At the end of a long day, you've made dinner, helped the kids with their homework and finished folding the towels. You're ready to relax and watch your favorite show with the kids before bed. Watching TV is fun, but it's also a passive activity. If you've been dreaming of healthier, more connected family time, there are lots of satisfying alternatives to television. Turning off the TV a couple of nights a week can get you and your kids into a more creative, energetic place. Even if it's mom's idea to start, you may just find it's your kids who keep the trend going.
Reading can be a ticket to adventure, a way to improve language skills and, for many, a lifelong hobby. Kyla Bose, R.N., of the University of Michigan Health Center, says, "TV viewing may replace activities that we know help with school performance, such as reading, doing homework, pursuing hobbies and getting enough sleep." If your kids are too young to read, gather them up and start an exciting chapter book. If your kids are reading by themselves, have everyone take turns reading out loud to the rest of the family. You may soon find they'd rather listen to the next chapter than watch TV.
Kids love to play. As a grownup, it's easy to forget how good it feels to match your wits against someone, throw a Frisbee or play Twister. Bose says, "On average, children ages 2 to 5 spend 32 hours a week in front of a TV—watching television, DVDs, DVR and videos, and using a game console. Kids ages 6 to 11 spend about 28 hours a week in front of the TV." Institute a weekly game night and you can shave three hours off that statistic. Take turns, letting each member of the family choose their favorite game. Play cards, learn a classic board game like chess or backgammon together, have a sponge ball war or play I Spy.
Sometimes getting the kids outside takes energy you may not feel, but just taking a family walk after dinner or playing catch in the yard can relax you and the kids enough for a restful night's sleep. "University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues who investigated whether diet, physical activity, sedentary behavior or television viewing predicted body mass index among 3- to 7-year-old children found that physical activity and TV viewing are most associated with overweight risk," says Bose. Even if you spend only half an hour outside each day, that adds up to 3 1/2 hours of added activity each week. You can use the time to teach the dog a new trick, catch fireflies, play tag or have a snowball fight.
Sometimes, when you're at your busiest, your kids will say, "Hey Mom, let's make (insert project here)," requesting things like cookies, a birdhouse, a tree house or a volcano. Surprise them by leaving the laundry, dishes or cleaning for another time and say "Great idea!" instead of resorting to the TV. You can also start a puzzle, bake something, make holiday decorations for the next holiday, plant a tree or even finger-paint (Yes, you, too, mom!).
In this technology-rich world, it's far too easy to lose touch with your kids. Go beyond the usual, "How was your day?" and just hang out talking. You may be surprised by how much your kids crave your undivided attention. Flop on the bed and have milk and cookies or pull out old photos and finally put them into that scrapbook while you listen to the kids' music. Plan a party or family vacation together. Remember, no phones, laptops or DVDs—unplug and watch your kids light up instead.