Parenting has always been a heady combination of delightful, demanding, exhilarating, exhausting, joyous and vulnerable moments. And the demand, exhaustion and vulnerability increase during the vacations when the child has time on his hands and a high level of unused energy.
This is the time that children are drawn into the vortex of entertainment via the television or the mobile phone turning them into couch potatoes. Once they are ensconced in front of the television screen, it gets increasingly difficult to wean them away. They engage in channel surfing which could turn out to be a dangerous pastime as there are channels and shows which cater to adult viewing. Even if there is a lock on such channels, there are general programmes and movies which showcase violence, prolonged viewing of which could lead to an aggressive behavior, making it imperative for the parents to keep a subtle watch over the viewing tendencies of their children. Apart from this, physical inactivity combined with snacking on oily chips and soft drinks could lead to obesity, a very common problem in the current generation of kids. Eye strain is another problem, as too much viewing can cause strain to the eyes resulting in fatigue, headaches or dry eyes.
The mobile phone too has made inroads into the viewing tastes of children including toddlers. The color or movement on a TV or a mobile screen is sure to catch the attention of the toddler. How many times do we see parents engaging a toddler with an animated version of nursery rhymes or small stories to get him to eat his meal? How many times do we see parents treat the television or a mobile as a sort of an escape route trying to distract the toddler from his mischievous antics while they get on with their chores? But is this the right way to engage a child’s attention? Apparently not, as according to the American Association of Physicians, children under the age of two should have no “screen time” at all, as this is the most important time for the development of the brain, and viewing the TV or the mobile screen would negate their interaction with parents and peers. It could have a negative impact on their physical growth, language development, reading skills, and short-term memory. It also contributes to problems with sleep and attention. You could even equate screen time to mental junk food for babies and toddlers.
So what can be done to wean the children subtly away from the screen? In the case of the toddler, your touch, your love, your interaction, is what he actually wants. It is only if he misses that will he turn towards something else. The TV or the mobile screen is just a blur of colour and images. He does not comprehend anything. So why give him that in the first place? Banging of vessels or crumpling of papers could be better than watching TV at his age, as even then he looks for your reaction. He grows, understands and acts through your reaction or the interaction with his siblings or peers.
In the case of kids above the age of two, the first and foremost thing that you can do is to make sure that you sit along with the child when the TV is on. Joint viewership enables you to have an insight into the shows that he watches. You will be able to slowly guide him towards good educative programmes. It is to be noted that all TV programmes are not bad for your children. Some can be an excellent tool for education and entertainment. But the key word here is moderation of viewing time and the value of the programmes that the child watches. That is what you have to watch out for and choose.
Weaning a child away from a TV or mobile screen, though not easy is not impossible. You have to realize that probably the child is watching TV because he has nothing else to engage his attention. Introduce him to books of animals, birds, fruits, flowers, trees, and take him to the garden to show him these in reality. Get him drawing books with animals and birds and point them out to him. What he sees like this will be imprinted in his memory forever.
Colouring books, crayons, pencils, paint or even clay to mould can be given to a child. He will make a mess of things but he will be occupied. Show him how to make a boat or a duck with paper. Give him building blocks and puzzles. Slowly graduate to reading books. Nowadays age-specific books are available everywhere. Invest in books and invest your time to read it aloud to your children. It could be a small bedtime story, to begin with, pictorial tales, fairy tales, adventures, mythological tales or anything that catches the attention. They will just love it. As they grow slightly older they begin to read themselves and this brings about an amazing improvement in their vocabulary and general knowledge.
This would also be the ideal time to subscribe to a newspaper for kids, specially designed to suit their age and taste. They do not have the frightening accounts of violent and horrific happenings around the world. Instead, newspapers for kids present positive news and impart knowledge in a fun way, making it interesting for the child to read and enjoy. So parents can give them to their son or daughter without any worries. Most children’s newspapers have puzzles, quizzes and entertaining stories apart from educative materials. Reading this newspaper for kids would make the child feel important while allowing him to mimic his father.
Another way to engage children would be to enroll them in outdoor sporting activity. If there are children in your neighborhood, they could play with a bat and a ball or even just run or cycle around together. Such interaction helps. Sporting activity for slightly older kids could be anything, football, cricket, tennis, badminton. Even the old marbles, roller skates and revolving tops serve the purpose. This sort of physical activity will ensure that your child will eat well and sleep well, and make him healthy and strong.
Hobbies like dance or music could provide them with fruitful relaxation, especially if they are in the company of friends, not only in childhood but even later in life. Gardening is another wonderful hobby for children. You give them a pot, make them fill it with mud, and sow seeds and grow a plant. Guide them to water the plant every day and watch their eyes gleam with joy and satisfaction as they see the first flower bloom on a plant that they have themselves nurtured. Indeed a treat to watch!
Vacation time is also holiday time. Plan a holiday tour with the children and see their excitement. If you involve them in the planning right from studying the tourist brochure, packing their own bags, sights to be seen and activity to be undertaken, they are actively engaged and love it too.
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