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We’ve all done it.
It’s too noisy. It’s too wild. It’s too stressful. We need a mommy break, so we turn on the television and plop those crazy little people in front of the screen so they will be contained and occupied.
Let the big black box babysit for a while – Mommy needs to catch her breath.
We don’t like to admit it, but when the going gets tough, the television (or computer) saves the day.
The problem that comes from using the television as a regular babysitter is that we and our children become dependent on the feeling of being entertained. It is a fine line between a healthy use of screen time and an unhealthy use of screen time.
Certainly, there are seasons when we don’t even realize the television watching is getting out of control. We often “wake up” from those seasons, only to realize we have a lot of work to do weaning our children from the screen. However, there are many times when we want to do better with not using the television as a babysitter, but we can’t think of anything that will occupy the children and offer us the break we feel we need. So, we default to our old habits, and let them watch “one more show”.
Today, I want to offer you a few alternatives to television when Mommy needs to catch her breath. Not that I’m asking you to stop letting your kids watch television altogether, but because I know you feel guilty putting them in front of the screen as often as you do, yet you can’t think of anything quite as effective.
First of all, here’s a short YouTube video from my channel discussing how we handle television in our home. I want you to start here before we talk more in depth about ideas for keeping the children occupied without it.
The second thing I want you to do is ask yourself WHY you need a break. Make sure you aren’t running after that elusive Me Time. If you have a habit of running away from your real life, then alternatives to television aren’t what you really need. What you really need is a heart to heart with yourself and God. That’s not the focus of this post, but it had to be said before moving on.
OK, so now let’s talk about alternatives to television and screen time…
There are tons of great audios out there that require your children to use their imaginations. Some of our favorites are the Jonathan Park series and the Brinkman Adventures. Put the kids in a room with a CD player and give yourself a few moments to breathe while they enjoy some quality, brain-engaging entertainment.
Some of you are probably thinking I’m out of my mind for suggesting crafts as something that would give mommy a break, but if you keep a craft bag with things in it that aren’t super messy (i.e. anything but glitter), then you can pull that bag out every now and then and keep the children occupied for hours on end.
Even if you have to go outside with the children, taking some time in the out-of-doors, is a great way for everyone to change up their routine and get reenergized. Have things like bubbles and chalk available for an added bonus!
This is a concept I learned from Tricia at Hodgepodge. Not only does Room Time help to keep children occupied when you need a break, but it is a great way to teach your children to sit quietly while you do school with older kids. You can read more about this concept HERE.
Have older kids babysit
Way better than television is an older child spending time with their siblings. Specify how much time you need and give them some activity ideas.
This can’t be an unsupervised break, but I have found just sitting and reading while the kids play in the bathtub is quite relaxing. You can also use the bathtub as their own private play place. Dry out the tub, fill with toys and kids, and let them have a ball! (You can also let them stand at the kitchen sink pretending to “wash dishes” with plastic dishes – I remember doing this as a kid!)
Take a ride
There have been times when I needed a moment to think, and I’ve loaded up the children and we’ve gone for a ride! Roll down the windows, play some relaxing music, get the kids a drink or snack, and just drive a bit.
Isolate yourself for a moment
This has to be very purposeful because you do not want to zone out for too long, but taking yourself outside or isolating yourself in your bedroom for a time can do wonders for getting back to the top of your game. It doesn’t take long if you tell yourself you don’t need long.
Give your children a task
By giving your children a focused task, you give yourself a moment to breathe. This needs to be something simple like picking up sticks in the yard or wiping down walls with a rag. While they do the task, you take a breather elsewhere. This will give you about 10-15 minutes.
Have them read a book
Even if they are too young to read, give them a picture book and have them take some down time. This is something you should start young and do often! Not only are you getting a break, you are fostering a love of reading!
Sometimes all it takes is a cardboard box to keep them entertained for hours! Look around you for things that are out of their norm that would give them a creative outlet and give you a little bit of a brain break.
Teach your children to be quiet
Play the quiet game. Offer rewards for the quietest child. Whatever it takes to help your children learn that when Mommy needs it quiet, she NEEDS IT QUIET. This is a process, but a very good lesson for your children to learn. You will be able to afford them many opportunities if they have been taught the importance of being quiet on demand. This serves a much higher purpose than just giving you a break, so be diligent!
While this is not an exhaustive list of ideas, I hope it gives you a place to start. The television truly does have a mesmerizing effect on children (and most adults!), but it isn’t much for getting creative juices flowing or offering quality engagement of the brain. It should be used rarely and with caution.
Feel free to share how you take a break without plopping the kids in front of the television!