An Octopus in the Neighborhood (and other things we see on TV)

TV. I think it’s one of the greatest parenting conundrums; how much do you let your kids watch, when, and why? I think my kids’ pediatrician told me last month that no more than one hour a day is recommended. I’m here to tell you that sometimes we go over that limit. I try not to… but it’s just so easy. I am able to accomplish ridiculous amounts of things when my baby is sleeping, my oldest is watching TV, and my middle child is doing her little introverted thing. (At two years old, she still has no interest in TV. I consider it a mixed blessing.) BUT I strive very hard not to let it be a babysitter, and I try to carefully curate what shows he watches.

Here is our TV system: sometimes they get to watch in the mornings. If I’m having a hard time getting going – because of a late night or not feeling well (very common when I was pregnant) – I will turn on the TV for a little while and let my son zone out while I get my first cup of coffee in my system. This time frame usually maxes out at around 30 minutes and I try really hard not to let it happen often.

In the afternoon, my four-year-old son is required to have “rest time” in his room for 30 minutes while his sisters nap. When his timer goes off, he’s allowed to come to the living room and watch TV until his sisters wake up. This is usually around an hour. I try to cut it off shorter if he watched that morning, but I’m not here to lie… if I’m on a roll folding laundry or cooking dinner (or, yep, if I want to take a nap), those are the days that we exceed our “one hour a day” limit.

In recent months I have see a huge correlation in how much TV he watches + how aggressive he is. Because of that I’ve been reining it in much more tightly – telling him to look at books instead of watching a show in the mornings or making him turn it off BEFORE his sisters wake up if they happen to take extra long naps.

So what do we watch?

One of my favorites for him to watch is The Magic School Bus. You can’t go wrong with a classic like that. Netflix has done a remake of it (featuring Ms. Frizzle’s little sister) that I don’t like as well but my kids prefer. The animation is more colorful and Disney-like, so I can see why. On the downside, we often have to pretend that our minivan is a school bus and I “get” to sing the theme song as loudly as I can as we cruise on down main street running our errands.

Llama Llama is another Netflix Original that we love. My son has learned quite a bit from that show; the concept of teamwork is one that he cites a lot. This is one show that my two-year-old actually WILL sit and watch for a few minutes at a time; it’s simple, colorful, and paced pretty slowly so that it’s very easy to understand.

Animal Mechanicals is a HUGE favorite in our house. My tool-loving little boy is obsessed with the five different mechani-creatures and will often pretend to be one. I’ll say something like “oh shoot, I can’t reach that pitcher on the top shelf” and he’ll announce “I KNOW JUST THE PERSON FOR THE JOB! Sasquatch, mechani-stretchy!” It’s hilarious. The concept is five mechanical creatures that travel to different islands to fix various issues with other mechanical animals. It’s REALLY colorful and upbeat and fun, and also fairly slow-moving so my two-year-old watches little bits at a time.

I have to throw PJ Masks in here, because my son loves it, but with a disclaimer: use with caution if your child also happens to be a testosterone-saturated little male. It’s a cute show, but too much of it results in a lot of running, jumping, fake punches and roundhouse kicks that occasionally find their way home to people and objects in the area. He likes to imitate the characters, and while he does not do it in a mean-spirited way, he has not yet mastered the art of restraint.

Bob the Builder, Curious George, and Paw Patrol are other top-rated shows in our house. Paw Patrol especially is a dearly loved show and my kids like to play Paw Patrol and rescue everything and everyone around them.

As far as full-length movies, we love Cars, Finding Dory, and Everyone’s Hero the best. They are ones I know I can turn on and leave the room with no ill effects. The Star is also a great one. It’s technically a Christmas movie, but we just watched it yesterday and the world did not stop turning. My kids also love playing “Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus” and that movie tells the story in a really cute and relatable way for them.

What are your favorite shows or movies for young kids? Which ones do you not like or refuse to watch? (Tayo the Little Bus has been banned from our house… I’d rather stick my ears in a food processor than listen to those voices!)

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