kids

"When I turned off the TV these holidays, I realised how much it was hurting my son."

A couple of years ago when pregnant with my daughter, I turned to the TV for my then 16-month-old. I had hyperemisis, I was too sick to leave the couch and my spew bucket and I needed a babysitter to help day in day out. It wasn’t ideal but it was the only solution I had for entertainment for my son at the time. He was entranced, occupied, he loved it and it got us through a trying time relatively unscathed.

When my daughter came along, I was left with a newborn and a toddler. My daughter was a demanding baby who required lots of attention and a million breastfeeds a day. If she wasn’t physically attached to my boob she was being hysterical over wanting something else. These days we call her ‘spirited’. Other words that could be used with equal truth are crazy, bossy, a little psychotic, a princess.

Enter the TV.

A way to keep my toddler entertained while looking after the baby. He looked after himself looking at a screen. He was fed and clean and loved dearly but the TV had become his entertainment. It was his books, his play, his safety blanket. Often he would play alongside the TV, but it was always in the background making sure he never had the chance to be bored.

The TV had become so much a part of his life he didn’t know how to function without it. When his obsessive behaviours started becoming more apparent, they were instantly noticed with the TV. He requested shows and would watch the same one for hours on end. Meltdowns would happen if the correct show or part of the show wasn’t picked which is a challenge in itself given he has a speech delay. His autism traits became louder and more worrying when the TV was on.

I, of course, didn’t see this. As much as the TV had become part of Jack’s normal life it had become part of mine. It was our routine to get up and turn on the TV and it had been what I knew. He would freak out if the  TV was off and I felt overwhelmed with the challenges around his day to day life, to leave the TV off seemed impossible.

The mum-of-two's husband stepped in and reduced Jack's TV viewing time.(Image supplied.)
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Over Christmas my husband was home for two weeks and by the third day he was adamant the TV wasn’t going on first thing. He saw it was making Jack worse and could see things in a way I couldn’t. Without meaning to, my parenting with Jack had become lazy and I wasn’t helping fill the gaps that the screen was.

The first day with the TV off wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. There were two parents around to entertain and Christmas meant there were plenty of new toys to play with. It wasn’t without meltdowns but life with an autistic kid means meltdowns are a given. By the end of the week, Jack was more calm and having less episodes of over-stimulation. He was forming new routines that weren’t based on a screen.

Laura Flanagan realised what watching television was doing to her son. (Image supplied.)

It's been nearly three weeks since screen time was drastically reduced, and I wish I could have seen things through my husband’s eyes and changed sooner. There is so much reading that is happening in our house, both me reading and Jack reading himself. His language is improving, his imaginative play has increased dramatically and he and his little sister engage so much more. Without the background noise the room is less busy and we are able to focus on one thing at a time.

As parents, often mistakes are made. What makes us better parents is the ability to listen when someone offers a different view and if the logic is sound go with it and give it a try. And sometimes you need a husband who is loving and passionate about doing the best thing for your kids, who is stronger than you at the time and will guide the ship in a better direction and you just need to be smart and go with it.

This post originally appeared on The Younger Mrs Flanagan Blog and has been republished here with full permission. 

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