Scroll down for Q&A
Feeling powerless in the face of the digital landscape of your home? Think you need to don your police uniform? The technological tsunami has most parents afraid and holding their children in lock down. But anger and resistance from a parent who has brought screentime access in the home is illogical to the child. Actually simple logic will help.
Fighting over screen time is symptomatic of underlying issues just like any other inappropriate behavior. It signals a problem or miscommunication in the relationship. If you are seen as a controlling parent, and you alone determine the limits on screentime, your children will naturally try to grab every minute they can regardless of how angry you get. As with everything else, if you have a respectful, trusting, open, non-punitive, non-threatening relationship with your kids, you will be able to agree on schedules. It comes down to relationship. A good relationship also means that your children enjoy spending time with you as well as technology.
When any new device enters your home:
Accompany it with it’s own set of rules and instructions like anything else you want your children to respect. This is your opportunity for problem-solving and negotiation among family members. Too often families don’t make the effort but instead direct children what not to do after the unwanted behavior happens. When withdrawal of screen/phone privileges becomes the consequence, any hope of coming to agreement is lost. Cooperation does not happen when children fear that what they want most will be taken from them.
Screens are potentially damaging to our children’s brains if not limited. So take the responsibility that is yours and keep young children away from screens altogether, model responsible use yourself, and when devices are introduced, negotiate limits with your child right from the start.
Don’t let screens intimidate you. You are still the parent. It is up to you to provide the environments you want for your children, to model the people you want them to become, to introduce nature and beauty, to stop your busy lives and go out to explore what’s off the grid. It is unrealistic to expect your child to turn off these highly entertaining devices and decide to go outside, especially when you stay in leading your workaholic life or tied to your own devices.
There is not one way to set limits on screen time as it depends on your kids. You can allow a responsible, engaged child more leeway to self-monitor than one who finds his only solace on a screen.
Discuss the how, when, and where conditions around any screentime. It’s more difficult once problems arise but basically the same:
- Schedule a time to make decisions. Not on the fly. Scheduling time highlights the importance.
- If you have absolutes, state them right away, own them as yours. “It is important to me that there is no screen time when there is outstanding homework or chores. Does anyone have any problem with that?”
- Discuss time. “What do you think is a reasonable amount of time for…?” State what you think and negotiate until you agree.
- Discuss when and what days. Begin with open discussion, “What makes sense to you?”
- Discuss gray areas: weekday use, mornings, weekends, etc. If your child is being resistant or bored by this, try, “Here’s what I think should happen. Do you agree? Remember we are staying on this until we agree. This is not about me telling you what to do.”
- Discuss what’s off limits, i.e. restaurants, short car rides, the dinner table.
- Write down all agreements. It may or may not be necessary to all sign a contract.
- Post the agreements until there are no longer questions/your child can self-regulate.
- Reevaluate after a one-week experiment to access how the agreements are working.
- Expect reminders and allow a few minutes leeway for agreed on times.
If resistance is high, avoid fighting and wait for the reevaluation. Explain then that you have noticed the agreed on time limit was too hard for your child to follow and a new agreement seems necessary. Your point of view must be that the resistance indicates a problem your child is having rather than your child being the problem. Keep reevaluating until it works.
So many children, especially ones who feel incompetent in school, have finally found success online. When parents criticize that success and threaten to take it away, the cyberworld looks like a far happier place to be. When the home and school environment meets children’s needs, the internet becomes merely an adjunct entertainment.
Questions and Answers and a Story
Q. Since weaning my 2 1/2 year old daughter, nap time has been a nightmare. I have been using threats and consequences – not a normal or desirable part of our interactions – just trying to get her to nap. She still needs a nap. I try everything. We lie down together, read 3 books, I say, “Good night” and stay in bed, closing my eyes as if I am preparing to nap with her (I sometimes do). She starts rolling around, being rough toward me with her body, gets out of bed and refuses to get back into bed. Then I start bribes or threats, hold her in bed while she resists. I believe she sets up these upsetting situations so she has a good cry and then is ready to sleep, but more often than not, she starts the whole cycle again. Sometimes I play make believe to coax her into nap (I am a schoolteacher and she and the rest of the students are all taking a nap together) or I problem solve – “You getting out of bed does not work for me. What do you need? How can I help you?” – to no avail. How do I keep a toddler in bed who doesn’t want, but needs to be there?
A. The transition period between naps and no naps can be excruciating and go on for a long time. I encourage you to stay away from threats and bribes because 1 – they will cause more resistance and anger, and 2 – you are setting a precedent that becomes habit all too quickly. Consequences are confusing and meaningless because she can’t make herself fall asleep. A 2 yr. old cannot lie quietly with the motivation of going to sleep like an adult. She is in that in-between phase and most likely is not tired enough for sleep. You basically have three options: 1 – Keep doing what you’re doing without threats and consequences, 2 – Let her cry if you think she needs a good cry before she can fall asleep. However, I do not think the fight is worth it, or 3 – Give up naps. It is a tough stage as she might fall asleep at 5:00 and be awake until 10:00. But you are running in circles around her and teaching her how to manipulate you. Remember, she is not doing anything wrong and there is nothing she has to learn.
Q. My six year old is very hard on herself, strives for perfection and has very high expectations for herself. When she gets frustrated she says things like, “I am no good at this, I can’t draw an x, I can’t do anything!” In fact she is incredibly bright leading her class in some areas, plays the pianos, dances, sings, is advanced in language, reading and comprehension and a really beautiful caring child who can see other people’s perspectives which always blows me away. Her nanny drew her a picture as a gift. My daughter became very upset as she believed she couldn’t produce the same picture. We gave her lots of praise in her early years unaware that it would have been better to acknowledge her process rather than the outcome. I am also aware that I am a perfectionist and worry I have passed it on.
A. Your daughter’s perfectionistic tendencies are exacerbated by her stage of development. Many six year olds cannot stand to get anything wrong and will not try if they don’t think they can do it perfectly. If they can’t draw something that looks exactly like the picture they have in their head, or in the book, or an adult’s drawing, they fall apart. Losing at a board game can result in a tantrum unlike you have seen for years. Saying she is no good at something is a reflection of her frustration at not being able to do what she is now able to envision. This is likely to gain softer edges as she grows out of this phase. She doesn’t want to fail and so may not even try. Your empathic response to her is, “It’s so frustrating isn’t it when you can’t make it look like you want it to. You have a picture in your head of how you want it to look/be and you aren’t able to do it yet. You will when you get a little older but it’s really hard when you want it now.” If she has been used to praise in the past, and praise is a motivator for her, she will be looking for the outcome to be the best. Praise is so tricky and is not needed as you see. If you are a perfectionist, let her behavior be your red flag to accept yourself and allow your own mistakes. Tell her that mistakes are how we learn, but if you don’t allow your own, you undermine your message to her. Some people are simply harder on themselves than others. It would be great for the two of you to talk about that and find ways you can relax and laugh when things don’t turn out the way you wanted. I think it’s great to talk to our kids about both the positive and negative sides of all their attributes. “We both try so hard to get everything right and to do our very best. The good part of that is that we will never let ourselves settle for mediocre and will make things happen. The hard part is how easily we get down on ourselves for not get it just right or making mistakes.” Make sure you and your daughter take time to just have fun and be silly.
Angry Sister: Is she really doing the best she can?
Q. My question is about your principle “all children want to do the best they can…” It may be true but it’s so difficult to believe when my 10-yr old hits her younger sister EVERY time she is angry at her mother or is frustrated about not getting what she wants. Please suggest ways to deal with this tantrum more effectively. She apologizes to her sister only when told to do so, but I see no improvement in her behavior at all. She repeatedly does the same offensive thing over and over.
A. Your 10 yr. old is doing the best she can given the obstacles that she is dealing with. She likely has built up resentment toward her sister who she perceives to be your favorite/smarter/have more friends/better in school, etc. If she gets yelled at for the offensive behavior (hard not to do) she gets lots more obstacles: I’m the one who always gets in trouble, No one understands me, I’m the problem, etc. Yelling, threatening, demanding an apology, giving her consequences only confirms these beliefs about herself. You will get nowhere. Ask yourself, why is she hitting her sister. Focus on the problem she is having and try to find some compassion. She is not doing it to be mean. There is something deeper provoking the behavior. Focusing on only the behavior keeps you in the reward and punishment mode and keeps you from understanding her. After the anger is over, try, “I wonder if you think your sister is …. It’s really hard when you don’t think your parents understand what is happening. I know you know it’s not ok to hit her, so I’m guessing your frustration got so great you couldn’t stop yourself from hitting.” Then work out a way that you can assure her that she can tell you about it so she won’t have to hit her sister. It will take time for her to trust this and you will need to be very consistent. And never force her to apologize. It does nothing you intend.
My eldest son is starting adolescence and I can really see how effective keeping a connection and just giving things time when he feels strongly about something brings us to a place where we can both agree on the next step. Sometimes it feels like trying to stand firm in a storm while swaying side to side but we always get there! The other day he had got himself ready for school with time to spare and came and asked me if there was anything he could help with until it was time to leave. I was so touched and pleased. Those tiny moments help you realise that doing things slowly and patiently really pays off. Thank you. I also need to thank the friend who told me about you too.