Like many moms, Melissa H. always has a thousand things to do. She uses television as a standby babysitter: "Sometimes it's the only way I can get laundry folded or dinner ready," she explains.
A quick perusal of Circle of Moms communities reveals that she's far from the only mom who plops her preschooler in front of Dora the Explorer so that she can get through a long list of daily tasks. But these moms are also wondering where the limit lies: how much TV is okay for a preschooler?
The answer is that we'd all do well to set some limits. A 2010 study found that excessive TV watching can truly turn our little ones into coach potatoes.* But even if you're not convinced, these six tips for taking charge of the time your child spends watching TV will help make that time more enriching.
1. Select Age-Appropriate and Educational Shows
Many Circle of Moms members recommend that parents stay in charge of the remote control and select the shows their kids watch, pikcing programs that are age-appropriate and that have an educational component. Christin's 4-year-old loves koala bears, so she seeks out "wonder pets and koala brothers." Sonia P. loves Dora because it's teaching her son another language: "He learns tons of Spanish words from [his shows]. He knows how to count in English and Spanish with the help of Dora." And Ashley W. keeps the job of filtering easy by avoiding cable: "My daughter really only watches the PBS station with shows like Sesame Street, and she LOVES the Cat in the Hat show that comes on," she explains.
2. Set a Time Limit
Know how much TV time feels like the right limit to you, and stick to it, say several Circle of Moms members. "My daughter is 14 months and we only allow her to watch one hour of television a day," says Shannon R, adding that this time "is usually when I get to clean things up." Sonia's son is allowed to watch a maximum of one-and-a-half hours of TV a day.
3. Use TV to Encourage Activity
Preschoolers are fidgety and need to be in motion. Try tuning into a show that encourages kids to jump, dance, or exercise along, say Sonia and Kristen D. Dora encourages Sonia's son to sing and dance. And Kristen says her musical family loves shows that encourage kids to dance. She sometimes even pops in an exercise DVD and encourages her kids to join in. They practice balance and coordination, and she gets a workout in.
4. Mix It Up With Music, Audio Stories, and Family Videos
TV shows are not the only forms of entertainment that captivate little kids, points out Circle of Moms member Toni M., whose son prefers to listen to music. Most kids also enjoy audio stories, and love looking at photos of themselves and their favorite people – you, their dad and their siblings. Rebekah S. suggests watching family videos as "an alternative to TV."
5. Watch With Them
Several Circle of Moms members suggest tuning in together. Pick age-appropriate shows that you can all enjoy, and it becomes a bonding experience. Magan B. picks "educational cartoons" for her almost four-year-old son, and watches them with him.
6. Limit Your Own TV Time
Preschoolers learn their TV habits from observing their parents. As Katherine W. points out, "If you don't want your preschooler to watch too much TV, then you shouldn't either."
7. Don't Keep TV on in the Background
If preschoolers hear and see the TV on all day, eventually they are going to plop down and watch it, or at least think it is a normal part of family living. Says Lisa P., whose son is 15 months old, "It's tempting to keep it on all day because of the bright colors and the company of the noise, but that would be teaching my son to do the same."
How do you monitor your preschooler's TV time?
*Linda Pagani, PhD, professor of psycho-education at the Universite de Montreal, found in a study of 1,314 preschool-aged kids that the more TV they watch at this stage, the less likely they are to be active as they get older.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.