Scary stories from a lovely place
(This is part 2 of a review of ‘Buy, Buy Baby’ by Susan Gregory Thomas. Click here to read part 1.)
At the same as I was reading ‘Buy, Buy Baby’ we were moving house and wondering whether or not to buy a TV. Where we were staying previously had a TV and it had become so easy to occupy Silas with a bit of Play School or Colin Buchanan. I told myself this was fine because he wasn’t watching TV with ads and it wasn’t a brand machine like The Wiggles.
Thomas’ book was helpful for me to understand a bit of what is going on in a toddler’s brain when they are watching TV. She shares what research is available, but admits it’s still in it’s infancy because it’s a recent occurrence for younger and younger kids to be watching a lot of TV (the book was written in 2007).
Besides the fact that kids aren’t actually learning much beyond character recognition from TV, she claims that the negative effects could actually be quite serious, particularly from high energy shows. These could lead to sensory overload in a fragile little brain. She quotes one researcher who worries that when a child is staring, trance-like at the television, there is actually seizure activity going on in the brain. Thomas writes that the increase in childhood psychological concerns like depression, anxiety and ADD may in the future be linked to too much television at a young age. Even TV on in the background distracts a child, leading their play to be unfocussed.
Thomas concludes that what babies and toddlers need is a vast amount of time relating to their primary caregivers, to be played with and interacted with all day, every day. Maria Montessori started pre-schools with an organic emphasis on learning and Thomas quotes her as saying that focussed play is “the work of childhood” and important for little brains to grow normally.
Silas still watches Play School and Colin (on a laptop – we decided not to get a TV). At the moment I don’t know how I would do stuff like cook dinner, clean up or write this blog post without it. But if he gets bored and moves on to something else I try and switch it off, so that it’s not droning away in the background. I have two little brains to think of, and I’ve noticed Oisín starting to stare too. I’m trying to interact with Silas while he’s watching – by singing along (it’s all constantly in my head anyway), helping him to do the actions and reminding him of things we’ve done together, like building a sandcastle, that are a part of the show.
Thomas writes at the end of ‘Buy, Buy Baby’ that just enjoying doing nothing with their caregivers and siblings is the best thing for babies and toddlers. Indeed, some of the best times I’ve had with Silas are when I’ve let him take the lead and discover something for us to do – in little rock pools at the beach, out for a walk and watching a rabbit or lizard, and at home reading books or jumping on the bed.
I often feel overwhelmed by the intensity of what my kids need from me – help eating, sleeping, dressing, bathing, staying safe, playing together without injury and so much comfort and reassurance all day long. But they are cleverer than I realise. I need to step back more, continue to provide support, guidance and lots of comfort when they ask for it, but otherwise just join them on the highway of discovery that toddlerhood is shaping up to be.