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TV Smarts from the Start

It is possible for TV viewing to contribute to the health of your household. But merely turning the set on — or even off — isn't enough. Just as with your child's diet and potty training, her TV viewing is something you have to work at. And there's no better time to establish healthy TV habits than when your child is young.

Kick-Start Active Viewing Early On

  • Be active viewers.

    Avoid sending the message that TV is what stops people from talking to one another. Instead, make programming a starting point for encouraging curiosity about how things work and what things look like. Though children who are very young do not have the cognitive capacity to analyze programs, they can share their responses with you. Get your child accustomed to talking about what he sees and hears when watching TV, instead of falling into a passive, unquestioning state.

  • Remember that socializing comes first.

    Talking, playing games, cuddling and other forms of socializing are one of the most important parts of your child's development. When possible fit these interactions into TV time. Even the simple act of sitting near one another while you view a video or program will contribute to a feeling of being together instead of reinforcing the notion that TV is a solitary experience. If you do not have time to watch TV with your child, look for alternatives for him, like playing with siblings or friends. Keep the TV set (or sets) in communal places in your home and out of individual bedrooms.

  • Have a reason for turning on the TV.

    Try to keep TV programming from serving as part of the background in your home. Turn it on only when you genuinely want to see something and turn it off when the program is over. One of the best ways to help your child understand that TV can be a deliberate source of information and entertainment is to be a role model for this behavior. You can say aloud, "The show is over. Now it's time to do something else."

  • Have lots of reasons for turning off the TV.

    Teach your child that she — not the non-stop stream of programs — is in control of TV viewing. Help her to appreciate the countless good reasons for muting the sound or shutting off the TV entirely: to talk with someone else, to play outside, to turn a somersault, to sing a song, to draw a picture. Some of these reasons may even come from something your child has seen a TV character do. Take your cue and move on to a new activity.

  • Know what to do when your child has a strong response to something on TV — and what the developmental roots of that response may be.

    If your child is frightened, holding him or offering a favorite stuffed animal or blanket is likely to be more comforting than a rationalizing comment like, "There's no reason to be scared." If your child acts aggressively, imitating physical or make-believe violence, block access to shows and movies that depict characters behaving badly. If your child demands certain toys or foods that she's seen advertised, limiting commercial programming may reduce her insatiable desires. If your child becomes fixated on a single show or movie, requesting to see it repeatedly, keep in mind that he is likely figuring something out, which is not harmful. If your child becomes excited and wants to try something new that a character has done, give it a whirl, assuming it's safe and, ideally, imaginative.

For more tips, check out the Preschoolers' Guide to TV & Movies.

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