Q: I’m a working mom, and I let my son watch TV in the evening so I can prepare dinner and get things done around the house. I know TV isn’t great for my preschooler, but how can I get housework done without depending on the tube to entertain my child?
A: You raise an important question. Studies continue to document just how detrimental media exposure can be to young, developing minds.
In fact, a recent study suggests watching just nine minutes of “SpongeBob Squarepants” can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds.
The study, published in a September issue of the journal Pediatrics, included 60 children randomly assigned to watch either “SpongeBob” or the slower-paced PBS cartoon “Caillou” or to draw pictures. Immediately following the nine-minute segment, the children took mental function tests. Those who had watched “SpongeBob” did markedly worse than the others, according to the study results.
And while the study has its critics (a Nickelodeon spokesman questioned the methodology, pointing out that “SpongeBob” isn’t intended for 4-year-olds but rather 6- to 11-year-olds), it does make us think about how to reduce our kids’ exposure to TV.
So while even your child’s pediatrician would probably say a little TV time is OK, consider involving your child in your after-work chores. Take into account your child’s age when choosing a task, but also remember that children develop at different rates. One child may be able to handle a spray bottle at age 4 while another might not be able to do so until they’re 6.
How can they help?
- Do the laundry. Your 4-year-old might not be able to fold a shirt perfectly, but he can separate socks and T-shirts. Take it a step forward and make a matching game out of it – who knows, maybe you’ll discover every sock does have its match.
- Wash windows. Hand your young helper a spray bottle filled with water and vinegar and a pile of paper towels. So what if it doesn’t look much cleaner when she’s done. She thinks she’s helped you. And by giving her responsibility and fostering a sense of accomplishment, you’re building her self-esteem.
- Food for thought. Hand your 5-year-old a grocery flier, a pair of scissors, a piece of paper and a glue stick and let him help you make a grocery list. Give him some instructions such as “pick out four fruits or vegetables” or “find five healthy foods.” He can clip away while you’re doing a different chore. Then, you can let him take his “list” to the grocery store when you’re ready to shop.
- Prepare dinner together. Sure, you’re not ready to have your daughter mince onions, but she can help with other parts of meal preparation. Have her pick out five carrots for you to peel, fold napkins or count out silverware. Teach her how to set a place and before you know it, she’ll be a pro.
- Watch the clouds float by. Take 10 minutes and head outside with a blanket for some cloud observation. Plop down on your back with your preschooler and look for different shapes. Make up a story – for example, about a dinosaur that lives in the clouds. You’ll encourage your child’s creativity, have a restful break and spend some special time with your child.
- The bottom line: Kids are often eager to lend a hand, so teach your child age-appropriate jobs around the house. You’re not only spending time together, you’re fostering a sense of teamwork in the home.
For more ideas on fun things to do, check out these sites: