Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: The Attention Span Of A Toddler

GeekMom TV and Movies
Image: Sarah Pinault

When my son was born we swore we wouldn’t use a pacifier. On the second night in hospital, after nursing for two hours straight and 18 hours without a nap (me that is), we heeded the nurse’s words “It’s okay to use a pacifier you know.” Those four hours of sleep were so worth it.

When he became inter-active a short while later, we swore we wouldn’t let him watch television. We were going to be those parents that followed the warnings of pediatricians everywhere – no TV till two years of age. We ignored the fact that I was a Jungle Book junkie as a child and that my husband’s obsession with Super Grover is as old as he is. I don’t recall when that one went by the way side, but to the way side it went.

By this point we had watched a few Disney movies with him, though he lost interest after ten minutes or so. A cute British cartoon about a family of pigs, Peppa Pig, was our gateway drug. The cartoons were 4 or 5 minutes long and therefore a nice reward for him, a nice quiet few moments of snuggling for me. Then Toy Story 3 entered our lives,  then Cars. We relaxed the rule. TV was okay, but no way were we going to allow TV to babysit our son.

Unless he had just thrown up, or one of us had the flu and the other needed a few minutes, or one of us needed the bathroom. It was never for something frivolous like facebook, or everyday like making dinner.

It was never for more than a few moments, but the television slowly became a tool in our parenting arsenal instead of a rare treat. Every other day, every other diaper change, instead of once a week. So we tried to cut back even more. However toddlers are surprisingly vocal about their preferences, and since he knew where the DVDs were and could identify the movie by the avatar-esque picture on the spine, we were sunk. After ten minutes of screaming for Buzz and confinement to the crib, I realized that it was more about me than him.

My husband has strong will power, but watching movies with my parents was one of my favorite things as a child. Sunday afternoons in front of The Simpsons with my dad became a daddy-daughter thing that lasted until I went to college. So with my son, I was harder to wean. I moved the DVDs  into the hallway, he still asked for them but less often. Then I moved them into the entertainment center, behind the doors, with a child (parent) lock. He doesn’t ask for them anymore, and honestly, it’s no longer my go to for a five minute distraction. Now I have been reminded that I can hand him a book or his fire truck, I do. I can actually let him complain at me for a few minute as well, who knew? I’m not suite sure whether I retrained him or myself, but out of sight, out of mind really worked for us.

Just to clarify, my son doesn’t have attention issues, nor was he showing signs of being endangered by the evil of television. He is extremely active and runs circles around me. He plays with all his toys constantly and would rather be in our woods than anywhere else. Just the other day he heard a piece of music, listened for a moment and then said “Mozart.” This wasn’t a problem I wanted to fix because it was affecting him adversely for the long term, it really was more of an issue for me than for him.

It was something I felt I needed to address before he grows a little more, and either of us becomes dependent. I would like him to have options and TV will always be one of them, I just hope he chooses it less often than I do sometimes. Maybe I should hide my Buffy and West Wing collections!

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7 thoughts on “Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: The Attention Span Of A Toddler

  1. I dunno, my kids have learned a lot from tv, my daughter was counting in Spanish before she was 3. Little Einsteins taught them a lot about music . etc.
    TV has it’s place. We started EARLY with my daughter, 3am screaming baby tends to drive you to desperate measures and 101 Dalmatians distracted her long enough to get her to calm down and sleep.
    When DH isn’t here I’ve started just putting on the radio in the evenings instead of TV. Which is great , but sometimes it does have it’s place. For example my son’s ( about to turn 7) favorite show is How it’s made. Around here TV is a tool, for all kinds of things.
    Now my oldest is ADHD-C but so am I and so is my mother and two of my siblings. ADHD is hereditary not learned. Coincidentally my ADHD-C child is also gifted.

  2. Great piece! This is the exact reason I started my recurring column called “Raising A Cinephile” over at Movies.com. My nearly-three year old daughter is using her TV time wisely. Hehe 🙂

  3. I remember popping in a videotape (yes I’m that old) of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and placing my teething, crying daughter in the curve of my legs (we still call it “the nest”- now the dogs like it there) as I lay down on the couch to try and get some sleep since I had to teach the next morning!

    Pee-Wee helped us through a lot during those toddler days.

  4. when my sons were preschool aged, we would watch sesame street (while i cleaned up breakfast and started laundry). After which we did other stuff – like reading, writing, library story time & park, playtime, etc. during nap time i usually used the radio or the tv music channel. as they got a little older and nap time was less important we’d replace it with an tv show or movie while i got some house work done.

    once they started school, we switched to an hour of tv after school – (new) electric company & Ruff Ruffman or veggie tales or an episode of Mythbusters. on those days when scouts or sports took up our time, tv would be skipped.

    but tv was always limited and carefully chosen

  5. Peppa Pig is the best!!! We’ve been watching that since my little man was 1.5 years.
    I’m a huge dinosaur geek and am in love with Dinosaur Train. I’ve been watching it on my own and now have introduced it to my son. The Teradons are really great parents. I really like how they talk to their children.
    I PVR everything so I haven’t had to deal with commercials yet. That’s what I’m most worried about.

  6. I honestly don’t mind a little television. When my son was a baby, he was fascinated by The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (we think it was someone talking directly to the audience with a very expressive face). Now that he’s a toddler we’ve found that bedtime goes much easier with The Good Night Show on Sprout after his bath. He know the routine and that when Nina sings good night, I’m going to carry him upstairs and lay him down. Good-bye screaming fits and not being able to put him down until he was completely asleep, Hello easy bedtime routine.

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