What To Do When Your Child Just Wants To Watch TV


Your child is asking to watch TV, over and over again. It seems like the only thing on his mind. What do you do? If you say yes, he’ll want to watch for hours. If you say no, he’ll collapse into a storming tantrum.

If your child seems on the verge of tears every time you set a limit on TV then it’s probably actually a good time to say no.

When children feel good they can think flexibly, they can accept your ‘no’s and go off and find something else to do. If their desire to watch TV is accompanied by desperation then it’s probably a sign that there’s something they need much for than TV and that’s connection with you.

When we humans get upset, we sometimes express our feelings freely. We have a good laugh, or a good cry, in the presence of someone who loves us, and this healthy, natural, physiological response results in us feeling better.

At other times our feelings get a bit clogged up and buried. And then we tend to gravitate towards things that will help us feel numb; TV, ice cream or a cup of coffee.

So, if your child is asking for TV, with an edgy, neediness, you can intuit that they are on the brink of a tantrum, and actually that saying no is a gift that will help them feel (and behave!) better. As they cry, stay close and over hugs when needed. This allows your childr to soak up your love and connection, so they can restore their natural well-being.

But what if your child seems relaxed and in a good mood when they ask for TV? How do you decide when to say yes and when to say no? This is a very personal and individual judgement for each family to make. And although I have some advice I don’t have any definitive answers.

Here’s something I’ve been trying recently when my daughter’s watching TV, and that’s to snuggle down with her for 10-15 minutes and call it our TV Special Time. What I’ve noticed is that often she tends to voluntarily stop watching TV sometime after our special time has finished. It’s like me watching with her gives her the message that I’m available and present. That I’m not disconnected and on my own screen, but close and connected.

If you regularly give special time in your house, and your child is always asking for TV you might want to say yes for the first 8 times. This lets your child know that you respect their interests, that you are a willing to take a journey with them into their world. And that added connection you give them might just help them regulate their own screentime.

For more information about the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to setting limits sing up to follow my blog in the top right hand corner of this page, or check out my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children


11 thoughts on “What To Do When Your Child Just Wants To Watch TV

  1. This issue is always topical with young children. I think it’s good advice to give your children more loving attention when they get too fixated on television, especially the small ones. Whenever I’ve noticed too much TV begging or the children getting upset when I turned off the box, I also imposed restrictions, such as no television on weekdays. This works well because they seem to accept the limit straight away and it breaks the dependency.

    1. No television on weekdays sounds good! I haven’t tried that one yet, but I’m always changing my opinion on a day to day basis almost!

  2. I dont allow too much TV time but know many parents who have unlimited screen time, and the kids really act more crazy the more screen time they have, I think! I agree, say yes but in moderation, and make it for a short period..

  3. I also thought: “OK, now they are watching tv, I have time for myself (and my screen).” But the truth is, as you have put it, when I joined them in watching tv, even for few minutes, we all felt comfortable, we talked about the story/fairy tale etc. and suddenly it was quite new feeling for me , like taking me to their world, and I enjoyed it.
    Really good post, thank you.

    1. I too take out my screen Hanka! But I also like to sometimes take the conscious interest and get into my daughter’s world too.

  4. This is a really interesting one. We only do family tv time together, but usually it involves lots of discussions (led by my little one) about what we are watching, and what has happened or places she wants to visit. It seems to be more of a social occasion. Thank you for sharing with the #DreamTeam x

  5. Great advice about the TV snuggle time. I hadn’t thought about TV as a substitute for attention. I’m definitely going to be more aware about what my kids are really asking for when they ask for screen time.

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