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For most families of school age kids, mornings include television or DVDs or a tablet. The kids get up – sometimes before the parents do, sometimes, groggily, when called – and either entertain themselves or wake themselves fully while parked in front of a screen.

They might take a break for breakfast or they might eat while viewing. They might dress in front of the TV or put the program on pause and hurry to dress and get back to the show.  And their parents do exactly the same.

In between getting the children started on the day, Mom and Dad get their own day started with a check of Facebook, a check of the weather or traffic report, a check of their bank balance, or a scan of the news. Between the coffee and the walk to the bus stop, a lot of electronic engagement takes place.  Screens have become part of the early morning ritual, for parents as well as for children.

This makes pulling the plug on electronics even more difficult. We grownups like our quiet time, enjoying our screens along with our coffee, and we don’t think we’re ready to parent full time just yet. But our screen habit might be getting the day off to the wrong start.

Studies have shown that most small children watch between two-and-a-half and five hours of television or other electronic entertainment a day. That’s an awful lot. But we don’t even notice the hours spent because they are hours we also are connected to something else – our work or our own screens – and we are happy for the peace and quiet.

The more television children watch, the less exercise they get, the more connected they are to advertising, the more they snack, and the smaller their vocabularies and ability to think. The research is pretty clear: television and other screen-based entertainment add nothing to young children’s quality of life and, in fact, detract from it.

I’m not suggesting that you do away with TV altogether. I recognize that’s impractical for most families. But I am suggesting that you keep it off – and keep off computers, handhelds, and phones – until after school and after work. Yes, I’m including you in this. I’ll give you a quick check of the weather and the traffic report but that’s all. Break the habit.

What are you likely to find? After a bit of a withdrawal, perhaps, you’ll find that you and your children have time you never dreamed of in the mornings. There’s time to play and do things that wasn’t there before. If you like, you and your child can read together, but remember that keeping your child busy isn’t your responsibility. Don’t replace one entertainment – a screen – with another – you.

You likely will find that the entire family is more calm, more centered, and less stressed in the mornings. There’s not the pull of a screen to distract us from each other and mesmerize us. The trick is to not give up and give in. Stick with this. Breaking a habit is hard.

The reward is a better beginning to the day. Try it!

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

Two weeks with your grade-school children! How lovely! At least for a day or two. What then? Here are my favorite tips for keeping kids happy and out of your hair over winter break.

Have a daily schedule and write it down where everyone can see. Don’t worry if your children can’t read yet. Just knowing there’s a list of things that will happen each day gives the time some shape and some purpose. Kids feel less lost and more comfortable when they know there’s a plan

And having a plan makes it easier for you to regulate TV use, snack times, rest time, time for reading or homework and so on. So start your daily schedule with breakfast and work right on through the day until bedtime. Block off time for outdoor play – this could be a trip to the park, playing in the yard, or taking a walk around the neighborhood. Include time for reading or reading aloud. Include time for chores or errands. Whatever will happen during the day gets a spot on the schedule.

Make sure to also include some quiet time that is unscheduled. Boredom is good for kids – it opens their minds to new ideas and inspires creativity. So don’t think that keeping a schedule means you have to be the on-call entertainer. When children run out of things to do during time when “there’s nothing to do” dig out some old, forgotten toys, set them to making stuff, or check out my own list of 50 Things To Do Over Winter Break.

I like to use a large chalkboard for the schedule. I picked up one at Goodwill for a dollar or two – but you can use a big sheet of paper as well. The important thing is that the schedule is written fresh every day. You don’t want every day to be the same, and most days will be different from each other. In addition, kids want to be able to cross things off or erase them as they are accomplished. If you have more than one child in the household, they may need to take turns performing this exciting task!

Some other general thoughts that will preserve your sanity and help kids have a pleasant time:
• Children are responsible for keeping themselves busy, not a parent (you are not their social director).
• Being bored is not a waste of time, it’s the gateway to thinking new thoughts.
• Too much screen time is too much screen time. Make certain there’s a good balance of electronic and old-fashioned fun.
• Getting outside and running around is essential for mental health – yours! Even if it’s cold and wet, bundle up and get outdoors.
• You get what you notice so notice good stuff
• Ignore as much bad behavior as you can
• Aim for activities that make a child feel responsible, capable, and grown up

And have fun. If you are in a good mood, everyone else will be too.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.