Now, let me preface this entire post by saying, I’m no TV nazi. I sadly let me kids watch WAY too much, especially now that I’m working from home, and I need a moment here or there to answer emails or pee by myself. I grew up as a child raised on TV, and I think I turned out okay for the most part, so I’ve never been too strict about TV time. Besides, until recently, both of my kids were at school or in daycare full time, so they rarely had more than 30 minutes to watch TV at night anyway.
But lately, it’s gotten out of control, and you can tell. The kids have started begging for their favorite shows the minute they wake up in the morning and will throw epic tantrums when you turn off the tube. It’s gotten to be the same way with games on the iPhone or the computer too. Lucy’s homework is mostly web-based, so she has to spend that time online, but other than that, we had to cut down on the screen time. It started to become obvious, the more time they spend in front of a screen, the crabbier they are. So, after the snow started to melt and we were finally able to do something besides sit inside, I decided something had to be done.
Enter one of Lucy’s friends, whose super smart mom had developed this “Helping Hands” plan for her kids and swore it was the best thing that ever happened to them. It’s pretty basic, and even for non-crafty folks like me, was easy to put together. In fact, it involves the kids in the creation of the plan, and that seemed to get them behind the whole idea. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to present, our “Helping Hands” wall!
We keep this right in the kitchen where it’s easy to see daily and for the kids to access (please note the hilarious school photo of my brother in law who is a teacher…every year we get his school photo in our stockings at Christmas!). The basic premise is this:
- Have your kids trace and cut out 10 of their hands on paper (if your kids are like mine, they’ll want to decorate the hands…let them go wild!).
- Take three regular sized envelopes and cut the flap off. Then label them Helping Hands, Prizes, and one with your child’s name. If you have more than one child participating, just add one extra envelope per child with the corresponding name.
- Attach to the wall in a place where they can see and reach. We used some fun, fake washi tape from Target (easy and cheap to replace), but you could use whatever makes it stick (magnets, tape, push pins, whatever).
- Work with your child to make up a list of prizes. Ours include 30 minutes of computer time with Daddy, 30 minutes of TV time, going out for ice cream, picking your favorite food for dinner, playing on mom or dad’s phone and going to the bookstore at the mall. Put each item on a little slip of paper and place it in the Prizes envelope.
And you’re ready to go! Every time your child makes a good choice or shows good behavior, you can give them a Helping Hand. They then take the cut out hand and put it in their labeled envelope. When they get all 10 hands in their envelope, they get to pick from the prizes!
Now comes the hard part…at least for us it was hard. Cut off all screen time, excepting homework or other required work. I know, it sucks. There is nothing more I’d like to do when I need to answer a few emails or just veg after a long day than turn on some cartoons, but this won’t work unless you quit it cold turkey, and make earning the Helping Hands mean something real. We have some exceptions…for example, we have a standing Friday night movie night, and that is still a go regardless of the Helping Hands chart. Ditto to Saturday morning cartoons. But other than that, Lu has to earn screen time.
We’ve been doing this for a couple weeks, and so far, so good! I think the fact that we really involved Lu in the process helped a lot, and these days she knows that asking for screen time isn’t going to work (even if she asks every five minutes). In fact, just having the system made her stop thinking about TV so much in general, and we’ve found ourselves doing lots of other fun activities together. We’ve sat around and read books, played board games, done experiments and played outside. Today I found Lu after school reading chapter books for an hour. It was fantastic! And the last time she earned a prize, she didn’t even pick TV or computer time…she asked to go to the bookstore. Progress!
Oh, and you might notice another little sheet in the photo above, and that’s because Mr. Tate was feeling a bit left out. Lu decided he needed a sticker chart so that he could earn prizes too (he’s a bit too young for the whole Helping Hands concept to really work for him). So now when he does a good job he gets a sweet sticker to put on his chart, and he loves it!
Hope this helps any of you that are struggling with the whole screen time debacle. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments!