Q: My 2-year-old can't get enough television. I limit what he watches to educational programs, but he freaks out when I try to turn off the TV. Other than getting rid of the television, what are my options?
A: While the tantrum here is about TV, what’s really at issue is helping your child learn to cope with life’s rules, frustrations, and disappointments. No one gets everything they want, and it is one of a parent’s most important jobs to help their children deal with this fact of life.
Start by deciding what rules you want to set and stick to around TV watching, such as amount of time and acceptable programs. Then, during a calm moment, talk with your child about the rules. Let him know you understand how disappointed he is when you turn the TV off. You can help him adapt by having him choose, in advance, which show(s) he wants to watch that day and which he will watch the following day. Then brainstorm with him what he can do when TV time is over. See what ideas he comes up with and offer some of your own (suggest a few activities you know he enjoys). You might create a poster listing these ideas with a related picture (i.e., reading a book can have a picture of a book) so that your child can easily choose another activity when TV time is over. Choosing gives him some sense of control.
The next day, when it is TV time, remind him of the family’s rule about viewing time and help him make choices about what he wants to watch. Then give him a warning when TV time is almost over to help him prepare. When it is time to turn the television off, remind him of the choices he has for what activities to do next. (You also might want to suggest that he turn the TV off as this can help some children cope better with the transition.)
If he does lose it, don’t give in as this teaches your child that having a fit gets him what he wants. Instead, get down to his eye level and let him know that, while you know he is mad, it’s time to for him to choose another activity (remind him of the chart you made). Let him know that if he can’t pull himself together, then he needs to go to a safe place to take a break. When he does calm down, give him lots of praise as this is a very important skill—learning to soothe oneself when upset: You were soooo angry but you calmed yourself down. That’s great. Now we can build that castle with blocks.