Parental Limits are the Key to Screen Time

It all started with Angry Birds.

Picture this: You and your little one are waiting at the pediatrician’s office. It has been 20 minutes and you’ve run out of ways to distract your energetic toddler. The baby is crying. The toddler is across the room climbing and jumping off of the waiting room chairs. The baby is crying louder. The toddler is now playing with the trash can. Reluctantly, you hand over your smart phone. The toddler starts flinging birds at pigs and you tend to the baby. You think to yourself, problem solved. What you don’t realize is that a new challenge is just beginning.

As my kids grew so did their desire for more screen time, more games and more screens! Now those Angry Bird-loving toddlers are Minecraft-obsessed school-agers. All three are devoted gamers. Minecraft, Skylanders, Super Mario… you name it, they want it.

It’s very frustrating as a parent to listen to the constant requests for screen time and new games. My husband and I have learned that gaming rules must be set. Our kids are allowed to play two days a week, and they have to give us their iPods on their days off so they don’t sneak and play and break the rules. We’ve also set up parental restrictions on their devices so that they are unable to purchase anything without our approval.

Our kids are growing up in a technology-driven world and monitoring our children’s screen time is just one of the many challenges that parents face. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a little screen time so parents can get things done, but just like everything else, we need to be in charge. If our kids were allowed to make all the decisions they would eat cookies for every meal, never bathe, and stay up until midnight. Sure, we have treats on occasion, we might skip a bath and stay up late for a treat, but all of these things are in moderation. The same goes for screens. As parents we need to set rules and be consistent. Easier said than done, I know.

So, is your child hooked on screens, too? How do you set limits?

Parenting is Hard Work

This time of year I usually need a reminder that being a parent is hard work. Rewarding – but hard – work. There are a million things to do, places to be and toys to buy. I wish I could create a clone of myself to get everything done.

Facebook doesn’t help. As if only to annoy me, my friends and family keep posting pictures of their beautifully decorated homes, suggested holiday recipes and latest Pinterest projects. Seriously, who has this kind of time? I am doing well to make it out the door each day without forgetting something.

To comfort myself, I tell myself that I am the rule, not the exception. Everyone struggles. But am I really? Could I be doing more as a parent for my family? Should I? Self-doubt as a parent can be overwhelming and let’s face it, exhausting. We are often quick to extend grace and forgiveness to those around us, but do not extend it to ourselves. It is tricky to know when we should honestly push ourselves to do more and when we have set unrealistic expectations. I think the key is being open and honest with one another about our struggles as parents. And to seek support and help when needed.

I read something recently that sums up how I feel as a parent, particularly this time of year: “She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.” If you looked at a typical day at my house you could see just how unpretty some of those details are: dirty dishes and unmade beds, baskets of laundry and empty dog bowls, raised voices and slammed doors. But among all of these unpretty details, there is love. Love for the home our family has created and love for each other. So, from one hardworking parent to another, relax. Cut yourself some slack. I’ll try to do the same.

Say “No” to the Hustle and Bustle

I, like many of you, find that I get all caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Whether I am shopping, baking or crafting, I spend much of November and December hurrying from one activity to the next. And as I hurry through my holiday to-do list I find that I am not fully enjoying this season. It’s supposed to be joyous, but too often, it’s stressful. So this year I’ve said “no” to the hustle and instead said “yes” to less.

Feeling stressed? Say "yes" to less this holiday season.

My typical mode of operation is to try to make the most out of each day. I often measure this by how much I have accomplished, especially during the holidays, when I usually end up replacing the magic of the holidays with holiday planning and prep. But slowing down and doing less this time of year has actually led to me feeling some of that joy. I’m less stressed simply because I am intentionally making the decision to be more present. This year, instead of worrying about getting it all done, I’ve set fewer expectations for myself – even if it’s been a challenge to do so.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t just let the holidays pass me by. I’ve just tried to make better choices about where to put my energy. This means I haven’t done things simply because it is what I have done every year. I’ve done what makes sense for me and for my family this year. For me, this comes down to the differences between routines and traditions.

Traditions are those activities that support our family’s values, like going to church as a family or my father cooking breakfast on Christmas morning. These are rituals that bring us together. Routines are those things which often end up on my to-do list: baking certain cookies, sending cards and decorating my house. And it’s these routines that seem to create the sense of hustle and bustle which I am trying to avoid. While I enjoy baking and decorating cookies, I’m not going to stress about making as many as I have in previous years, and I won’t stress about sending as many cards or putting up as many lights, either. Hopefully by slowing down and being more present I’ll really experience the joys of the season.

Is Santa Real?

Experiencing the holidays as a parent is an amazing feeling. Watching your child’s face light up with innocent wonder as they hear tales of Santa and his flying reindeer can make even the grinchiest parents feel jolly. Who can resist those little faces aglow with excitement when counting down the days? Their happiness is contagious. It triggers memories from your own childhood and the joy of spreading that magic for them is indescribable.

Children grow up, but they don't have to outgrow the magic of Christmas.

That is until you hear those three dreaded words.

“Is Santa real?”

The questions usually start when your child is school aged and their thinking becomes more concrete.  It also doesn’t help when classmates spill the beans, leaving your once unsuspecting child now filled with questions.

My daughter began questioning the big guy in red around first grade. Back then it was easy to offer explanations that she happily accepted.

“Well, I know Tabitha told you that Santa isn’t real, but do you believe in Santa?”

“Yes! I believe in Santa even if other kids do not,” she would reply, and that was the end of the discussion. Until this year.

Avery is now 9-years-old and my strategy of answering a question with a question will no longer suffice. For a while now I’ve been able to see the wheels in her mind turning, collecting evidence and building a case against good ol’ St. Nick. She was growing up and when we’ve asked if she believes in Santa, the “yes” replies came more slowly and with less confidence.

So, my husband and I offered to sit down with her and give it to her straight. She asked and we answered. No, Santa isn’t one real person. He is many people. He is make believe like so many other fairy tales you have heard. He is a symbol for believing in something you can’t see and for spreading the magic of giving to others. Dad and I are the ones that put presents under the tree. Now you know the secret of Santa and the magic of believing. When you grow up, if you choose to, you can pass the tradition on to your children.

She took it well. I think she feels special knowing a secret that her younger brothers haven’t yet figured out.

A Mom in Motion

This time last year, I was in the worst physical condition of my life. I’d had surgery in October and was supposed to be on medical leave for six weeks. Instead it was nine. Then I had a second surgery. And a third. Needless to say, recovery took quite a while, even with physical therapy and ongoing lifting restrictions. I felt like an alien had invaded my body. Day in and day out, I complained to my patient husband about what  terrible shape I was in. Finally, he told me very lovingly to either stop complaining or do something about it.


Determined to get healthy, a few weeks ago I stopped using a full-time job, grad school, my children’s homework and any other excuse I could think of not to exercise and  increased my on-again, off-again once a week Zumba to three to four times a week consistently. As an asthmatic, at first I couldn’t make it through the first few songs of the dance session without stopping for huge puffs on my inhaler. And the pain was killer! Not only did my chest hurt from being winded, every muscle in my body screamed for me to quit during each session and then whispered aching reminders of the work out long afterward. Still I persisted. No pain, no gain, right? Right! Gradually as I build up my stamina, I now find these breaks are fewer and farther between and instead of my body protesting when I work out, it does so when I don’t.

This was the case a few weekends ago when I couldn’t attend my Saturday class. Rather than feeling sluggish as I had for months, I had energy to burn. So instead of watching my nine and eleven-year-olds play laser tag, I suited up and joined them. Levi’s mask prevented me from seeing his reaction when I scored several points off of him by chasing him up and down ramps, but his, I’ve never seen mom do that! response conveyed his shock. And Liv had the same reaction when she joined me for Zumba the other night and realized her mom really dances. Hard.  In fact, she offered me my inhaler a few times between songs! I don’t know which I enjoyed more – her surprise that I didn’t need the inhaler or that I never stopped moving!

My quest for a healthier lifestyle has enabled me to model this for my children. Being involved in sports, exercising or simply being active isn’t limited to childhood, but I think my children saw me as too old to run or dance. Because other than taking the occasional walk, swimming or doing water sports like tubing or jet skiing on vacation, they’d never seen me do anything physical. They probably thought I was past all that.

Now that I’ve demonstrated how being fit allows me to run fast and dance hard, hopefully they’ve learned a lesson that they’ll carry into and throughout their adulthood: A mom (or dad) in motion tends to stay in motion.

How We Talk With Children Matters

I recently began noticing how much and how frequently Sweet Pea was pointing to objects and seeking more information about them. It is fascinating to me how in tune infants are with their surroundings; no one has to teach them how to be inquisitive or how to be curious. They just are.

Someday the simple pointing and investigative grunt will become a game of 20 questions (though it feel likes one thousand), obsessing over the same things and always why, why, why? I remember there were times when Schmee’s constant barrage of questions drove me crazy. I had to remind myself how important it was to remain calm and try my best to respond in appropriate ways. Sometimes, when I was plumb out of appropriate responses, I would turn the question around for him to answer such as, “Well, why do you think dogs have tails?”

I indulged him because I understood that the outcomes of such repetitive opportunities would result in someone who would continue to seek answers and uncover marvels. Those opportunities, those questions answered, lead to a child that engages with their environment. And when they receive positive interactions, children’s language will develop further, allowing them to be better able to communicate their needs and become more confident about their place in the world.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a great article on ways families can support language development in their infants and toddlers. It’s a good reminder – or an introduction to – the reasoning behind a lot of what infants do and how I can support my children. They may be natural detectives but they need positive interactions to help make their knowledge concrete. They need positive interactions to learn how to communicate need and how to engage with others in a social context. They need positive interactions to attach themselves to people important in their lives.

And they need positive interactions to thrive. I can’t think of a better way to set them on the right path than to talk with them about what is interesting to them.

No Friend Like a Sibling

The walls of my two boys’ bedroom are decorated with signs that read, There’s no buddy like a brother, and, Brothers are better than superheroes. The same sorts of messages adorn the walls of the playroom where my daughter and my two boys play: Siblings, a little piece of childhood that can never be lost.

My children are all close in age: Avery is 9, Rilee is 6, and Reece is 5. This means they’re destined to become lifelong best friends… right? Isn’t that the dream of all parents with multiple children?

Siblings are bound to be best friends... right?

For me it is one of my greatest hopes as a parent. I daydream about the three of them as grownups: the boys loading up their families into minivans and heading over to Avery’s house for a Saturday barbecue, Avery calling up Reece to ask him to babysit her children or her five dogs, Rilee texting a joke to his brother and allowing the two of them to take a break from their busy work weeks to share a laugh.

Yep, I can see it all very clearly. If only I can keep them from fighting long enough to lead them toward a path of lifelong friendship. At this stage in their lives, it seems like they argue about everything from the moment they wake up in the morning to the moment they go to sleep at night.

I know sibling rivalry is normal. I have a sister only 19 months older than me. We shared a room, toys, friends, cars and we did our fair share of arguing. I’m sure there were moments when our mother wondered if we would grow up and never speak to each other again. I remember my grandma always telling us, “You girls are so lucky to have each other.” It was only later in life that I realized what she meant. Siblings are an amazing gift to each other but they can often drive their parents nuts with the constant bickering.

So, what can parents do to save their sanity when siblings argue? I’ve read a lot of parent blogs and articles on sibling rivalry, and they all offer similar advice: hide in the bathroom until the kids figure it out.

While I am joking, this suggestion does have some truth to it. Many parents agree that letting your children work together to solve their disagreement is best. There is no need to intervene when you hear those first all-too-familiar sounds of children shouting, “Give it back!” and “Don’t touch me!” Instead wait, listen and if they come to you, encourage them to think of ways to solve the problem on their own. Ask them, what could you have done differently? What can you do now?

At our house we make “sorry cards” because sometimes it’s easier to put thoughts into writing, especially when we are upset. If your little one is having a hard time explaining what went wrong and expressing their feelings, you can try making a sorry card. I think they are great because even young children can make them. If they can’t write words have them draw a picture.

Another favorite in our house to combat the sibling drama is alone time. Everybody go to your room! Sometimes taking a break from each other is exactly what they need, and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly they are eager to return to playing together. In a matter of minutes they can go from doors slamming and “Never talk to me again!” to doors opening and “Mom can alone time be over? I miss my brother.”

For now I won’t worry about the fact that that my daughter makes her own sibling-inspired signs to decorate her bedroom walls: Rilee and Reece not allowed, and, I’m a lone wolf. I won’t worry because every weekend night she sneaks into the boys’ room to sleep with them, and the boys happily welcome their sister. This sibling sleepover has become a little tradition of theirs and gives hope to my daydreams … even if in the morning I awake to someone complaining about someone else’s sweaty feet touching them.