Parenting without Spanking, What Works?

After a controversial post on my personal Facebook wall, there was a big discussion on spanking, something I don’t believe in using as a discipline method.  Same goes for yelling.  Now this isn’t an anti-spanking post.  Instead it’s a “how do you discipline if you don’t spank?” post.  The thing is, saying not to spank is pointless if you don’t give a parent tools that actually work instead.  For me it’s not so much about spanking being harmful but about it being an ineffective parenting tool that often makes a situation worse rather than better.  As you’ve seen in my post about parenting advice that annoys me because it doesn’t work, I’m about what works, what is effective, not just in the short term but the long term.  Now I don’t pretend to have it all figured out.  Parenting is a constant challenge and learning processes as our children are always changing and growing and there are always new challenges.  But these are some of the advice and methods I’ve gleaned from different sources that I’ve found to not only be effective, but practical for a busy mother with other children to care for.

  1. Deal with issues immediately, don’t ignore them.  
    It’s so easy to be caught up and busy with something that we ignore our children jumping on the couch and we yell at them a few times while continuing to do what ever it is we are doing and they ignore us until finally we get really angry and scream at them or march over there and spank them or generally it all goes down bad.  And, in the end, what we’ve taught them is we don’t mean it until we’re screaming or spanking and they can ignore us until then.  Instead, what we need to do is stop what we’re doing and go over there and remove the child, get on their level and look them in the eye and tell them to stop.  Then we need to be ready for them to try to disobey and deal with them again immediately.  There can be a consequence like time out.  For young kids consequences should be immediate, not future things like “you can’t go to Tommy’s party tomorrow”.  When we respond right away (which is really hard to do because we’re often busy) we teach our children that we mean what we say and we no longer need to yell or get to the point where we’re about to lose it.  It also shows them they’re important to us.  When we make the effort it is easier in the long run as our child learn to obey the first time and discipline only takes a few minutes rather than 10 mins of yelling and 5 of losing it and 5 of screaming and spanking and then 10 of a crying child in meltdown.
  2. Playful Parenting.
    This is a great tool for young children and doesn’t need to be used all the time.  It works well when you need to get children to do something they don’t want to do.  Make things into a game or fun and suddenly you have your child interested.  Why fight over wiping their face while you try to hold still a sticky toddler who suddenly has 10 arms and the strength of a gorilla.  The cloth is a little bunny that wants to give kisses.  Here’s kisses all over your face.  Muh, muh, muh.  Recently my kids weren’t coming upstairs for their bath and I was too tired to go get them a haul them upstairs.  I started singing “Five Little Speckled Frogs” really loudly and talking about how their toy frogs were jumping into the tub.  They came running and wanted to play with the frogs.  Yes, this takes a little imagination and creativity but that’s really less energy and work than trying to convince a stubborn toddler to do something or physically wrestling them into it.
  3. Keep a child close.
    A child that is being defiant often and seems to be acting out for no reason often needs to reconnect with you.  This is true at any age.  Relationship is so important in parenting.  Something could be bothering them, maybe a bully at school, or a fight with a friend or they’re scared about an upcoming test.  Giving them time to connect with you and talk and feel loved will do wonders.  One on one time with your children is so important.  My children are so happy after I take just one of them with me somewhere.  Even just taking a child who is having a bad day on your lap and reading them stories may be enough to turn around the day.  They feel so special and loved. Now of course as a mother with more than one child as soon as you take one kid on your lap the other one wants to join in.  If you can convince your children one at a time do so, if not move to somewhere where you can call cuddle and read a book together. Family time should be very important. Plan family trips together.  Have family game nights.  Have family dinners.  Make connecting as a family top priority.  The book “Hold on to Your Kids” talks about the importance of spending time with your kids.
  4. Give a child independence.
    Children crave to be independent.  As a parent you know that your child has a mind and opinions of their own.  That’s good.  You are raising someone not to live with you forever, but to one day be independent.  There is nothing more confidence building in a child than independence.  There are many ways to do this.  Simple things like a stool in the bathroom so that they can wash their hands themselves.  Letting them pick out their own clothes to wear.  Who cares if it doesn’t match.  Let them climb the slide at the park.  Teach them to put their dishes in the dish washer or to help empty it.  Teach them to put their clothes away or to put their shoes on.  Give them responsibility.  They can have a spray bottle and wash windows or feed the dog.  Let them help make dinner.  Young children are quite capable of doing many things if they’re taught and given the opportunity.  A child that has more independence is less likely to turn every single thing into a power struggle because they feel that they have some control over their life.   The Montessori approach has lots of information about teaching and allowing our children to be independent.
  5. Take time to step back and think.
    Now this seems to be the opposite of dealing with issues immediately.  But there are so many different parenting situations.  This is for when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or you’re about to lose it or you’re not sure how to deal with a behaviour.  It’s ok to not respond right away at these times.  If you feel you’re about to lose it then walk away.  Go somewhere alone (the bathroom works well) and just try to breath and think clearly.  (of course make sure your child is safe before leaving them alone).  Often when you stop to think you’ll realise a better way to handle the behaviour than your initial response would be.  Maybe you’ll realise that your child is hungry and so giving them a snack would help.  Maybe you’ll realise that they’re upset about something that happened earlier so you can talk about that.  Maybe you’ll realise that they need time alone to calm down and you’ll put them in their room or time out.  Maybe you’ll realise that they need a talk about hitting or they need to learn alternative ways to deal with their anger.  There are so many situations, only a clear head will help you think of the best way to deal with that particular one.  Now I will warn you, if you lock yourself in the bathroom your kids may stand outside the door and scream and bang on it.  But just not having them in the room with you does help.  And I tell my children often that parents get frustrated and angry and sometimes need space.  That sometimes mommy needs to be alone to calm down and I’ll be right back after.  That when mommy needs space you need to leave her alone for just a few minutes.  I let my children know what I’m doing and that I’ll be right back so they don’t feel abandoned.  It also is a great model for your children about how they should handle their anger.  Also be aware of times you’re under stress or tired, these are times you’re more likely to have a “mommy meltdown”.  Be kind to yourself on those days.  Keep your daily plans simple.  Try to get enough sleep or have a power nap, make sure you eat and drink.  Remind yourself that your lack of patience is coming from these things not your children.  Just like it’s hurtful when our spouse’s takes out their work or money or other stress on us, it’s hurtful if we take out our stresses on our children.
  6. Lower, Look, Touch
    When you correct your child you need to get down to their level, look them in the eye, touch them by holding their arms or shoulders (gently but firmly) and speak in a low firm voice.  Yelling across the room is not as effective at all.  It seems like more work (especially when your kids are short and you are tall) but it’s really more work to yell and yell and yell again and then march over there and yell and spank or whatever you end up doing.
  7. Be consistent.
    Don’t discipline your child one day for throwing their cup because they don’t like that colour and then not the next day.  If a child gets away with a behaviour one day but not the next it’s confusing for them.  If you scream at them one time and then ignore them another, they’re going to experiment and see what happens the next time.  You also need to keep a pretty consistent routine.  Bedtime should always be at the same time except for special occasions.  If you let them stay up one day they’ll want it the next and the next.  Routine helps a child feel secure.  They don’t know what the plan is in your head.  They can’t read the calendar and they have little concept of time, so having a consistent routine gives them security and predictability.  And let them know what they can expect.  “Today you have a doctor’s appointment.  After we eat breakfast we’ll get in the car and go there and then we’ll come back and have a snack”.  Give them warnings before a big transition is about to happen.  “In 5 minutes it’s time to clean up your toys and then get ready for bed”.
  8. Always follow through.
    Don’t make threats you’re not going to keep.  Children are smart.  If you threaten that if they don’t go to bed now that you won’t go camping tomorrow, they know that you don’t mean it.  Especially if you’ve been saying it all day long or you make threats like that often and don’t keep them.  Think before you proclaim a consequence.  Do you really mean it?  Are you really willing to follow it through if the child doesn’t obey?  Once a child knows that you mean what you say, then when you make a threat it has a lot of power.  It just takes one time of telling a child, “if you don’t put your shoes on you can’t come grocery shopping with mommy” and then you leaving without them because they didn’t put their shoes on, for them to jump into their shoes the next time.
  9. Natural consequence are best when possible.
    Natural consequences aren’t always practical or desirable, but they do have an important place.  A consequence tied to the negative behaviour is more effective.  Like the above example of a child not being able to go with you because they didn’t put their shoes on.  Or a child won’t put their coat on so they’re cold when they’re outside.  Or they won’t clean up their toys so the toys are taken away (ours go in the basement for a few days to weeks).
  10. Time Outs
    We use time out often.  Tantrums end fast when there isn’t an audience.  We have a gate at the top of the stairs and I always tell them: “You need some time to calm down.  When you are calm you can call me and I’ll come get you.”  I don’t usually time it.  It’s based on their being ready to come down rather than a certain number of minutes.  Sometimes a child just needs to cry and scream.  I know even as an adult there are times I want to just scream.  So allowing them to do that in a safe place that isn’t bothering everyone else can help them let out those emotions so then they can get control of themselves.  I find my kids are much happier after and then want to cuddle.  When I come back I look them in the eye (the Lower, Look, Touch) and tell them the behaviour that is not allowed and give them acceptable alternatives and then I hug them.
  11. Lots of active gross motor play.
    Children are active.  They need to run and climb and jump and roll and throw.  Often they can’t control those urges just like they can’t often control the urge to go to the bathroom until older.  Giving your child chances to meet that need makes them more settled and relaxed.  Also learning to control their body by developing balance and coordination later translates into self control in other areas.  Children need this type of play every day. If you have the space, create an area for active play in your home for days when you can’t get outside.  You can also try indoor play places like at McDonalds or just pushing the furniture back and putting the couch cushions on the floor.
  12. Limit screen time.
    Though TV initially can be a lifesaver and seem to calm a child down, in the long run it over stimulates them and makes them mentally tired and we all know tired children are difficult.  If you do need to put the TV on look for calm shows that don’t have a lot of jumping around and scene changes and noise.  Slow shows like Mr Rogers Neighbourhood or Mr Dress-Up are good.  Little Bear, Franklin or even nature shows.  My daughter loves watching Chris Hadfield’s videos on YouTube over and over again.  It’s similar with noisy, flashy toys that entertain rather than engage a child.  Focus on open ended, battery free toys like blocks, building toys (like lego), simple dolls, playmobile, puzzles, books.  If you feel overwhelmed by a toy that is singing and flashing over and over, your child probably is too but they don’t have the brain understanding to realise that the toy is making them feel overstimulated.
  13. Create a peaceful home
    A cluttered over-stimulating environment can contribute to cranky overstimulated kids.  Your house doesn’t have to look like a magazine but our children often have too much stuff and it’s overwhelming for them.  Purge their toys and rotate others and organize.  Less is more when it comes to calming environments.  The book Simplicity Parenting explains this well.
  14. Work with their brains not against them.
    I highly, highly recommend the book “The Whole Brained Child“.  A child isn’t fully developed.  You wouldn’t punish a 6 month old for pooping in their diaper, so why punish a 2 or 3 year old for behaviour they can’t control?  The book helps you understand their brain development and how to help them make more connections.  Here are some of the tips from the book to help your child integrate the parts of their brain that often aren’t connecting when they’re misbehaving.
    -Connect emotionally with the child by naming their emotions and voicing their feelings.  Now you’ll probably find this often makes the child think that you’re going to give into them and then causes more crying, however it is important that you help a child understand what it is they’re feeling and why.  People who grow up not understanding why they feel and do the things they do often struggle as adults.  A person who can say, “oh, I’m feeling angry with my spouse because I’m sill disappointed that they forgot our anniversary last week”will be be better able to work through their emotions and heal their relationship.
    -Get the child moving.  Movement helps the brain reconnect the parts.  After acknowledging their feelings get them moving by tickling, roughhousing, racing.  Find some way to get them active.
    -Help your kids exercise their memory.  The books gives examples of how to do this but memory helps develop the brain and helps children to learn to use logic rather than emotions when responding to circumstances.
    -Talk about the day with your child.  Talk about the good parts and the bad parts.  Discuss ways they could deal with a situation better next time.  Discussing things when your child is relaxed and open is going to influence them more than yelling when they’re frustrated and angry.  And let it be a discussion not a lecture.  Let them think of ideas and explain their feelings.  The more they exercise critical thinking the better they’ll be able to use those skills when emotional.
    -Teach your kids that emotions change.  Young children don’t realise that in 10 mins they won’t be mad any more.  Tell them what they’re feeling right now isn’t who they are.  They are not sad, they feel sad.  Reminding them of how they felt yesterday when doing something fun shows them that feelings will pass and they’ll feel better.
    -Teach children to direct their thoughts and relax their bodies.  Your physical body has a huge impact on how you feel.  Though the term “mindsight” sounds newagey it’s probably something you already do.  Thinking of a place that you feel relaxed, like a hammock by the lake when you’re feeling stressed, or imagining that vacation last month.  Slowing your breathing or trying to relax each part of your body when you’re trying to fall asleep are all examples of mindsight.  Children can be taught these techniques on a simple level.  Changing what we’re focused on can change how we feel.  It works for us as parents too.  When we’re feeling overwhelmed or furious with our kids, thinking about how cute they looked when sleeping or how they came a gave you a big hug this morning can instantly change your emotions.
  15. Social Stories
    Just telling a child not to do something is only half of parenting.  The other half is giving them alternatives to deal with their feelings and situations.  If your boss yelled at you and told you that’s not how you use the photocopier but then stormed off and never told you how to actually use it, how would you feel?  What would you do?  Stories can be great ways to give our children the tools they need to change their behaviour.  We have a a couple great books about feelings which lets the reader pick different endings for how the child deals with their emotion.  They also give me ideas to suggest to my children when they’re dealing with those emotions.

Parenting is hard.  There isn’t a one size fits all solution to every situation.  But you can parent and discipline your child effectively without spanking or yelling.  You won’t be a perfect parent, I’m definitely not, and you will make mistakes because you’re human and you have emotions and needs too but when you have some techniques that actually are effective, things are much easier.  We have a huge responsibility as parents and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  There are a ton of parenting resources out there and just as in our jobs we do professional development, we should take time to do that as parents.  Here are some resources I have found helpful and I got most of the above suggestions from:

Websites:

Dr. Neufeld’s Hold On To Your Kids

http://www.janetlansbury.com/

Books:

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Story Cubes

I’ve mentioned these before and how much the kids loved them.  I recently found a set with 3 cubes from 3 add on sets for sale at our local toy store and had to get them.  They sparked a renewed interest.

From the Story Cubes website:
As the brain thinks in pictures but communicates in words, having a visual aid to creative problem solving would be advantageous. Using images to trigger stories would help the brain think in new ways.

 

Story telling is beneficial in many ways whether the parent is telling the story or the child. Listening to story telling increases vocabulary, encourages the child to visualize the story in their head, promotes auditory skill and challenges their memory.  For a child telling a story it helps them develop linear progression in thought, creativity, imagination, speaking skills, memory, brain connections and more.  It’s also a great way discuss and work through anything the child is struggling with.  A parent could make up a story on the subject giving words for the emotions and ideas for solutions.  Story telling is used often in Waldorf pedagogy to address issues with children.  The book, “The Whole Brained Child” talks about getting children to tell the story of something that happened to them to help their brain integrate their emotions with the reality.  A child who is scared to relive a traumatic incident can project those events into a story about someone else.

The more stories your child tells and hears the better they will get at doing it.  You’ll also find your own brain being stretched as you come up with stories.  That’s great for preventing dementia later in life.

Here’s some snippets of a story Pumpkin 1 was telling me.

 

Why I Don’t Play With My Kids

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It sounds terrible doesn’t it.  “I don’t play with my kids”.  What a horrible, checked out, selfish mother.  She must not love her kids.  Her kids must not be bonded to her.  But I think I’m not alone and I think that there are many mothers out there forced to play Dora for the millionth time while the dirty dishes are piling up or they just want to read the last chapter of that book and they’re sooooo bored.

Yes, I don’t play with my kids.  First, I should clarify what I do do with my kids beyond caring for their needs.  I read to my kids, I take them for walks and to the park and splash pad.  I help them put together their marble run.  I teach them (of course, since I homeschool), I set up and help them with crafts, I snuggle in my bed with them in the morning and giggle, I roughhouse, I sing to them, I cuddle them, I bake with them, I tell them about when they were little, I comfort them, I push them in the swing, when they were babies I played peekaboo and patty cake and occasionally I play a board game with them.  I do many things with my kids and much of my day revolves around them, but I don’t play with them.

So what do I mean what I say “I don’t play with them”?  I don’t sit down and play Barbies. I don’t act out Frozen.  I don’t play tag at the park.  I don’t play in the sand with them.  I don’t line up cars with them.  I don’t play with the barn with them or the dollhouse.  I don’t pretend to fight monsters with them.  I don’t play restaurant.  I do activities with them but I don’t play like a child with them.  And I believe my children are better for it and I’m happier for it.  My children play independently for hours, since they were babies.  They come up with great imaginative games and I have freedom to do housework and do my own thing, yet we have a wonderful close relationship.

Why don’t I play with my kids?  There are a number of reasons.

1) Frankly, it’s boring.  I love hanging with my kids but it’s insanely boring to play Barbies or to drive cars around or pretend to have a tea party over and over and over.
2) I have things to do.  There’s always housework and laundry and cooking and preparing school materials and things I like to do such as crochet.  There’s paperwork and things to research and well, life is busy.
3) My kids don’t need me to entertain them.  They have learned to entertain themselves and can play for hours and hours without me.  This gives me time to do the things in number 2.
4) I don’t like to inject my adult perception of the world into my kids’ play.  Their minds are so pure and innocent.  I find I just can’t play on the same level as them and feel my adult experiences influence things too much when I try to play.  I’d rather leave them to their own child minded, pure, imaginative play.
5) My kids don’t want me to play with them.  If they catch me watching them play they get embarrassed.  They want to play without any judgement, good or bad, from adults.
6) Play time isn’t teaching time.  There are times for teaching, but pure play should be fully child led and full of exploration, not me trying to show them something or teach them something, taking away the chance for them to discover it themselves.
7) My children play longer, with more concentration and focus, without me.  When I’m involved I often have to interrupt the play to make dinner or deal with something or because I’m bored.  Without me they are free to play for long periods without interruptions.

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I do like to listen to my children play, their play makes me smile and often laugh, but I try not to let them catch me watching.  And I have the advantage of having my kids 18 months apart so they have a ready playmate.  Daycare also brings in new friends to play with.  I’ve worked hard on creating an environment that promotes play.  Open ended, battery free, quality toys, an organized playroom, toys that engage, limiting the toys so it’s not overwhelming, a safe outdoor place to play.  Play is very important to me.  So important that I feel my children’s play is better without me in it, only there when needed and creating the opportunity and environment for it.  I’m like the stage hand, in the background of their performance.

The Power of Reading

Great article.  It’s amazing how something as simple as reading is so beneficial for our children.  Moms can do it, Dads can do it, Grandparents, older siblings, babysitters.

The neuroscientists at Carnegie Mellon mapped the brain while people read fiction and found that the same brain networks are engaged while imagining a fictional story in your mind’s eye as when you witness it in real life.

When you are engaged in reading a fictional story your brain is literally living vicariously through the characters in the story at a neurobiological level which can make children more empathetic to another person’s pain and suffering.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/one-more-reason-unplug-bedtime

Why I’ve Decided on No Media For My Children

So, this is probably going to be a controversial post.  I know when I would read things about no TV I’d get defensive.  “It’s too hard to have no media”, “sometimes I just need a break”, “it’s a great educational tool”, “it’s the only way I can get some work done” were all things I’d think.  But I’ve come around in my thoughts and seeing the effects of no media on my children has affirmed that this is the right decision for us.  What you decide for your family is totally up to you.  One answer doesn’t fit all.  This isn’t a post to tell you what to do.  It’s a post to tell you why I’ve changed my mind.

So, recently we’ve made the decision to stop all exposure to television and media for our children until they’re older (no set age yet).  The overwhelming evidence shows that media exposure (television, computers, ipads, ipods, smartphones) is harmful on the developing child.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “children under the age of two watch no screen entertainment at all because television ‘can negatively affect early brain development‘”

Research published in the world’s most reputable medical and scientific journals shows that the sheer amount of time children spend watching TV, DVDs, computers and the internet is linked with significant measurable biological changes in their bodies and brains that may have significant medical consequences.

How much TV are kids today watching?

By 7 years of age the average child will have watched screen media for over a year of 24 hour days!  The average European young person by the age of 18 will have spent 4 years of 24 hour days in front of a screen.   By the age of 80 these children will have spent over 13 years of 24 hour days just watching TV.

40% of infants are regularly watching television by 3 months of age and by the age of 2 years 90% are.

Children in Britain between 11–15 years spend 55% of their waking day watching screen media, that’s 53 hours a week, seven and a half hours a day.

How does media and screens negatively affect children?

Studies have demonstrated a deleterious effect of watching more than one to two hours of television per day on academic performance [31]. Excess television viewing causes poor peer relationships and thereby increases the risk of social isolation, anxiety disorder and agoraphobia [32]. Studies have shown that TV viewing may play an exacerbating, if not causal, role in the development of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [33] and that excessive TV viewing in adolescence is a risk factor for development of depression in young adulthood. [34].  http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ989518.pdf

Good evidence suggests that screen viewing before age 2 has lasting negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, and short-term memory. It also contributes to problems with sleep and attention. If “you are what you eat,” then the brain is what it experiences, and video entertainment is like mental junk food for babies and toddlers.

Just having the TV on in the background, even if “no one is watching it,” is enough to delay language development. Normally a parent speaks about 940 words per hour when a toddler is around. With the television on, that number falls by 770! http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Why-to-Avoid-TV-Before-Age-2.aspx

Let’s break that information down:

The effect of media on socialization:

Using media reduces the amount of time a child spends interacting face to face with others.

Over the last twenty years social interaction (eye-to-eye contact) has gone down while eye-to-screen-contact has gone up. Just before the year 2000 life became literally virtual: people would spend more time in front of a screen than spending time interacting with other human beings

For every hour spent in front of a screen, there is a reduction in face-to-face time with the family by 24 mins.  A study by the University of California–Los Angeles has found that “social disengagement is now rapidly increasing, as side-by-side and eye-to-eye human interactions are being displaced by the eye-to-screen relationship.

A study of brain function in adults found that when using the internet, the areas of the brain associated with empathy showed virtually no increase in stimulation.  In particular, there seems to be a decline in the subtle skills of reading the nuances of other’s emotions.  The biggest drop in empathy has been found to be after the year 2000. College kids today are about 40 per cent lower in empathy than their counterparts of twenty or thirty years ago.

The University of Michigan study concluded that the rise of social media may also play a role in the drop in empathy, ‘The ease of having “friends” online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don’t feel like responding to others’ problems, a behavior that could carry over offline.’ Electronic media has also contributed to a social environment that works against slowing down and listening to someone who needs a bit of sympathy.

Television affects language development:

Despite claims that educational DVDs and videos are beneficial to young children, a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that the use of such productions might actually have a negative effect on language development.  Even ‘educational’ television programmes, DVDs and videos have shown no positive effects on children age 2 and under whether they were educational or non-education media.  Even if parents sat and watched the show with the children it made no difference to the outcome. Researchers have found that for every hour spent watching specially developed baby DVDs and videos such as ‘Baby Einstein’ and ‘Brainy Baby’, children under 16 months understood an average of six to eight less words compared to children who did not watch them.

Media has a major effect on the brain:

…the World Federation of Neurology as “[computer games are] halting the process of frontal lobe development and affecting children’s ability to control antisocial elements of their behaviour … alarmingly, computer games stunted the developing mind”.

Even just a few minutes of television viewing has a negative impact on the intellectual functions carried out by the by the frontal lobes of the brain in 4 year old children.  “‘Just 9 minutes of viewing a fast-paced television cartoon had immediate negative effects on 4-year-olds’ executive function”  and “A new study is even more specific, reporting ‘widespread reductions’ in the condition and size of brain cells in ‘major white matter pathways… throughout the brain, including the orbito-frontal white matter, corpus callosum, cingulum, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, and corona radiation, internal and external capsules”

Media exposure causes sleep disturbances:

A study of 2068 children found that television viewing among infants and toddlers was associated with irregular sleep patterns. The number of hours of television watched per day was independently associated with both irregular naptime schedule and irregular bedtime schedules. (Thompson and Christakis 2005) Another study of 5-6 year olds found that both active TV viewing and background ‘passive’ TV exposure was related to shorter sleep duration, sleeping disorders, and overall sleep disturbances. Moreover, passive exposure to TV of more than two hours per day was strongly related to sleep disturbances

Researchers have reported that when children aged 6-12 were deprived of their media, their melatonin production increased by an average 30%. Melatonin is a sleep-promoting hormone produced in the brain.  “Exposure to a screen media was associated with lower urinary melatonin levels, particularly affecting younger children at a stage of pubertal development when important changes in melatonin’s role take place.”  Does your child have trouble sleeping?  Try cutting out their media exposure, especially before bedtime.

Media exposure affects a child’s attention span:

Early television exposure is associated with attentional problems at age 7. Children who watched television at ages 1 and 3 have a significantly increased risk of developing attentional problems by the time they are 7. For every hour of television a child watched per day, there was a 9 per cent increase in attentional problems.

The study concluded: ‘Childhood television viewing was associated with attention problems in adolescence, independent of early attention problems and other confounders. These results support the hypothesis that childhood television viewing may contribute to the development of attention problems and suggest that the effects may be long-lasting.’

Media exposure affects academic performance:

Television viewing amongst children under 3 is found to have ‘deleterious effects’ on mathematics ability, reading recognition and comprehension in later childhood. Along with television viewing displacing educational and play activities, this harm may be due to the visual and auditory output from the television actually affecting the child’s rapidly developing brain (Zimmerman and Christakis, 2005). A 26-year longitudinal study, tracking children from birth, has concluded that ‘television viewing in childhood and adolescence is associated with poor educational achievement by 26 years of age.

For every additional hour of television at 29 months there is a correspondence years later to a 7% and 6% unit decreases in classroom engagement and math achievement.  “Higher levels of early childhood television exposure predicted less task-oriented, persistent, and autonomous learning behavior in the classroom.”

Media is associated with less reading:

We have heard over and over how important reading is to a child’s development, however “Pre-school children spend three times longer in front of a television or computer than they spend reading”.  Researchers have found a link between the use of computer games and lower attainment in reading and literacy.

a European based study of 15-year-old students in 31 countries concluded that those using computers at school several times a week performed ‘sizeably and statistically significantly worse’ in both maths and reading than those who used them less often

The effect of media on physical health:

a study published in The Lancet, conducted at the Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, New Zealand, tracked the television viewing habits and health of 1,000 children over 26 years. It found that children who watched more than two hours of television a day between the ages of five and 15 developed significant health risks many years later

Each extra hour of watching TV is associated with an extra 1 kg of body fat. Harvard researchers reported that “beyond merely displacing physical activity, TV appears to slow metabolism and burns fewer calories compared with other sedentary activities such as sewing, reading, writing or driving a car”.  Watching television actually makes us eat more.  “A recent US study found that even children who watched a below average amount of television (less than three hours a day for an average of 2.7 days a week) ate roughly the equivalent of an extra meal a day more than those who watched none”.  Watching television candisrupt the natural link between appetite and eating.

Media also increases our risk of cardiovascular disease:

Children watching 2 to 4 hours of TV a day had 2.5 times the likelihood of having high blood pressure compared with children watching 0 to less than 2 hours. While those children watching 4 or more hours of TV were 3.3 times more likely to have high blood pressure

Media can also affect the hormonal development:

The lead author speculated that girls are reaching puberty much earlier than in the 1950s. One reason is due to their average increase in weight; but another may be due to reduced levels of melatonin. Animal studies have shown that low melatonin levels have an important role in promoting an early onset of puberty

But can’t media be educational?

Infants may stare at the bright colors and motion on a screen, but their brains are incapable of making sense or meaning out of all those bizarre pictures. It takes 2 full years for a baby’s brain to develop to the point where the symbols on a screen come to represent their equivalents in the real world.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a report stating: ‘children learn more from live presentations than from televised ones. … Young children learn best from—and need—interaction with humans, not screens. … Unstructured play time is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media.’

‘When learning from videos is assessed in comparison to equivalent live presentations, there is usually substantially less learning from videos’ (Anderson and Pempek, 2005). A phenomenon called the ‘video deficit’ is being used to describe the observation that toddlers who have no trouble understanding a task demonstrated in real life often stumble when the same task is shown onscreen

Studies have found that “‘the introduction of home computer technology is associated with statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores”

Malamud and Pop-Eleches (2010) compared the educational effects of government provided home computers on Romanian school children, and concluded that children given these home computers ‘had significantly lower school grades in Math, English and Romanian but significantly higher scores in a test of computer skills’.

Researcher have concluded, after examining certaim measure of cognitive development, that, “An 11-year-old today is performing at the level an 8- or 9-year-old was performing … 30 years ago … “. The decline was attributed in part to the growing use of computer games.

Also a child cannot learn a new language from watching TV.  Language learning requires interaction.  Studies have found giving babies just 12 sessions in front of a Mandarin-speaking instructor dramatically increased their ability to differentiate Chinese sounds. However, this effect is not there if the exposure to the language is by TV or radio, instead of a human.  Going back to the earlier studies I mentioned, TV watching is actually associated with poorer language skills.  being. http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2011/03/01/why-your-kid-cant-learn-foreign-languages-from-watching-tv/

Don’t children need to be exposed to media so that they are able to function in a technological world and know how to use it when older, especially in today’s workforce?

Research has actually found that even monkeys are comfortable with, and capable of using, the same screen technology that children are exposed to.  Technology today is rapidly changing.  The media children are using right now will not be the media and technology they will be using as adults.  Researchers at Harvard Medical School have stated, “There is no data to substantiate the claim that young children need to learn to become comfortable with screen technology.”

But the TV is just on, no one is watching it, it’s just background noise.

In case you thought you could turn off Barney for your baby but keep the Bachelorette re-run buzzing in the background, think again. For the first time, the AAP statement weighs in on “secondhand TV,” the group’s version of secondhand smoke. Up to 60% of families report that the television is always or often on, even when no one is watching. “When you think no one is really watching, someone is watching, and it’s your child,” says Brown, citing research that shows young children playing with toys while an adult show is on will look up at the screen every 20 seconds. 

My personal observations:

I used to try to just limit tv and media.  But I was finding it easy to just put it on when my children were being difficult, which children often are.  And just a few minutes would quickly become an hour or two while I got engrossed in my work.  Not to mention the tantrum that resulted when it was turned off.  I also could see how much of an influence it would have on Pumpkin 1.  She’s start talking like how she heard the characters in the show talk.  She started calling me “Mom” like Franklin calls his mother even though before I was always Mommy.  These were innocent things as she mostly only watched Franklin, but they were having such a profound effect on her that I can only imagine how darker or more serious shows would affect her.

I decided that it was better to go all out no tv then to do limited.  At first it was hard.  She was cranky and bored and driving me nuts.  It seemed to take 2 or 3 days to get it out of her system and then she changed.  She started playing independently with her toys for hours.  Her imaginative play increased.  Her tantrums reduced.  She was happier and more engaged.  I was able to get work done without having to entertain her or turn on the TV because she was able to play on her own.  When I let her watch a movie one Sunday, the effect was so noticeable.  The next day from when she woke up she was miserable, cranky, throwing tantrums about everything.  I was actually shocked by the change in her.  After a day of no media she was back to herself.

Pumpkin 2 has seen very little tv.  He will sit for forever and let you read stories to him.  I’ve seen a real difference between my children and my daycare children.  They can hardly sit still through a story whereas my children sit as quiet as mice, completely enthralled in the book.

So are we going to freak out if our kids see a little TV for a relative lets them play on their electronic device?  No, it’s not banned outright.  It don’t think it’s good to be obsessive about anything.  But in our home, we’re working hard to make it media free for our children while they’re young.  We’ll revisit our decision as they get older.

How Waldorf is Changing My Montessori Approach

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I love the Montessori approach.  I love how it’s child’s led, how it’s engaging and hands on and promotes independence and focus.  I love how a child actually learns, not memorizes facts.  I discovered Montessori around the time my daughter turned 2.  I went all out – materials, books, shelves, more materials, printing, laminating, more materials.  My daughter is a fast and engaged learner and she was picking up things fast, so I introduced more.  Then I got pregnant and in pregnancy I suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, basically very very very severe morning sickness where you puke until your body aches, you slowly starve and can’t stand for long from dehydration.  Needless to say, we didn’t do any homeschooling.  We sadly lost the baby and when I got back to doing Montessori activities, my daughter had forgotten a lot in those few months.

Because I love learning I started reading more about the Waldorf approach.  It has a lot of the same observations about how children learn and develop but the Waldorf approach encourages imaginative play, sheltering the child and delaying formal education.  How can one mesh the two?

When I realized my daughter had forgotten many of the things we had done it made me think that perhaps she wasn’t ready.  She wasn’t really learning, just imitating.  It wasn’t making the right connections in her brain because she was too young and I was pushing too early.  I was misreading signs of readiness.  For instance, wanting to know the names of all the letters didn’t mean she was ready to learn to read, it meant she was trying to increase her vocabulary.  Counting doesn’t mean she’s ready for the bead materials yet, she needs to explore what counting means and how to use it still.  Too often I’ve seen others, like me, excited about Montessori and pushing their toddler to do materials that are really for a 3 or 4 year old and I’ve come to believe that not only is it not beneficial, it can be detrimental.  It can discourage them from being interested in the material when they’re truly at the sensitive period for it or it can cause them to make incorrect connections in the brain that are really hard to fix.

So what am I doing differently?  I’m holding back.  I still have materials out but I don’t force her to choose one.  If she’d rather run around and play with the other daycare kids, I’m happy with that.  She’s using her imagination, she’s learning to get along with others and develop social skills which are so so important in life.  She’s only 3 and she’ll only have this innocent time of freedom for such a short period.  I’d rather wait a little longer before introducing a material, actually follow the recommended age instead of thinking “oh she could do that” and be more sure that she’s mastered the other activities first before introducing something new.  I’d rather read stories and cuddle and go for walks than tell her “it’s school time you have to pick something off the shelves”.  I’m trying to have more of a rhythm to the day and incorporate more songs, poems and traditions.  I’m also planing on how I can change the room to encourage more imaginative play.  I was going to start RightStart math with her but now I’m going to wait until she’s at least 4.  She won’t learn better by starting young, she’ll learn better by starting when she’d truly ready.  I’m also purging our toys so we don’t have so much stuff and that the toys we do have are natural, open ended toys.

Homeschooling is a journey, an exciting, stressful, fun, frustrating journey and it’ll probably be always changing and evolving.  I wonder where we’ll be next year.