TV Diet (17): More Healthy Alternatives

Last week, I described some healthy alternatives to watching too much TV. You may have already found some ideas you can work with. Today, I will describe even more alternatives, which should give you and your kids more options.

Physical activity

Girl on scooterSometimes, being physically active, not necessarily in the form of a hobby, can keep kids busy for a short time, but they will benefit from doing it more than from sitting in front of the TV.

You can go for a walk, skate, cycle or ride a scooter around the neighborhood/block and talk to your kids about their day. You can even go to the local playground with them for a good afternoon play. If you are not around and the kids are old enough, encourage them to do these things by themselves, with older kids taking care of younger kids.

Gardening is a good and fun physical activity with kids. If you work in the garden patch and watch a show about gardening, it will become a healthy alternative to junk TV.

Bouncing on a trampoline, jumping rope and throwing or kicking a ball around are all simple, wonderful activities that keep kids busy and active and away from TV.

On weekends, instead of sitting in front of the TV, you can take a trip to a mountain, a lake, a waterfall, a forest or a beach. Even a short walk and a picnic lunch can do more for the whole family than sitting in front of the TV.

Playing at home

When kids did not have a TV, they played with whatever they had available. If you are old enough, I am sure you remember from your childhood that most kids did not play with fancy toys, but used a few toys that meant a lot to them (like rag dolls), regardless of their cost.

Kids with mandolineKids can play for hours if they have someone to play with. Some kids can play on their own for hours, but those are not the kids who watch TV all day. If you have kids around the same age who can play together, it will probably be easier for you to keep them playing and active. If you do not have a companion for them for a game, you’re it!

Have puzzles at home at different difficulty levels and sit with your kids from time to time to do puzzles. We build the puzzle on a big wooden board and when we are ready for dinner, we can move it aside and bring it back later. When the kids are back from school, they go and try to find 5-10 pieces.

A single deck of cards can keep kids busy for a long time. I can teach almost all math levels in primary school using cards. They can be thinking games and do not have to promote gambling. My youngest sister was 5 years old when she started playing card games with us and could not even hold all the cards in her little hands, but she used to beat us in most of the games (she still does). Playing cards is a clean game – easy to start, easy to finish, no mess and can be very educational.

At some stage, young kids can spend hours playing symbolic games – pretend role plays like “house”, “doctor” or “class”. These games are wonderful developmental tools. Through the games, kids sort out many of the thoughts and feelings they have. If you can play “pretend” with them, this will give you insight into their emotional position and understanding and will allow you to gently help them. I remember having 200 tea parties with Eden when she was 3 years old and drinking pretend tea or “dthooth” (juice).

All you need to make sure is that your kids have the basic needs of cars, dolls, house items, etc and they will do the rest of the work.

Although I do not recommend reality shows, some shows about dancing, like “So you think you can dance” (I hate the name) or singing, like “Idol”, which can encourage kids to play symbolic games of singing or dancing. Just cut the commercials and the blah, blah, blah and remember to be a nice judge.

Model cityThe challenge with symbolic games is that your kids need someone to play with, so if they do not have a friend or a sibling, again, you’re it! And if you immediately say in your head “I do not have the time”, remember you do not have the time not to. It is better than fighting with your kids about TV.

Have classic games at home and play it with your kids from time to time – battle ships, Monopoly, Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?, chess, etc.

We make dinner time a wonderful bonding time by telling one another about our day, singing songs, tell jokes and stories and playing games. Dinner takes us an hour to an hour and a half and nobody thinks of TV.

Friends, friends, friends

KidsSince TV takes away social interaction from kids, keeping them busy with friends can be a wonderful alternative for them. Some years, I have had an agreement with a mom from my daughters’ child care center that once a week, she picks up both girls for an afternoon together at her place and the other week, I pick up her daughter and they have some lovely play time at our house. The girls would stay together until we got ready for dinner, so I knew they were busy, having fun and practicing their social skills.

A major rule for having friends is “Friends come to play with you and not watch TV”.

Having friends over on the weekends, going to birthday parties and visiting family members are all good ways of encouraging social skills.

If you are worried about your kids going to other homes (and sometimes you should, like I was shocked to hear an 8-year-old tell me everything about X-men), before you send your kid to a friend, tell the other parent, “I prefer my child to play and not of watch TV” or “I do not allow my kids to watch violent movies”. Most times, your wishes will be respected and you can relax.

Sharing responsibilities in the house

Girl cleaningOne thing that keeps us parents from watching TV more hours than we would like to is the responsibility of taking care of our kids and our house. It is perfectly fine to share some of this responsibility with your kids. When I mean share, I do not mean throw at them, I mean share. Hand them slowly some of the responsibilities to make sure they understand there are more important things than any show on TV.

You can always start with them helping themselves by getting dressed, cleaning their own rooms and making their lunches (4 or 5 year-olds can already do this).

The next stage is to help you with regular household chores, like setting the table, clearing the table, mopping the floor, dusting and so on. I am sure you have a huge list of things you do for your kids and you would not mind at all them helping you.

An evening when each kid is in charge of dinner will keep him or her away from TV and doing something productive for the whole family. From peeling and mixing to preparing a dish to making the whole meal, this can grow with the kid’s age. Little ones and big ones alike take enormous pride in their contributions and creations.

Mother and daughter bakingHaving a roster of cleaning the house and sharing chores can help greatly with the household management. All you need to do is stick to doing chores first and things will be done quickly (read more about kids’ chores).

In the household area, single parents are divided into two groups – those who feel bad about being single and do not ask the kids for anything and the those who become more organized and give kids a feeling of being a team that can conquer the world together. One of my clients, a single mother with three young girls, told me that being single and not sending contradicting messages to the girls, she finds it easier to hand over responsibilities to them. She has the most wonderful, considerate, helpful girls on Earth.

Join me next week for the conclusion of TV Diet and share your experiences with my advice in the comment box below for everyone’s benefit.

Healthy watching,

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  • Maria @ Conversations with Moms

    Well said and well written. I try to limit TV watching for my kids as well. Luckily, my oldest has a great imagination and loves to create stories while playing.

  • Ronit Baras

    Hi Maria,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I think it is important for parent readers to hear about other ( crazy) moms that limit TV watching and survive…

    My eldest ( now 20 years old) used to tell her friends and our friends ” I did not see this on TV. YOu know mom, she is crazy and she does not like the TV and says it is silly and too violent ” and now she tells the younger ones ” Don’t you have better things to do than watch those silly movies?”.

    If she is doing amazingly wonderful things instead of wasting time in front of the TV – I do not mind being the reason.

    Thanks for visiting

    Happy parenting
    Family Matters