.

      • Rosemary December 9, 2013 at 8:31 pm

        Lol! So glad I’m not alone. Actually there is one other thing that makes them stick together like nothing else and that’s me going apeshit. Which thankfully hasn’t happened for a while cos it’s hardly a healthy way to keep them from fighting. Poor kids. Oh and having other kids over. But then they fight with the other kids instead.

      • Rosemary December 10, 2013 at 12:40 am

        Ooh I just found this website! It’s still a screen, but at least it’s not as stimulating as Thomas or Little Red Tractor!

  21. Loretta December 9, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I love this! I was raised basically no-media (at least from screens) and everyone in our family are avid readers. It helped I think that we had siblings to play with, even though we fought a lot too.

    Unfortunately, it’s been creeping into my daughters life more than I’d like, so these are great for reigning that back in!

  22. Leslie Loftis December 9, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Samantha, the lack of cultural memory on childcare without tech is sorely lacking, and no one helps and you don’t trust anybody, yep, that’s pretty much today’s motherhood.

    Navigating Life, sing it! It’s relatively easy to do it right, TV wise, with one. All you momma’s delaying tech–hooray. Put it off as long as possible. You are doing well. But just like Han Solo yelled in reply to Luke Skywalker’s “I got him!” after he shot his first TIE fighter while they escaped from the Death Star, “Great Kid. Now don’t get cocky.” It is harder to do as you have more children in this modern environment. (See Razing the Village link.)

    Julie, no tears. You’ve not done too much damage. The idea that early decisions can ruin a child needs to go. It’s not the initial mistake, but the denial of or refusal to fix that does the damage. You need to act, and since your child is older, you will need to be a bit more decisive as he already has an established habit. In situations like this, I recommend cold turkey. Tell him the TV is broken. That is, don’t make it punishment, contingent in any way on his behavior. Just make it a fact. The TV is unavailable. It will be bad at first. Do it when you have a few days of a conflict free calendar, which might mean when the baby is a bit older. (You didn’t say how long this has been going on. If baby still tiny, wait. If babe has established naps and schedule, then you can move on this.) Warn your husband or any other family that you will need some help, specifically some relief as these will be trying days.
    You could do TV only when baby naps/quiet time/screen time combo. But you have to be firm about exactly when. Like, TV for 1.5 hours (set timer) that starts when babe goes down for nap. Or try morning TV only after child has gotten himself dressed and ready for day. Then timer or until time to go to nursery, etc. Use your judgment, but I usually find that sometimes a full, no option break is easiest–after the first few days, which are not easy.
    I also suggest a small shift for you. Don’t try to get him to play independently, but without you. That is, at this age, a child playmate might help. Not necessarily another 3 year old, either. A slightly older child, or even a bossy 6 year old might work wonders. Not only will a child be something besides a screen or momma, but also sometimes kids take instruction better from people who aren’t mom. Choose a playmate who has the skills you want your son to have, and have the child over for a few hours a week. You and the mom have a cup of tea and try to stay out of their way as much as possible.
    None of this will see instant results, and some require some tangental teaching, like dressing himself, but start, be consistent, and then in a month or so you should be able to look back and see that it is better. And you will have a better idea of what works for instructing him.

  23. Julie December 9, 2013 at 4:07 am

    I read this and want to cry. My 3 year old has been glued tot the tv for almost a year now. I was a great mom until I had my second kid and entertaining him just became impossible. If left to wander I found that he was destroying my house and so tv became my only option during times when I needed to feed or put the baby down for a nap. He have up naps shortly after we started watching more tv and now, even though things are a little easier he cries to watch tv every morning. He watches about 3 hours a day, but this is with me trying soo soo hard to get him interested in other activities. I don’t want him to end up with ADHD, but I’m afraid I’ve already done too much damage :(

    • Navigating Life December 9, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Oh Julie. You don’t need to feel guilty. Just because he watches TV DOES NOT make you are bad mum. All things happen in seasons. This is just a season. These articles also don’t take into consideration kids personalities so much. As mentioned above, it works well for the independent kind of child, but for the active not so independent child, tv is a blessing. Happy baby, happy mummy, happy family. Everything in balance I say. Follow your instincts. Something I read a while ago about nurturing independent play was this: start off with something like a train track, play with them a bit, leave them for a few minutes, come back and add something to the train track like a tunnel or a station, go away for another 5mins, come back and add something again. Thus, teaching them to extend their independence. I liked it. The other thing you could try to introduce is quiet time: at the same time each day (after lunch or when bub is sleeping), have him play on his own in his room with a few toys or tea set or something that he doesn’t usually play with (there are a lot of great quiet time activities on Pinterest). Initially set the timer for 1min or how ever long you think he can handle. When the timer is up, he tidies up and has his tv time. Each day give different toy or activity (I rotate them weekly – a Monday activity, a tues activity etc etc) and add a minute to the timer. Eventually he will be playing independently and quietly for small chunks of time, requiring less TV time. Half quiet time, half tv time.

  24. Navigating Life December 9, 2013 at 3:29 am

    I agree with everything you wrote, but it’s much harder with 2 or more kids. Independent play with 2 or more needs adult supervision, it’s not entirely independent. So then, how does mummy have a break? We use tv for about 30-60mins a day so I can have a breather. What else to do? Also, I tried having an ‘art centre’, absolute disaster. My walls are covered with scribbles that I can’t get off (yep, they have a blackboard, but the wall was way too exciting). I’m at a loss.

  25. Elana December 9, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Hi Everyone,
    I love this article and think it is so important to have children play independently instead of watching TV. My son is 9months old now and I have created a safe place for him to play. However every time I leave the area to do a few things around the house (letting him know that mommy will be right back) he cries hard standing at the door. Again my baby is 9months old. Is he too young to play independently when Im not in the room?

  26. Mama Going Natural December 7, 2013 at 12:21 am

    I love this article – we too are a low media home, I choose not to use the TV as a baby sitter. Although at times it can be difficult & very very tempting to let her sit & vegetate in front of the TV. I think that encouraging my daughter to engage in the world & use her imagination will have great pay offs for her in the long run :)

  27. Samantha December 6, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you so much for the article! I’m a new mom and at 19years old there is tons I don’t know. Though I babysat a lot most of the parents I sat for were main stream and just told me to let the kids go crazy with tv and xbox. Easy money when a tv entertains and I just make sure they’re fed and alive at the end of the night. With my daughter I’ve been so overwhelmed! I didn’t know a thing about entertaining a child younger than 2! So immediately my in-laws told me tv! Even fought with me about how its important that I let my kid watch barney because that’s what my husband grew up loving (I personally was conditioned by my mother to despise the show). I’ll admit I collapsed and began letting her watch tv for an hour and a half a day just to grab some me time (no one helps and frankly I don’t trust Evy with anyone). Now I have ideas as to what to do instead of turning toward the idiot box. As for the loathsome battery operated toys I already know some of what the in-laws got her. They really don’t like me, don’t consult me on anything, and when I bring up how I wish to raise my child I get looks and silence followed by stories and suggestions of how my mother in law did everything and since she was a social worker and all her way must be correct! So hard trying to be a natural mama when you have everyone trying to force their way upon you! Right now everyone is telling me I’m crazy and that I’ll get sued for not vaccinating my baby!

  28. TAE December 5, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    I loved this post! But I’m curious to see if anyone can help us with our problem. We have an almost 6 month old who is extremely active and busy. The problem is, he has a 15 minute limit for any activity we try. My husband and I are both students, if we sit and entertain the baby all day, we fall behind in school. If we try to get work done, he fusses and screams because we’re not paying enough attention to him. Most of the time he’ll be okay sitting on Dad’s lap as he does his homework (on the computer). He won’t play by himself. The baby also isn’t a good sleeper, so I usually have to entertain him all day after being awake most of the night keeping him asleep. Needless to say, we’re both beyond exhausted and not doing so well in school, and our precious boy seems bored and more demanding than other infants his age.
    Any advice?

    • Navigating Life December 9, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      Tae, I hope you get some other advice here. Building independence is SO important and challenging. Having 15min attention span at that age is absolutely brilliant though. Be careful to make sure your expectations aren’t too high for your little one. You are expecting a lot from a 6mth old. I gave a suggestion in one of my other posts further down that would help to extend him. If he is as active as you say (does he crawl?), id be trying swimming lessons. On the day you really need him to sleep, go swimming in the morning and then hopefully he’ll have a day nap. Also, build play equipment out of furniture (pillows) for him to climb over, perhaps invest in a ball pit or tunnel. Good luck. forums have some brilliant people there who could advise you on training your little man to become a better sleeper.

      • TAE December 9, 2013 at 12:38 pm

        Thank you for that advice, I’ll have to check out that website! We’re all desperate for sleep. He does not crawl yet, but when he does I will definitely be setting up obstacle courses for him. Haha. He loves being outside, and that helps with his sleeping and fussiness, but we live in an area that doesn’t get warmer than 20*F during the winter (which lasts 4-6 months here), and averages about 7*F. It’s a small town, so there are no community pools or rec centers where we could take him to play and swim. I wish there were, swimming is a fantastic idea!
        I’ve worked with children (infants 0-2) for several years, so I’m aware of their many capabilities and limits.
        When I say that my son has a 15 minute limit, that is the rare occasion and his absolute limit when playing by himself. He will usually last much longer when he is sitting on dad’s lap, watching him do homework or play computer games. I guess my main concern here is that he seems somewhat predispositioned toward passive activities, or he’s only entertained by potentially dangerous objects (i.e. nail clippers, power cords, dad’s tools. Don’t worry, I don’t let him play with those, but he would if he could). He has no interest in children’s toys such as blocks, rattles, etc.
        I know these behaviors are not abnormal for an infant his age, but I am at a loss as to how to entertain him, or teach him to self-direct his play so I can get things done. If I walk away and leave him on the floor with his toys, he will start screaming less than a minute later. In all my years working with children, I’ve never met one who is as socially oriented and (in my husband’s terms) “high maintenance” as my son.
        We’re also college students, and not exactly rolling in cash (not that it’s pertinent, but my son was not planned, we were not financially prepared when he decided to join our family). So we’re low on funds when it comes to things that might help him. Plus, my husband has a “minimal toy” rule…He doesn’t understand how toys (such as play gyms, exersaucers, blocks, rattles, noise makers, puzzles, sensory boards, even books) help teach children, even when I try to explain it to him. Our son has about 5 toys, so I’m sure part of the reason he won’t play by himself is boredom. I’ve tried makeshift toys (i.e. beans in a small container that he can shake), but his interest is short lived.
        It’s tempting to let him sit and watch what I’m doing on the computer, or watch a kid’s show on YouTube (we don’t own a TV), but I know that’s not in his best interest and will likely make the problems worse.

        • Brandy S December 9, 2013 at 6:25 pm

          Quite honestly, at 6 months I would just focus on talking and engaging with him… They are biologically programmed to want to be glued to you at that age, don’t fight it as it will be a losing frustrating battle. Just keep him happy by telling him what you are doing… “mommy is folding these clothes! Is this giant shirt yours?? Silly mommy…that’s daddy’s! Peek!” Yes, it will take longer hauling him around and the desire is to get things done quickly the way you did before kids, but my advice is to make peace with all of the undone tasks in your future. Lol… Independent play will come in the future and he will feel more confident in doing so if he feels connected to you. :)

    • Allison February 13, 2014 at 2:00 am

      Do you have any sort of carrier? My 1 year old loved to be held when she was younger and with an active toddler sister my carrier was a lifesaver. Then baby could still be near! I know they aren’t the most affordable tho.

  29. K December 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    To those of you who are doing the ‘no television in the house’ concept — I respect your choice 100% Just something to think about though….my husband’s parents made the same choice initially, but as the kids got older and they’d be in other environments with a T.V. present, they found that the kids were literally “entranced” with the T.V….his parents started feeling like it was becoming a major issue and somewhat embarrassing/distracting for them. So, when my hubbie was about 10 (hes’ the oldest of 4 siblings) they got a T.V. and put it in a room they don’t use on a daily basis and started implementing family movie night a 2-4 times a month. They said that was extremely helpful in removing the intense attraction the kids had when they saw it but still balancing their desire to keep regular T.V. watching out of the home. All 4 kids grew up to be extremely intelligent and well-read :)

    • Heather February 19, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      I have a 4 month old and have already noticed this with her. We have limited our tv watching at home when she is awake (my hubby still loves his football) and I only watch on occasion (typically if she is nursing or asleep… Olympics have sucked me in!) If she is awake we are engaged and playing with her.
      Anyway… we have taken her to my in laws and they think her watching tv is fine, great even, “look, she loves it!” And if we say anything their response is, “It’s just noise and colors to her now, she is fine.” They will sit her on their laps facing the tv and she will be entranced by it, this drives me crazy! I don’t want to be rude but I don’t know how to resolve this, especially at this age. I could see if she were over 2 years old…and getting SOME screen time at a relatives house, but I’m at a loss. Am I overreacting…? Or should we make a big deal out of this?

      • Bronwyn February 21, 2014 at 8:20 pm

        You should push this issue with your relatives! The American pediatric assc says absolutely no tv for children under 2. They believe that it is rewiring babies brains and is a major reason for the rise in ADHD. It is easy to google their report. Sit your relatives down and share this with them.

  30. Nicole @ Working Kansas Homemaker December 5, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Love this post! Independent/self-directed play is awesome. I love it when I can see my little baby’s wheels turning in his head as he plays and figures something out. We haven’t done a very good job with traditional “baby proofing” of the home but he is just starting to crawl around. I usually have my son do most of his self-directed play in the pac n play in our living room while I go clean the kitchen or something.

  31. Bre December 4, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    I love this post! I feel like I’ve completely failed in this area! My daughter will be 2 in March and is an Elmo addict! When she was about 8 months old she was getting sick and got very upset when we tried to get her to play with different things or certain people touching/holding her. (later to find out that she was not able to break down proteins so was not getting any nutrients from foods and was swelling so anything was painful for her). The only thing that would help was an Elmo episode. I felt even though Sesame Street is educational, that I wanted to do more educational things such as Baby Eisenstein, etc but have her not be in pain. She wouldn’t have anything but Elmo. When we were in the hospital it’s the only thing that kept her from crying. We would go to the play room, walk the halls, but she just wanted Elmo. (I would sing her Elmo’s theme when she was getting blood drawn or different things done and it helped her through it). She needless to say, she is addicted! (She is better now and doesn’t have the pain anymore) She even asks for him by name! I want so badly to get her away from it and involved in other things, I’m just lost on how to start this process. She is an only child,catches onto things quickly, very stubborn, but very smart! I know it’s going to be hard, which is fine. My husband and I really don’t watch T.V. but maybe 2 hours a week, so eliminating it for us isn’t the problem. She loves music too and so she likes the electronic toys (eeek!) Obviously I need a lot of help! Glad I found this post! All advice is welcome! :)

    • Missy December 6, 2013 at 10:44 am

      My twins are Elmo addicts too. I have gotten them several books, coloring books, even Elmo crayons. They are as interested in those as the videos. That’s been the compromise I have made.

  32. Catherine December 3, 2013 at 6:29 am

    I have a 5 year old and we have been screen-free for a year now. I got rid of our TV because she was so creative and a very sensory learner when she was 4 and I wanted to do whatever I could to foster that. Before that, she would have an hour or so of TV at breakfast time. We have movie night on Friday nights with the movie on my laptop, and we both love that. Apart from that, we don’t have an iPad, iPhone or anything like that. I have seen her creativity and imagination absolutely explode in the last 12 months since we got rid of the TV. I have a big basket of bits and pieces like cardboard boxes, egg cartons, ribbon, basically anything that she might want to use to make something. She loves this, plus we have lots of craft kits that she enjoys. I have pencils/paper/coloured pens in the loungeroom and in her play area which we uses pretty much every day. She has a play castle and figurines which she plays with a lot and spends ages with, chatting away as all the characters. She makes cubby houses out of blankets and sheets. She loves Lego and she is mad about play slime. She plays outside with the dog and with her mini kitchen which is near the tap, dirt, grass etc. We went shopping today and there was a gated child minding area with lots of toys and she really wanted to go in there while I shopped. The child carer there remarked about the book my daughter was carrying and said she didn’t see kids carrying books around very often. After a year with no TV, it has been such a wonderful experience to see my daughter develop in so many ways. She constantly amazes me with her imagination and creativity. She still likes me to be around and show me things and call me over, which is great. Tonight as I made dinner, she turned a big cardboard box upside down and crawled under it with her ‘tools’ pretending to be a car mechanic. Yesterday, she drew a treasure map of the park nearby so that when we took our dog out for a walk that afternoon we could pretend to dig for treasure. I know that these early years are so, so important for her senses, her imagination, her creativity and for simply playing. It has been an absolute pleasure, not a chore, giving up TV, and I have no plans to get it back again for the time being.

  33. Homemaker December 3, 2013 at 6:04 am

    We also limit screen time. I hate the influences media have on us and I REFUSE to ever get a tv in the car. It makes me so sad when I see kids watching a movie on a trip to the store down the street or sitting in a shopping cart watching a movie on mom’a phone. They are missing out on so much.

  34. Kate December 3, 2013 at 5:26 am

    I never used to let my eldest watch too much TV then when I fell pregnant with my second I had a horrible pregnancy and so the TV became my best friend. Since then it has just become a nasty habit that I keep telling myself I needed to fix but I wasn’t sure how.

    Well, today I have done it! I brought the toy shelf with baskets down from my daughters room, sorted through her toys and put things in each of the baskets. She has cars, puppets, some craft things, blocks and duplo, musical instruments, toy food/kitchen equipment and a toy kitchen and there is one basket of baby toys too. I haven’t moved the big toy boxes away yet but she’s ignoring them! The TV is off and she is happily entertaining herself, bringing things over to show me every so often :) She sounds and looks so happy, I wish I did this sooner!

    • Jenn December 9, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      Good for you Kate! It’s so hard to avoid the TV trap when you are sick or having a hard time personally. I was deathly ill for four months and it was hard to not use the TV during that time. I gave in a lot more than normal during that time, but we came back out of it as well, just like you. Keep up the new happy self-play, she’ll be a great example as a big sister to her new sibling.

  35. Brandi December 3, 2013 at 12:18 am

    I have a 3.5 year old and a 7 month old. Our babies get very minimal screen time until they’re at least 2. They might be in the same room as a TV being tuned into a baseball game or football game but we do our best to keep them away from it. The 3.5 year old gets screen time but we limit it, and we all can go days and days without ever even turning the television on. I will admit that it saved me in those early months of breastfeeding the baby 24 hours a day and not being able to be there for her 100% of the time, but she’s also super great about imaginative independent play. She enjoys talking and singing and making up elaborate scenario’s by herself.

  36. Andy December 2, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    We have at two-year old and an eight-month old. We do not own a television, nor any video games. Heck, we don’t even have a DVD in our SUV, and we travel a lot towing our RV across the country. Eight hour road trips? No problem! They love books, puzzles, blocks, trucks, and playing outside! Yes, we do have Netflix on our laptop computers, and our son does get to watch a Thomas the Tank Engine or Magic School Bus episode occasionally if he makes good decisions throughout the day.

  37. April December 2, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    I really like the balance scale that is pictured! Where is it from?

  38. Samantha December 2, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    We get a LOT of the noisy battery operated “no-brainer” toys from family and friends at all “events” and despite my best efforts to encourage no toys and “use your brain/educational” toys they still seem to surface. The best “remedy” I have found is that the ones we buy we make sure they are good quality ones and the others we make a trip to the local hospital or homeless shelter to provide something for kids who have nothing.

    • E.C.MAMA December 3, 2013 at 6:59 am

      people can’t seem to help themselves I have the same issues.. so do most of my crunchy friends/parents from the daycare.. the day care even gets donated these toys. I could swear these toys are reproducing when we aren’t around because they always seem to multiply no matter how much I cull them.

  39. E.C.MAMA December 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    There is only one point in this i disagree with and that is the “don’t interrupt” part. maybe I am misunderstanding Magda Gerber here but if it’s time to prompt my child to go potty or lunch time then I am going to interrupt them and they can just go back to what they were doing when they are done because LIFE has interruptions and so yeah.. that makes me iffy of the whole thing.

    • excampuskiddo December 2, 2013 at 10:22 pm

      I just finished reading her book, “Your Self-Confident Child,” so maybe I can address this a little further for you. :) From my understanding, she advocates a style of parenting that balances the needs of both parent(s) and child. She recommends allowing children to play uninterrupted as much as possible because that’s how they learn; however, she isn’t saying that parents should never make requests of their children (to use the potty, to eat, to get dressed to go out, etc). I think it’s also important to note that her parenting advice is only intended for children up to 2 years old, in order to lay the groundwork for respectful parent/child relationships as the child gets older. Preschool-aged-and-older children are usually quite good at playing by themselves for long stretches of time and may need to be interrupted for other activities. She advocates encouraging babies and toddlers to learn to play alone for periods of time so that parents can attend to their own needs or the needs of the household and so that babies and toddlers have room to learn how to learn rather than developing a habit of being constantly entertained by their parents. Most babies and toddlers are not able to play for those long stretches that older children can, so it’s more of a call to not do things like pick up the baby and snuggle with her if she’s in the middle of peacefully exploring her environment, or give her a different toy if she’s found one she’s satisfied with at the moment, or otherwise interfere with or direct her play.

      • E.C.MAMA December 3, 2013 at 6:41 am

        my kids are going potty from birth hence the name E.C.mama so that does directly interfere with her 2 years old thing a bit… (they’re also done around their first birthday and only need prompting every now and then) however I never bothered taking their toy away it just came along too or I’d bring the potty to them.
        Still I personally prefer to steer clear of any one “method” of parenting. I’m a childhood educator and so I have quite a background with Magda whose followers wrote several scathing reviews of other approaches that they deemed “harmful” to which I’ve seen no ill effects what-so-ever. Though they were not written by Magda herself *I don’t think*..
        Still you’ve cleared up something that’s had me fairly put off with her for a while because it paralyzes parents into thinking they’re going to harm their childs learning if they do anything that may make them “lose focus” but she can’t help it if they misunderstand her (same goes for Dr Sears). I just hate ideologies that are “too left/right wing” there has to be balance. thanks for the insight it was helpful :-)

  40. Catherine December 2, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    When I moved out of my parents’ house (We were living there while I was in graduate school) and into a place I purchased (yay!), I didn’t sign up for cable. Or hook the TV up at all except to play my workout videos. My boys are 4 years old and 18 months old. I don’t know how it would happen if we hadn’t made a big transition to a new home that just happened to have a TV (and my oldest told me a few times that they wished the other people would have left their TV for us), it might be different. But my boys play restaurant together, they read books, and they build wooden train tracks and towers all day. My oldest set up a garage sale in the basement and my youngest just likes running circles around a relatively empty play room. They have toys that require an imagination and they know that when mom is busy, they play by themselves. It’s amazing how well they take care of their playing without me directing them or showing them how to do something. It also makes our time playing together more enjoyable. They show me all the things they like and it’s all about creativity and imagination. It also makes Friday night movies more enjoyable and a special treat with popcorn and cuddling when they aren’t used to watching anything all week. I am so glad I made the decision to raise my boys screen free. Also, they both have become incredibly savvy at Grandma’s iPad so the lack of screens at home does not prevent them from developing those skills either.

  41. bug December 2, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    We listen to a lot of Sparkle Stories in our house. These stories are wholesome, calm, and paced in a developmentally appropriate way for the Littles. They encourage imagination, vision, helping each other, playing together and more. I can’t recommend them more highly. We have a subscription that is worth double what they charge, but you can get started for free at their iTunes podcast. We copy the stories to CD and listen in the car, as well as in the LR.

    For those grandparents wanting to “spoil” their grandkids, they make a GREAT gift — hop on to their advent calendar, which just got started!

    They are especially great for age 3-8, maybe even older.

    • Tara December 4, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation for sparkle stories! What fun! My daughter is already hooked!

  42. anadoan December 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    This is a really good post. In fact my husban and I dont have a Tv so my 2 year old dont ask for it and he doesnt miss it. When he visits friends that to have tv he enjoys it, I must say. But he really manage to be independant must of the time at home, yes we do have ipads and laptops, but he seems not so much interested. I have to add that we do spend a lot of time in parks and playing with him so I guees that helps to.

  43. Kristie December 2, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I love this. My daughter is 28 months now and good at choosing activities, but she insists I play with her. She’s an only child. So the only time I catch a break is the 30 minutes or so watches something on Netflix. If I encourage her to play independently without me she’ll call out “Help me!” or “I broke t!” Or something similar to get me to pay attention. Or she will just toss all of her toys in the middle of the floor in a huff and pout. I’m lost as to how to facilitate more independent play. I’ve done everything here except completely eliminating media. At this point she would throw a fit if I said no to the little bit of watching she does do.

    • Leslie Loftis December 2, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      Draw the fit and stand firm. I know it’s a pain and no fun. Some kids are just more stubborn. She might really put on a show. You just have to remain calm and resolute. The first protest will be the worst. As for the help me questions, I suggest a timer. Set it for say 25 minutes. Tell her when the bell goes off you have to do mommy chores. Play with her, undivided attention, until the bell rings. Then go do something else and defer all her requests. At first you will have to set more timers and will field more questions. It’ll probably be a long couple of days for you. But she’ll get it.

    • Courtney December 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      Your daughter is 2…she is 2! I’m sorry but I can not stand it when parents continue to tell their child’s age in months past 1 year. When someone asks how old she is next year, would you respond with, “36 months”. No, because that would be ridiculous…just as ridiculous as saying she is 28 months now.

      • Vickie December 2, 2013 at 9:24 pm

        A child who is 2 can mean a whole lot of things…in my opinion when discussing abilities it is very important to say how many months a child is old…I suggest you make a visit to a larger daycare and ask to see their toddler rooms…children at 12 months are very different than a child at 18 months and at 24 or 30 months…expectations of abilities and needs must reflect their age and because of how many changes take place in a young child measuring in months is appropriate…as for the original poster, don’t feel guilty in indulging your child for a few minutes here and there to get things done around the house. Since she is 2 and is an only child she does expect you to be her playmate as she learns more about the world around her. Create activities for her that allows her to play more independently and acknowledge that you hear her attempts of attention seeking but make her wait (maybe only 1 min at first) until you can help her…then try longer another time…some children play independently more easily than others regardless of screen time…I definitely suggest doing what feels comfortable for you and your family…as a teacher I use varied media while teaching (books, magazines, tablets, computers, smart board, video, music etc.). If done appropriately children can learn and grow and not have to worry about any horrible side affects…balance is key though!

      • excampuskiddo December 2, 2013 at 10:04 pm

        I worked in a child care center with 30- to 36-month-olds. And yes, that’s how we referred to them. After 36 months, they went to the preschool room, but up to that point, every room was referred to by the month ages of the children in that room. :)

      • Court December 5, 2013 at 3:20 pm

        She’s a woman asking for help Courtney. Give her a break. Geez.
        Kristie – I don’t think a few minutes here and there to give you a break I anything to feel bad about.

        • Amy December 6, 2013 at 12:11 am

          Kristie, I agree that I wouldn’t worry about a few minutes here or there. I also agree with the suggestion of setting a timer and building up time that she is encouraged to play alone … and I also agree that telling toddlers’ ages in months can be helpful since they change so dramatically over the course of a year when they’re that little.

    • Simcha December 3, 2013 at 4:16 am

      Hello Kristie;

      We have a daughter that had a lot of issues from ADD, autism and Conduct Disorder/Oppositional Defiance Disorder to the beginning stages of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Sociopath. We cried out to G-d with a lot of prayer, got feedback from her sister (our other daughter) and compared our own observations. Then we catalogued the weaknesses/strengths of the challenges she had and weighed them against each other to her advantage:
      1. Autism – Very rigid way of thinking. Doesn’t like interruptions or loud noises; prefers rigid surroundings, likes lists, set schedules and structured surroundings / days.
      2. Narcissism (no, we didn’t wait for a diagnosis) – Very focused on being the center of attention and being the best at everything – always focused on coming across as perfect and how the person presented themselves.
      3. ODD/CD – Resents authority and doing what they’re told. If you set a time limit, they’ll exceed it on purpose just to spite you. You tell them not to do something; they do the opposite on purpose.
      4. ADD – Unable to focus on tasks for longer than a few minutes – quite often tied to ODD/CD – sometimes hard to tell if it’s real or another manifestation of ODD/AD.
      We spent time with her accessing media resources but gave her a set time, like 5:00-6:00 PM on Su, M & W, playing video games – not ones she was good at but we were. Then allow something to come up – overflowing toilet, stopped up sink, pick the other sister up from track meet, etc. We’d also turn the TV up excessively loud; encouraged interruptions, answer the phone, anything. However, we always gave her the full hour but not on her terms. We’d tell her, “Oh, it’s already 6:00PM – do you want to go past six and get your full hour?” Often, her need for rigid structure would have her frustrated and she’d decline.
      However, we’d encourage her areas that promoted self-play, self-learning and self-entertainment and didn’t require us to teach her – like chess, knitting, sewing, exploring, etc. For example, we have her show us progress in a specific area in this way, “I think your cross stich is getting much better and neater. We’ll treat you to a trip to the mall for a new outfit if you have ½ of that pattern done in ___ weeks/___ days. And the back has to look as tidy as the front. Look ahead at the instructions and us know if some of the stitches look a bit challenging for you, we can get a cross stich how-to book for you while we’re out today!”
      By doing this we’ve 1) encouraged her “look at me” side by giving her a time to look forward to where she can brag on herself; 2) we’ve removed the authority issue because she is the authority on cross-stich and we’ve let her know we want to hear about it and we’re going to help her be successful; 3) we’ve addressed the autism part that needs specifics and schedule by telling her the specifics, setting expectations and giving a deadline; 4) we’ve encouraged her to be independent and let her know we’ll not be her resource for help by saying we’ll buy a how-to book if some of the stiches are too challenging for her; 5) we’ve taken the sparkle off of media by associating is with things she finds unpleasant: noise, interruptions, unpredictability, and low chance to be successful (comparatively).

    • Jenn December 9, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      I have a singleton, my son will be 3 this Christmas. We implemented a rule of ‘if Mommy is working or talking to an adult’ and he wants my attention, he comes over and puts his hand on my arm or leg, until I can pause at a natural break between conversation or work, and I can address whatever his question or need is. I will acknowledge his hand on me by putting my hand over his and rubbing it gently until I can face him and respond with full attention. It took a few weeks of practice and showing him how it works, and being consistent over and over (and over), but he’s getting very good at it now. We also use a timer for many things, I was resistant to it at first, but he took to it immediately. He has a hard time with transitions, and when he’s having a tough transition day, he’ll ask us to turn on the timer before he has to change from one activity to the next. We can set the timer for 30 seconds and he can accept that it’s time to move to a new thing.

  44. Rachel December 2, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Great post (which showed up in my facebook feed). We have 4 kids 10, 8, 6, and 2. I am a “low tolerance” technology Mum but my husband mainly interacts with them via playstation, movies and other screen oriented activities. This causes big conflict between us. Any suggestions on how to move us all to a less screen cultured family?

    • Leslie Loftis December 2, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      A schedule. An amount of time or time of day that he and the kids can do their thing without you openly fretting but after which the screen is not an option. My 30 year old brother lived with us for a while. We did this. Kids got good fun and bonding with their uncle. I got limits to screen time.

  45. Zoe December 2, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. This is a good one to bookmark and re-read from time to time.
    Our 18-month-old daughter is a low-media child for the most part. No TV, no tablets. Her toys from us were bought mostly from 2nd-hand sales so for a while I was glad to save so much money. I have found many good things that encourage creativity like big beads, play dough stamps, the like. But the other toys, the single purpose ones, while I saved a bundle, are hardly used anymore. I love the ideas you listed and we have done almost all of those. Anything messy is a huge hit and it’s fun for us, the parents, to get involved. Nothing like being a kid again! We always follow up the messy projects with a water filled bucket and toss in different items so her hands get clean :) Doing a messy project then a water bucket fills up lots of time!

  46. Kathleen December 2, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I love independent play and prefer that my daughter, two, watches very little tv. We disconnected our satellite a few months ago, so if she sees any tv it’s a song off of youtube or an educational dvd. I planned to keep her screen free until she turned two, but that would have us miss out on Sykpe calls with her father while he was deployed. After that, she usually expects to watch a video or talk to family members when she sees the laptop.

    Thanks for sharing this information, I look forward to making some ooblek with her, which I remember making in elementary school!

  47. Christian toto December 2, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Great post. We’re seeing quite a transformation with our rambunctious two-year-old since he started playing with LEGOS. He slows down, focuses entirely on his building mission and creates some wonderfully imaginative designs. Now, that’s spilling over into his drawings. As a parent, I won’t disregard the TV for short spells, but I love having information like this available to all parents to help them turn it off when needed.

  48. Leslie Loftis December 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Just stumbled upon this from Twitter. Excellent post. My kids are older now (10, 8, and 5×2) but I can attest to all of this, including Emily’s comment about falling off the wagon. Happily, I can report that if your kids are not strangers to independent play, the habit will come back quickly with a little effort. We fall off of the wagon every once in a while, often with a TV binge due to school holidays and bad weather. I declare frequent and varied length tech breaks. Last year I had the children give up TVs and tablets for Lent. We all liked that, after the initial few days of whining that is.

    As for the people buying other toys, it’s a huge problem. I use a combo of donation and rotation. I have the kids pick at least a few toys to give to a less fortunate child. Then I hide a bunch to come out when the others break or get old. Once the items are out of sight, they are out of mind, and then I can donate those as well. If possible, I return items to donate to get books or better toys to donate.

    Obviously, this is easier with a gift from a playmate than a gift from Grandma. So we told our parents that they could get the kids pretty much whatever they wanted for their house. Grandparent is happy and kids get occasional gadget binge time. It actually worked pretty well, as the kids enjoyed time at grandma’s but seemed to appreciate the return to quieter play at home. And grandma started appreciating the active vs passive toys wisdom.

  49. Shelley December 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    This is great! We have a 9 month old and have really succeeded, in our opinion, of keeping her media free! She doesn’t watch TV at all. That being said it, does get tiring to entertain her on the regular. But the kid will literally try to throw herself at the ipad when it comes into view. Any idea to help with iphones/ipads? Or is it best to just keep them out of view/reach until after she’s 2 and can use them as an educational tool or all together? Just curious what others do!

    • Michelle G. December 3, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Yes, for us as long as the computer and tablet are put away out of sight, she doesn’t ask for it. Out of sight out of mind!

  50. Ashley December 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Regarding the toys part, how do you handle other people buying “active toys” for your child without offending anybody?

    • Mrs. Cookin December 2, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      That’s a great question! I want to see the reply. My son is turning two this month and I’ve added “Your presence is present enough” to the invites. I hope I’m not being a total scrooge by asking for no presents at a kid’s birthday party – but we got so many plastic, noisy, battery run, single purpose toys at his 1st birthday that we do not want a repeat, especially with Christmas just two weeks later. I ended up donating the worst offenders, but I don’t want to be rude or hurt anyone’s feelings, or have them waste their money!

      • excampuskiddo December 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm

        We’re not QUITE to the point where we’re really going to have to worry about this yet (our girl will be 5 months at Christmas), but family has been thoughtful enough to ask what sorts of gifts would be most appreciated. Only a few people have brought up the joy of battery-operated toys, and my response is to explain why we would not appreciate them (too much potential for overstimulation/curbing her interest in exploring the world around her – the active-toys-make-passive-kids effect), and then to let them know that if they chose to purchase battery-operated toys, those toys will be staying with them and they can decide if/when she visits whether they want to hear those toys going off all the time. ;)

      • Brandy S December 3, 2013 at 8:00 am

        After my daughter’s 1st birthday, we went with charitable donations and added the ‘In lieu of gifts, we encourage you to donate to X charity instead’… Inevitably some people bring gifts anyway, but smaller things like coloring books etc. I’ve heard of people doing “Toonie Parties” (we’re in Canada, the Toonie is our $2 coin) so you encourage a donation and then the guest just brings a toonie to the party. With only a few guests, that’s quickly enough to buy one small present of the child’s choosing later. They’re catching on! Since we started doing the charity thing, friends of ours have joined the band wagon!

      • Micha Davis December 5, 2013 at 9:37 am

        I did this for my daughter’s fifth birthday. The invites said “no gifts please” and woah – the drama that caused! Almost every parent called me to be sure that was really what I wanted and some even called after the party to say they felt bad that we sent the kids home with goodies when they hadn’t brought a gift. (It was all hand made – I sewed fabric favor bags, we made swirly crayons, necklaces, etc) It was my daughters first friend party and her birthday is only 3 weeks after Christmas so she wasn’t in need (or want) of anything. I loved the fact that she just got to enjoy being with friends instead of focusing on what was in packages, and I really loved that it didn’t add needless clutter to our home. However, I’m not sure I’d do it again just because of the responses from others that lasted for weeks. Instead I would go the charity route – gather books for the school library – or something similar so that those who feel a need/want to do something for the birthday child can do so and my kids could learn more about helping others.

      • hilary December 9, 2013 at 8:51 am

        For my daughter’s first birthday we asked for a non-perishable food donation in lieu of gifts and we ended up with quite a large donation for our local food shelf, which was great! When we get toys that are noisy or battery operated, or just too much plastic, we quietly accept them and then take them to Goodwill. The kids don’t seem to notice. In fact, they seem to not be so interested in toys at all but more interested in doing whatever my husband and I are doing (which has its pros and cons–which is why I loved this article). I also once gave my Mom a natural toys catalog which seemed to help. This year we are simplifying Christmas, less gifts, more handmade items–leading by example. I think over time everyone will start to understand our values.

      • Amy March 9, 2014 at 10:12 pm

        I write a list of present suggestions, as well as the ‘no obligation to buy presents’ on the invite.
        I usually suggest art materials, activity books etc.

    • Kris December 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Would love to hear people’s thoughts on this as well. As soon to be parents we are currently laying some ground work through conversations with family to minimize hurt feeling later but…

    • Michelle December 2, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      We have to do what is best for our kids, no matter what anyone else thinks. Why have women been trained to worry more about what other people feel than making sure we are following our hearts? Tell them straightforwardly, kindly that this is your plan for your child and you would appreciate their cooperation. Their reactions and action are their responsibility, not yours.

      • Corinne February 22, 2014 at 12:19 pm

        Ding ding ding. Yes.

    • Danielle December 2, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      Great question! We have a mostly battery-free home, with kids 5, 4, and 1. Grandparents have been gently and respectfully talked to about what toys we prefer. But when one does make it into the house, we often put it aside for a sick day, a long car trip, or some other rare circumstance. Often, single-purpose toys lose their appeal very quickly, so when we get a new toy, and we follow our rule of donating an old toy with each new addition, the children often choose to donate their battery powered toys.

    • Mindy December 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      Good question! I make sure to kindly tell my close family members that we prefer wooden toys and toys without batteries or cartoon characters. When someone asks what she needs or wants I’ll say “she really likes wooden blocks” or even “we really like the Melissa and Doug toys” (no affiliation, I just like their simple toys).

      If they still buy something you don’t like then you can feel free to give it away :)

      • Lento March 21, 2014 at 2:22 am

        I think it’s totally ok to say you want to have books, jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and stuff to make arts and crafts. :)

        That’s the stuff child can enjoy even when she grows up, they can be unisex, they don’t break easily and they can be beloved memory in later age. I think these are good reasons to give for those who want to give presents.

    • Miranda December 3, 2013 at 12:45 am

      If the noisy toy comes from a relative that you visit often, say “Let’s keep this at your house so kiddo has something to play with when we visit!” Otherwise, re-gift it or sell it. As another commenter has mentioned, doing best for your family is more important than not offending somebody.

      • Rachel January 16, 2014 at 8:56 am

        That’s exactly what I do. My hubby’s parents REFUSE to get on board with simple toys so there’s a nice big basket of toys they’ve given us at their house. Plus it means I don’t have to send my monkey to their house with toys from our house that may get left behind. Win win.

    • Seasoned Mother December 4, 2013 at 5:52 am

      This article came across my FB feed. It’s very good. We just went through I move cross county so we been having our fair share of media. I homeschool so I’ve used some of the media to teach history & science. Ha!!! I appreciate the motivation to start weaning off the media and back into what we’ve known.

      With regard to the toys given by relatives, we made the decision not to offend those who did buy them. If asked, I’d steer toward toys I preferred but I didn’t have the compliant relatives like some others. I would allow my kids room to play with them. Amazingly, though, one night the battery thief would show up in them room. We were so sad the toy stopped working (ha!!). It didn’t take them long to figure out how to play repurpose the toy. I’m speaking of open ended toys like Little People.

      For other toys that really didn’t have open ended play, they stayed around for a week or 2 and then we “rotated” them out. If you don’t already rotate toys, I would add this to the mix. Children will play so much better when toys seem new. I always kept a basket of toys in my living room or play area. One basket made it easier for even baby to help clean up.

      There are times I am a little jealous of new mommies. We didn’t have the encouragement to unplug our children when I was a new mom. I felt like such a lone body. We did watch TV but it was usually a video (not DVD, that should age me) I bought. Or we had a specific show like Blues Clues we turned on at specific times. Shows have changed so much. We would watch Mr. Rogers, Blues Clues, Little Bear, and Little Bill. With those shows as my background, I think most kid TV now is very obnoxious.

      I am writing a book. Sorry. God bless you precious mommies. Your concern for the hearts and minds of children will pay off in the long run. Stick to it. Oh, establish your view of media for older children now and stay up with trends as they grow. We are now dealing with media and teenagers. I have seen a dramatic drop in their desire to read and explore since we’ve allowed certain media (the Kindle Fire where they are supposed to be reading :(. We talk about media a lot now. I am in the process of planing our first full semester in over a year without media (it’s been a long year). I am hoping to see the love of learning return to my children.

      To Mindy, great post.

    • Kalaird December 10, 2013 at 8:56 am

      We have some toys that I keep in a closet and they are only played with occasionally. Every time I bring them out it is like having a new toy. Since she doesn’t play with them everyday, she doesn’t depend on them or get sick of them. I believe that “noisy” toys are fun for kids and they will not be harmed by playing with them occasionally.

    • Andrea December 10, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      I find it helpful to keep the party simple. A good rule of thumb is one friend for each year of age for the birthday child. So a four year old would have four friends. That way there is so many less gifts to receive that if they get one or two noisy toys its not such a big deal. Also we often directly ask or suggest things for family to gift at birthdays and Christmas. This year I asked the grandparents to make something specific for my kids so that “it would be more special.” Of course what I asked for was within reason and I knew it would be easy for them and not stressful. I hope these ideas help.

    • Allison February 13, 2014 at 1:57 am

      Amazingly, we have successfully avoided being given noisy toys. In my three years of being a mom to two girls we have recieved one noisy single purpose toy. I have made it a point to emphasize what we like especially to grandparents. The toys i can’t stand are the “as seen on TV” toys. My 1 year old recieved a glow pet for Christmas and it sits in a box still in its packaging because it’s just not age appropriate!

    • Jill February 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      This can be so challenging because it seems that there is always one person who wants to buy those loud toys and it’s hard not to seem ungrateful or rude. Even though we do have one (okay two) of these people in our families we still have managed go 2.5 years and two boys without having any noisy toys.

      First, we state our wishes. We ask for specific toys or gifts and even give specifics where they can be found. If those wishes are not met then we say thank you and hope to God they don’t take the toys out of the box. If they don’t take them out of the box, we mercilessly exchange gifts. Our oldest son collects Schleich animals so he will return a battery operated toy for an animal.
      If they DO take them out of the box, we mercilessly remove batteries. If it is a noisy truck it becomes a regular truck. If it is something that requires batteries to be useful then it doesn’t get used.

      Secondly, don’t feel bad about donating unwanted toys. I used to wait a few months. I would put the unwanted toy away because it was a gift. Then at some point down the road I would donate it. Now, I don’t wait. When our family has left or when we have left a birthday party we immediately put those toys out for donation. If my in-laws ask where the crazy loud rocking horse has gone, I stay it’s in storage. It’s in storage at someone elses house that I don’t know…oh well.

      Lastly, I remember why we don’t have these toys. Our house is quiet. Our children play beautifully on their own. We have very little plastic and most play is based on imagination.

  51. Emily December 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I needed to see this today. I used to *rock* at this but lately between no naps, cold weather, and some serious cold/flu action at my house…I’ve fallen off the wagon HARD. I’ve already seen how much more my son (3) depends on the TV to get him through boring periods of the day and frankly so do I.

    We were down to only like 0-3 hours a week all summer and early fall, I know we can do it again! Thanks for the inspiration!


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