“Don’t worry about how much television your daughter watches. When the new baby comes that thing is going to be your best friend.”
A family friend gave me this tip as the birth of my second child loomed. Sure enough, when I made the transition from one child to two, my attitude towards the television relaxed. I had avoided TV as much as possible with my eldest before she turned 2. After that we limited her to one or two shows per day, at a designated “TV time.”
Oh, the preoccupations of a single-child mom.
When number two arrived, it was incredibly convenient to let my daughter watch just one more episode of PAW Patrol before bath, while the baby finished nursing.
When I felt certain my eldest was just so bored from a day hanging out with her tired mom and a baby, we could all easily have fun by plopping in front of the ‘tube.
TV time now has a treasured space in my parenting regime. And while it is tempting to use those 22 minute intervals of distraction for things like chores, staring at your phone or calling your mom, I’ve found there is really value in sitting in on shows with your kids, as often as not.
Let’s be real – The Wiggles do not have the same entertainment value for an adult as they do for a child. Be that as it may, I discovered some true fun and good parenting resources by sitting through some shows.
1. Pick Up On Their Cues
“What? In glow? Is that all that you need to eat?”
My two year-old repeated this gibberish sentence, followed by peals of hysteric giggles, incessantly for about a week last spring.
She would say this in the car. She would say this in the bath. She would chant this to herself as she fell asleep, her father and I listening on the baby monitor.
“What is she saying?” we asked ourselves. Neither of us could decipher or attach any meaning this garbled, joy-filled phrase.
Until, she mentioned Bartleby – the beloved black cat character on her favourite TV show, True & The Rainbow Kingdom.
“Who said ‘what in glow,’ Lou-lou?”
“Bartleby? On TV?”
We had both seen all 10 episodes of True and the Rainbow Kingdom precisely 1 zillion times, and still didn’t know what she was saying.
“The purple house.”
There’s no purple house in the show. No episodes are set in or about a purple house. So there was only one thing to do. At TV time, we fired up Netflix, clicked into the episode list for True, and asked Lou-lou to point to the episode.
When the mysterious line was finally revealed, we played it back three or four times. Bartleby, covering his ears to shield them from another screaming character, raises his voice to ask: “What? Buffet? Is it all you can eat?”
She howled with delight every time.
We spent the next few days helping her perfect the line, parroting it back to her, and soon enough we were all howling too. I honestly don’t think I had so much fun quoting TV references since I was a kid myself.
She’s since moved on from True to other favourites, but her eyes still light up when ever she hears the word “buffet.” I’m incredibly satisfied to know why.
2. Know What Makes Them Happy
Kids shows are filled with nuance and zaney characters. It fascinates me which characters my daughter favours. Does she identify with Quack the duck? Is she bewildered by their difference? Impressed? Amused?
Beyond an armchair personality assessment, you can more effectively please (or bribe, or threaten) your child if you know which characters they hold dear.
For example, the father of a My Little Pony fan will be much more successful at Christmas and birthday time if he can tell Rarity from Princess Celestia at the toy store, and knows which his child prefers.
Can you quote your kid’s favourite TV characters? Can you sing their theme songs or deliver their catch phrases? These are easy ways to make your child smile. For busy working parents, cultural shortcuts like this are pure gold when it’s time to cut loose and play.
3. Build Friendship
As your child grows from a dependant baby to a little personality with likes and dislikes, your relationship as their parent changes too. You’re not just the caregiver, but also the entertainer, police officer, hair dresser and more.
Some days keeping “friend” on that list is a challenge, but I aspire to do so as much as I can.
I don’t care too much about the fate of Equestria or power of the Wishing Tree; but my little person does. So I make an effort to pay attention too, as often as busy mom-life allows.
Sitting in on TV time is an easy way to establish some common ground, bond over a story and understand each other.
Lou-lou has moved from True, to My Little Pony, Peppa Pig and more, and they all feel like family cousins. My husband and I roll our eyes at each other, remarking at what lame parents we are now when we quote kids’ TV (after the kids are asleep).
“What? In glow? Is that all that you need to eat?” we ask each other.
While we may be lame, it causes me no angst. We are completely in love and involved with our daughter, even when that means doing nothing but sitting with her in front of the TV.