How to Get The Most Out of TV For Tots

Little children take to television like fish to water. TV programs do a great job grabbing kids' attention and can keep it if they tell an interesting tale. These powerful storytellers can be positive or negative forces in the lives of our kids, depending upon a number of factors. Here are six ways to get the most out of your tot's TV time.

  1. Wait until they are 2. It isn't that catching a show here or there is going to permanently hurt your baby, but babies benefit tremendously from play, readings, hugging, singing, and talking. TV just isn't a good substitute so use it sparingly.
  2. Reduce background TV. Background media pulls children's attention away from play and erodes focus.
  3. Follow the ratings. Children will pay attention to TV stories even if they just understand parts of it. This means they will absorb the emotional impact of violent, scary, or inappropriate stories even if much of it is over their heads. Common Sense Media has great reviews of TV shows for kids - pay attention to the "learning rating."
  4. Be wary of marketing claims of "educational" shows. Just because a show is a cartoon or has a good lesson at the end doesn't mean that it is good for kids. The best shows are created in consultation with child development experts so that it is age-appropriate, engaging, and educational too.
  5. Skip the commercials. Little kids are especially sensitive to advertising. Catch your favorite shows on DVD or on commercial-free channels like PBS.
  6. Talk to your child. Watch together and engage your kids further in the content. Try, "What did the doggy do after he left the house? If you were a doggy, where would you go?" If you don't watch with your child, ask about it later. "What happened on Dora today? Let's explore the backyard just like Dora and see what we find!"
  7. Set time limits. Even the best shows can't replace the important work of free play and running outside. Keep it in balance.
  8. Pay attention to your child. Every child is different. Does TV make your child irritable? Anxious? Inspired? Creative? Watch and adapt accordingly.
  9. Enjoy. Found great programs for your kids? Enjoy exploring new stories together.