Friday, 28 February 2014

Our "No TV at Home" Rule

We have a "No TV at Home" rule that I have been wanting to blog about, but haven't made the time to do so. Then the hubbs forwarded me an email from Screensavers, said that his ex-student was one of the members and asked if I could help her out... So it appears that Screensavers is a public information campaign founded by three final year students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. They wish to advocate that kids have less screen time, and have come up with the 6 handy tips below, which you can also read more about here at The Screensavers Guide.
Individual graphics by Screensavers; collage compiled by Tan Family Chronicles. Read more about the tips here at The Screensavers Guide.  
They requested that we share our stories on how we implement any of their tips. I guess our "No TV at Home" rule falls into the "Not Too Long" tip.

Now, we didn't always have this "No TV at Home" rule. In fact, it used to be that the kids would always need the TV on during dinner time, and they would watch TV while eating. This was a legacy from the days before the kids attended their childcare, and their caregiver at that point in time found it easier to feed infants and toddlers when their eyes were glued to the TV. And hence, this bad habit of watching TV while eating was instilled as soon as they could sit upright. 

When they started attending childcare, the kids learnt to eat in school without TV. But at night, when they came back for dinner, they would once again demand for TV during dinner time. Understanding that this was what they were used to, hubbs and I gave in, and would allow them to watch TV during dinner time. We understand that too much TV is not good for them, so we figured that we will limit it to the hour or so when they are eating, to watch TV. Afterall, they don't watch TV the entire day already since they are in childcare, and their Learning Vision childcare does not play the TV for them to watch.
But despite us "limiting" the time that they can watch TV to their dinner time, it would tend to drag on with the cries of "Just one more episode?" etc. And, the kids would eat sooooo slowly! Mostly because they would just stare at the TV without chewing and swallowing regularly. To top it off, the twins started talking and all three kids would fight over what show to watch. This is because we don't let them watch TV per se - as in, it is not the regular television broadcast programmes that they watch - I buy dvds of childrens' programmes which I deem to be educational, for them to watch. Hence, they all had their favourites - Isaac would want to watch Little Einsteins while Shawna would ask for Barney, and Asher would want something else. 
Bring the Fun Out - says the Screensavers! We totally agree! Kids have fun just bouncing the ball, or kicking it around. We do stretching exercises with the kids, and play games like "What's the time, Mr Wolf?" (middle picture, top row) The kids always have tonnes of fun, and it gets them all hungry (so they eat dinner without problem) and sweaty (so they don't oppose bath time either!). And best of all, they'd sleep very well at bedtime! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!
We used to mediate and be judges, decide who gets to watch what first, and insist everyone take turns etc. But it was mayhem. There was always quarreling and fighting, tears abound, and no one was satisfied. So one day, on a regular day that had the regular mayhem, tears, fights and drama concerning who gets to watch what  programmes, and how many episodes etc etc. Hubbs stood up and said "THAT'S ENOUGH! NO MORE TV!!!" And he walked to the TV, unplugged it, and put the TV, cables and all, into the bomb shelter which was our storeroom. 

The kids were stunned. They looked at hubbs. Looked at the storeroom door. And looked at the bare, empty spot which used to have their beloved TV. Gone. WAIL!!!! They started bawling and crying their eyes out. They threw horrible tantrums that night, all three of them. Hubbs hollered once more, to get them all to keep quiet. And they did... whimpering a little. I quickly herded them into the bedroom to read to them, and that was Day 1 of cold turkey, of the kids going without TV.

The next day, and the day after, the kids timidly asked for TV, but hubbs and I just shook our heads and said "No". On Day 2 we said, "Quickly eat, and we can go downstairs to the playground." And their eyes lit up and they started eating purposefully. On Day 3, I said "Quick finish your food, and we can play board games!" The kids eyes widened with joy and they quickly ate while perusing the games shelf, calling out the games they would like to play.

For the record, after Day 3, the kids stopped asking for TV during dinner time (or any other time). We kept them busy of course. Occasionally, it was going downstairs to play at the playground or to cycle or play ball. Mostly, it was playing board games, crafting, and reading.We found that we now had much more time to do all these things. Before we banished the television set, we were already playing board games, crafting and reading. But watching TV took up so much time that we only had time to play board games and craft during weekends. Now, we could do it almost every night! The kids loved their new activities, and didn't request for TV again. Not even after hubbs placed the TV back in its place - as we needed space in the storeroom.
Reading is the magic key to take you where you want to be! :) we're mighty glad the kids are loving books!

It helps that hubbs and I both love reading. We have tonnes of books and I still can't resist buying more! I buy books from everywhere, but more often than not, from The Groovy Giraffe, partly coz it is opened by my secondary school pal, but mostly because they sell brand new books at prices cheaper than any store! Key in TanFamilyC to get 5% off your shopping cart any day of the year! From now till 19th March 2014 - key in TanFam15 to get 15% off the Children Category! Dang! I'm going shopping myself! Been eyeing an Enid Blyton book set now that Isaac is almost done with the Five-Find-Outers set I got him!

Our typical schedule on a weekday night in the past few years (before Isaac started attending primary school this year) goes like this -
6.30pm - Pick the kids from childcare.
7.30pm - Dinner time
8.15pm - Bath time
8.45pm - Board games or Crafting time!
9.45pm - Read books
10.30pm - Getting the kids to stop reading and go to sleep!

Before we stopped the kids from watching TV during meal times, they could take almost 2 hours to eat! Leaving not much time for anything else after dinner other than to bathe, read and go to sleep! Now that Isaac is in Primary 1 and has to wake up early. I try to fetch the twins earlier, and move the entire schedule forward by a hour or so. It's really not much time at all.So we're really thankful that we managed to go TV-less with the kids.

When we play board games with the kids, or craft, or read to them, with them, sometimes we post pictures of them doing these activities on our private Facebook accounts, and friends would sometimes comment:"Wow! Where do you get the time to do so many things?!"  Initially, we would be slightly puzzled, and simply reply "Oh, after dinner lor." or "Okay lah, not very often. No time." to which our friends would say "Wah, but you do a lot already." It was during one such conversation with a friend did I realise why we had more time "Oh, we don't watch TV at home. We have a "No TV Rule!" then the friend went "OH... no wonder..."

The kids do get to watch TV, though. Just not at our own home. They get to watch TV at their grandparents' home. We figured it was very hard to control and demand that OUR parents don't watch TV, so we figured that's going to be the only time our kids get to watch TV. My in laws' place has cable tv, and so the first thing the kids ask after calling his Grandfather is "Can we watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates, please?". My parents place doesn't have cable, so they usually watch the Korean dramas that my parents watch - which I don't really mind coz the dramas are more often than not dubbed in Mandarin. It fit right in with my plan to deal with the Chinese language.
Card games and board games can be fun and educational at the same time. They are great for spending quality time bonding with the kids, and wonderful for playdates and gatherings too. [ Playdate with Owl's Well's J & E - top left hand pic] Games can be as fast as 5 minutes, or relatively short 15 minutes, to 30 minutes, if you like. You can watch your kids grow by playing board games - see how their mind ticks! It's very fascinating!  See more such games at My First Games

So that is where the kids get their dose of TV. Thus they can hardly accuse us of not giving them TV time. But given that we only visit the grandparents at most once a week for both, the maximum number of times the kids can watch TV during a week, is two times. They have also come to accept the fact that they don't watch TV at home, and so they don't ask for it. Unfortunately, this also means that they come to associate their grandparents' home with TV. So we try to dampen that by bringing board games and they can play the board games with their grandparents or auntie & uncle.

We do have a home theatre though. A high definition projector and a 101 inch fixed screen home theatre, complete with a 5.1 surround sound system. I was a huge movie buff you see. So we do have movie nights, on Friday or Saturday nights. So, we do indulge the kids and ourselves with the occasional movie. And I could write an entire blog post on the benefits of watching movies rather than TV.... But yeah, the kids are not totally TV-free.

But in my frank opinion, just being TV-free on weekdays, to have a "No TV at Home on Weekdays" rule already brings with it many benefits. Mainly, you get a lot more time to spend with the kids doing activities which are not and mind numbing. In the long run, this will also ensure that your kids do NOT turn into TV addicts, because they know they can survive without it and can be indifferent without it.

Oh wait, did I mention that we have a "No iPad at Home (even on weekends)" Rule? Yes, that one is more draconian because iPad is even more addictive than the TV. Yes, even I was a bit addicted to the iPad though I tried to secretly use it in the toilets instead of in the living room... See?! The extent we addicts go to?! But I could see the kids following in my footsteps. So after one more muttered "We should ban iPad at home..." from hubbs, I declared to the kids
Mummy me: "No iPad at Home! If you want to play iPad, you can play at your grandparents place."
Kidzes:"BUT we'd be busy watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates there!"
Me:"Then you have to make a choice. If you want to watch TV, then you don't get to play iPad. And if you want to play iPad, then you don't get to watch TV. Oh and if you guys fight and quarrel over the iPad, then I will keep it and nobody gets to play it."
And that was that. No more iPad at home.
The kids love colouring, painting, cutting, pasting, and most of all MAKING STUFF! I'm a big fan of making our own toys out of recycled materials. See what we have done in our Crafty Critters tag :) Crafting lets the kids exercise their creativity, practice their fine motor and hand-eye coordination, and keeps them very occupied. What more can you ask for?!
So what's the point of this long post? I am saying, that if all the benefits of going TV-free and iPad-free appeal to you,  you can do it! You CAN implement the "No TV/iPad at Home" Rule too. 

Try these following tips from yours truly
1. Be firm about it.
Unplug the TV and chuck it in the bomb shelter, if you must. We tried reducing the timing bit by bit but it doesn't really work. Expect a cold turkey period of tantrums, moaning, groaning and whining. We had a 3 day cold turkey period which I think is quite short. I actually expected a week or more. Generally, I think, the more addicted your child is, the longer the cold turkey period will be. Remember, they will get better, so you must persevere!!!
2. Adults, please control yourselves.
Frankly, I think it will be tougher to get the adults to quit watching TV, compared to the kids. If you truly want the kids not to watch TV, there should be no TV in the house that is switched on - if not, the temptation is there. Adults, you have more options open for you, you can surf the net to watch during lunch time at work, or watch after the kids go to sleep. Get relatives staying with you to cooperate by watching the TV in their own room, perhaps? I know of mums with No TV Rules who download Korean dramas to watch on the iPad. Whatever works - get creative!

3. Arm yourself with alternative activities.
Yes, without the TV or the iPad as a nanny, you will need to occupy the children's time. Other than homework...
  • Read, read, read! Benefits of reading are well documented and have a long lasting effect - get them addicted to reading and it would be an even better nanny than the TV would be - in more ways than one! [Brand new discounted books available here, quote TanFamilyC to get 5% off your shopping cart!]
  • Play games with them! Board games, card games, kampung games, DIY games, jigsaw puzzles! Games are highly educational as it stimulates and enhances problem solving skills.
  • Bring them outdoors, to the playground, or just downstairs for a post-dinner walk. Lots of Fun for Free ideas here by The Gingerbreadmum
  • Crafting! Make a toy instead of buying one! There are many mummy blogs out there with wonderfully nice and easy crafts to make! Just Google! :)
  • Toys! Get them interested in their toys again! Lego, building blocks, toy soldiers, cars, dolls, cooking toys etc... These are toys which promote open-ended play and that is good for the children! Use their imagination! Enhance their creativity!
  • Activity, puzzle, sticker books! Colouring books! All these are fun to do and would help to reinforce that reading and books can be fun too! 
4. Allow the kids some TV time, but elsewhere.
Set fixed parameters for your kids to have TV time, and preferably not at home. This way, they will not associate their home with TV time, and they will naturally seek out other activities to keep themselves occupied, even when you are unable to 'entertain' them.

5. Persevere and don't backslide!
Ride over the cold turkey period and your battle is half won! Next, persevere and keep it up. Don't backslide by succumbing to the easy way out of using iPad or TV when you need the kids to do something on their own while you cook dinner or do some work. Let them get used to doing some solo activities like reading, doodling, playing with toys. Your efforts will all go to waste if you backslide too much! 

So you see, there is lots to do, even without the TV or the iPad! You can do it! START TODAY!!! 


  1. Thanks for sharing your journey! I would love for my entire home to be tv-free, but watching tv is the principal relaxation tool for the hubs. So... My dream will have to take place in another life.

    I do agree that the kids can be weaned off the tv by craft activities and board games, so that's what we've been doing!

  2. I loved reading this! I also suspect that sometimes they purposely eat slowly or eat more so that they can watch more TV. Recently the boys have been playing with each other quite roughly, so I'm trying to cut down as much TV as possible.

  3. Just chanced upon this post. Coincidentally, we recently just banned iPad. Totally, went cold turkey and we faced some tantrums over the ban. But, I'd like to say, "It is all WORTH IT!" Now, they spend their time doing more meaningful stuff, such as reading, crafting, building with Lego, running and scootering along the corridor after dinner, and yes, board games! So, like what you've said, it can be done!


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