Episode 16 – 

Screen-Free Time with Alison Butler

Episode 16

“It would be so much easier to just have them sit and watch the tv… so I’ve tried to make things really simple for myself and designate days for activities.”

Do you have a hard time thinking of activities for screen-free time like we do? Tune into this episode of the Raiseology Podcast to hear Sharon interview Alison Butler on her trick to make screen-free time SIMPLE. We know that this tip will work even on those tired days when it would be easier to just turn the TV on. Let us know how it works for you! Check out Alison Butler’s snail mail service, Petit Mail, at PetitMail.ca and don’t forget to use code Raiseology! Thanks for listening!

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Intro: Welcome to the Raiseology podcast with your host, pediatrician and parenting mentor, Sharon Somekh, here to empower parents to raise resilient and independent children. Grab your coffee or your Margarita and let’s get started. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should be used to supplement rather than substitute the care provided by your physician.

Sharon: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Raiseology podcast. I am really excited for today’s episode. We are joined by Alison Butler. Alison, how are you today?

Alison: I’m great. Thank you so much for having me.

Sharon: So Alison’s gonna introduce herself in just a minute, but I have her on the show because we hear all the time about how important it is important it is to have screen-free time for our kids and for ourselves and sometimes I feel a little bit at a loss of what to do in that screen-free time. And Alison and I were talking and we realized that she has a lot of great tips and suggestions for us and for you. So I figured we’ll have her on the show and let’s talk about it. Alison, you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Alison: Absolutely. I would love to. So I am a mom, of course I have a seven year old daughter and a three year old son and I live on the east coast of Canada. So I’m so happy to be here. I have a full time career job outside the home and I also run my own business called Petit Mail part time. So our lives are very full. Um, my children are in school and daycare full time and you know, we have our family life just like everybody else. So there’s lots going on and I think that for me, I want everyone to know first and foremost that we are certainly not perfect when it comes to this whole screen-free thing. Um, but for me it kind of all started because we have so much happening, when we all come home at the end of the day everyone is tired and it just felt really easy to have everybody sort of sitting in front of a screen while we went about doing all of the things that we needed to do, but I was noticing that that was sort of having a negative effect on our family. So we are taking steps and working towards having less screen time or using our screens more mindfully.

Sharon: So what kind of negative effects were you noticing?

Alison: Well, I think the first thing was that, um, our youngest, our son, of course, he likes to do everything that his sister is doing. So um, you know, if she was sitting down to watch a show, he was watching with her, but I was finding that he was having a lot more screen time than she did at the same age, just sort of by default he’s following along with her, but we were really noticing that the screen time, particularly the TV time really seem to be having a negative effect on their attitude and their behavior after they had been in front of the screen. So it really seemed like, um, if we would come home after school and after work and then they would watch tv, that afterwards their behavior just really went downhill. There would be a lot more whining, poor attitudes, tantrums. It just really seemed to be noticeable. And I’ve heard sort of anecdotally other parents say that to me as well, you know. Oh, do you notice that after they’ve been in front of the screen, they just seem to have such poor behavior.

Sharon: Do you think it’s because of things that they’re watching? Like were they learning things from what they’re watching or you think it’s just because of watching tv in general because you monitored pretty closely what they watch.

Alsion: We keep a fairly close eye on what they’re watching and I’m feel like it is, you know, age appropriate television. So I’m not so sure that it’s all that. Although that could be a little bit of it. Uh, but yeah, I think it, it just seems to be something with that I’m just sitting in front of a screen and I’m sort of mindlessly zoning out I guess. Um, and we, we very often are, we have sort of an open concept home, so in particular that time after work and school we are very often they’re in the same space with them, you know, we’re cooking supper or, or getting things ready for our meal. So yeah, it’s kind of hard to say, it could be a bit of a combination of both things, but there’s, there’s definitely a noticeable difference in their behavior a lot of the time after they have been in front of a screen.

Sharon: Yeah, I mean, I can tell you a story years ago, um, you know, we had a full time nanny and we had a situation where we were feeling the same way that after watching tv our kids just were behaving very differently. And it wasn’t even so much the watching TV that was the initial problem. The problem was turning off the TV was becoming such a difficult task because of the tantruming that ensued once we said, okay, tv time is over. And at some point in my kids actually blamed this nanny who is no longer working with us, but you know, it really wasn’t her fault. She just was getting very frustrated that they were giving her a lot of attitude every time she tried to turn off the TV to play with them. And so we created a rule that there was going to be no tv time during the week. Um, and it’s now I think like five years later and they still have no tv time during the week and they keep trying to lobby for TV time. But the problem is that we really do notice that they have a very hard time with that boundary. And even when we try to give a little, we always get pushed back when it’s time to turn that TV off. And I just feel like during the week is not, it’s not appropriate. They don’t have enough time for us to be spending that time arguing over shutting the TV off. And so until they learn how to have a better system for themselves internally really where they can accept that there’s a certain amount of time for TV and then it turns off, we just have decided that their role during the week is to figure out their schoolwork and then play with each other.

Sharon: Yeah, I absolutely agree. And I just feel like even for myself, I’m from my own stress levels, um, that I would, I would so much rather have everybody be happy and be using that energy in a positive way instead of arguing and fighting and dealing with poor behavior. Um, it’s okay, you know, if they’re having a sibling disagreements while they’re playing, that feels to me, you know, what, they’re four years apart. But, um, I do find that for the most part they play very well together and it’s lovely as a parent to watch that. Um, and I think some of it is because we do encourage them to play together, you know, it’s like, okay, you two have to go figure out something to do. And they will very often, um, you know, come up with something together and I love watching that as a parent.

Sharon: Yeah, it’s really nice. Although we definitely have our fair share of sibling rivalry that I think it’s natural when you have four girls in the same house. That definitely happens. But, you know, we talked a little bit about this, but you know, obviously tv is not the only screen that we’re referring to and kids can have access to iPad and phones and not all of it is bad, right? I mean sometimes what they watch on TV is really great for them and they learn a lot from it and sometimes what they play on the iPad can be educational. Um, so I would love your thoughts on sort of how you structure screentime in your home so that you know, because we’ve, I know you don’t believe that they shouldn’t have any screen time.

Alison: Absolutely. I am. I am for sure. I’m not anti screen at all, but I do really think that it’s about finding some kind of balanced. And I think that that would look different for everyone’s family. You know, what works for my family isn’t necessarily the same as for yours or someone else’s. And this is sort of an ever changing thing for us right now. We do use educational apps like on our iPad, particularly for my, for my daughter and this year she actually has an app, a reading app as part of her homework. Um, and so she loves using that, right? Oh, I have, we used to have that right now it’s part of my homework. So when I talk about screens, I’m talking a little bit more about or less about the educational things I guess and more just about the other things that they can do.

So we do allow her right now five or 10 minutes to play her reading game every day when she comes home. That’s part of her homework and I do think that that’s important, but then, you know, when she wants to sit down and watch youtube videos of random things, we’re less keen on that, particularly during the weekdays. So I think that there’s so much amazing technology, we’ve had really wonderful math games that had been part of her homework, um, and you know, there’s so there’s so many learning opportunities available at our fingertips online. So I think for each family it’s really about figuring out, you know, where is the line between I’m using this a little for learning and I’m just using this as a way to, to keep them quiet or keep them occupied. And where could the balance be for, you know, maybe some more imagination time for imagination or creative plan.

Sharon: Sure! So I guess you have some tips for how to create some screen-free time for kids. Would you be happy to share them?

Alison: I absolutely would be. And these are just some different things that we have tried at our home. It’s really trial and error. I’m one of the first things that we tried a year or two ago was a screen-free weekends. Um, and that was, that was interesting. That was good. I don’t think you have to have a screen-free weekend all the time, but it’s a really nice experiment to just kind of get everyone on that same page where you don’t need to be having a screen in front of you all the time. So I suggest that that something that you might start with or you could plan sort of like what you mentioned times where they can have the screens. So for example, no screens on weeknights and then on the weekends they can have a little bit more time for that. Um, what we usually do right now is Friday evening and Saturday morning, uh, they will very often get up and watch some TV and we’re okay with that.

So one of the really important lessons I think that I learned when I was first experimenting with this, that it’s really important to sort of share the plan and talk about screen-free time with your children and I think that can work for any different age. But one thing that I did when I first tried this screen-free weekend, I made this whole plan, um, but I didn’t really communicate it to them, so I was all excited about it and we got to the weekend and I said, oh, it’s going to be screen-free weekend, but I hadn’t really prepared them for that. And so I got a little bit of negativity towards that, they weren’t really ready for it. So that was kind of my mistake. But I think, I think talking about it in advance, I’m setting up, okay, this weekend is going to be screen-free weekends, we’re not going to have screens, and we are going to do other exciting thing. And I’ll share some ideas for what you can do in a few minutes. Um, but I think it gives them time to process my, my daughter in particular, she’s a processor, like she needs time to think about things and it gives them an opportunity to ask questions. Um, and I think that this is a really important, particularly if you are a family that has screens going in the home quite a lot. And that’s okay, but if you’re, if you’re thinking about making a change, I think it’s really good to talk to your children and to prepare them in advance.

Sharon: I guess I’m, I like everything that you’re saying and I definitely think it’s great. One of the challenges that we have, um, or used to have, I should say, is when we said, okay, there’s no TV during the weekdays, we sort of forgot to place limits on tv time during the weekends. And we found, first of all, my daughter was and it became almost like an addiction to her. She was waking up early on a Saturday morning just to turn on the TV. So then we had to impose a no TV before 8:30 AM kind of rule because she was waking up at like six just so she could watch. And then it was hard to get them to do anything outside the home during the weekend because they felt like anything we planned was cutting into their TV, which was really interesting. They really missed it. But now it’s much better move. We have since involve them in creating a schedule that sort of works better for everyone and I think that that’s something, but I would recommend too, is when you’re planning these things or when you’re starting to impose new rules, it’s always going to be better received if you’re involving your children in the planning process. So not just planning it and talking to them about it, but actually asking them, okay, what do we think it, you know, what can we come up with together? Even if you’re really coming up with it, it gives them the feeling that they are part of creating these, these rules. And so they’re much more likely to accept them.

Alison: I love that. And I think, um, I think for my children, you know, they, they always, lots of ideas of things that they would like to do. Sometimes they just get distracted by the TV, you know, it could be a beautiful day outside on a Saturday morning. It’s like, okay, come on, we need to go and get dressed so that we can go out and do something. But I think I do think that, that if there’s a plan, and I love that, of asking them and having them involved in something that they really want to do. And I really believe that it doesn’t have to be anything complicated. It doesn’t have to be some big adventure. I think very often our children enjoy doing, um, simple things and they will express that to us if we give them the opportunity to do so.

Sharon: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I find that when I turned the TV off and you know, I do get like that few minutes of pushback sometimes, but then I see the most amazing results. Even if it’s not time that we’re going to be spending together, you know, there are times where I have things I need to do and I just want them to figure it out for themselves. Suddenly I’ll see a painting come out of the room or you know, a whole project. Um, and I, um, you know, we actually have had sometimes I buy these things that they can do and they sit there for awhile and eventually one of my kids will open up a box and you build something or um, and it really is cool to watch because they, they resisted at first, but then they love it and they are proud of themselves when they’ve accomplished something and then they do have something new to play with.

So, um, I do think that there are a lot of advantages. I would love to hear your thoughts on, you know, things that you guys do as a family together and things that your kids may be do independently during screen-free time since, you know, sometimes I find that we run out of ideas and um, and it’s great to hear what other families do so that you can get ideas. It’s sort of like, um, I, I don’t know, I always think of when I go to Trader Joe’s and I am looking at other people’s shopping carts to see what they’ve bought because I almost always leave with something new that I’d never tried before. And so this, this is sort of my analogy to that.

Alison: Yeah, I love that. And I will say that, um, we, we do, like I said, we keep things quite simple. It’s not all about having this huge thing planned all the time, but um, some of the things that my children really love is when we do things together as a family is to just go outside. Um, one of the things that we did together this summer, um, was the end and they begged me to do this, was to just go to a different playground that was a little bit further away in our neighborhood, not like the regular playground that we would normally go to. So it was a longer walk to get there and to get back. But they loved that they are still talking about it. So it’s about taking everyday moments and just trying to make them a little bit extra special, you know, like we took, we took snacks with us to the playground and we went somewhere new and different. Um, we also, as a family, we love to go for what I call nature walks or hiking. I do a little bit more hiking with my daughter just because she’s a little bit older. Now, we are really fortunate. We live in a place where there is lots of nature around, I guess where we can go hiking, but I think that almost anyone, even if you live in the middle of a major city, um, you know, there, there are green spaces and places that you can go to explore. And my three year old, he loves going for nature walks and really all that is is we walk and we really observe what there is around us and we pick up, um, things, leaves, sticks, rocks, anything that we find. We make a little collection. Um, and I’m always amazed at how much learning takes place with that and how much they can really explore while they’re doing really simple things like that. So we love that. And I did a little bit of hiking with my daughter this summer and I was just amazed at how she, I kind of let her lead on the trail and you know, she’s, she’s learning leadership, she’s learning about safety. She’s exploring the world around her. It was really amazing experience for me and she loved that. So going outside is, I think one of our family’s favorite things to do together. We also love other really simple things like I’m going to the library, um, you know, going to local museums or science centers. So anything that you have available in your community, a free community events. Um, yeah, there’s lots of opportunities for us to just sort of be together. Um, so that is sort of our weekend’s routine. I guess if we’re having screen-free time on the weekdays I’ve done things a little bit differently and we’re, we’re trying some things right now. I always find that I’m really tired when I come home at the end of the day. Everyone is tired and um, and I, I will willingly admit that I struggle with that and if it’s stressful and it would be so much easier to just have them sit and watch the tv while my husband and I are trying to get everything else sorted. So I’ve tried to make things really simple for myself and kind of designate days for activities.

So just for example, we know that we come home and if it’s a Monday, Monday is puzzle day and if they want to do puzzles, go and get your puzzles out and you can work on them and if not, you know, you can play. But it sort of gives something, it gives a tangible idea for something to do. Um, you know, so you can read, it can be dress up day, it can be Play-dough Day and I’m very fortunate that my husband and I, we usually arrive home with the kids around the same time and one of us will sort of be with the kids and one of us will prep for supper. So we’re, we’re really fortunate like that. And that’s just sort of the way that I have tried to structure things to make it work for us. And of course it will look different for everybody.

But for me, having the idea already set of an activity idea for that day, that works well for me because I don’t have to think about it.

Sharon: Yeah, I actually think that’s a great idea. Something that I honestly hadn’t thought of. Um, and it seems like it would work great. Um, again, you know, your kids can help choose those activities which would make them sort of buy into the idea too, And it takes the guesswork out of it, which is awesome.

Alison: Yeah. That really makes it less stressful for me. And you know, it, we don’t, it’s not like a rigid schedule, you know, sometimes they come home and they have their own idea of what they wanted to do or you know, if, if, if it’s a beautiful day, they can play outside sometimes. So there’s lots of opportunity, sometimes my daughter comes home and she’s in this really great mood and she wants to help us make supper. So I do not say no,  we let her help and experience. But yeah, for me just taking the guesswork out of it really lowers my stress. So that’s, that’s just good for everybody.

Sharon: Thank you. I really, um, I think those are awesome suggestions. So, you know, we’re going to talk for a minute or two about what Petit Mail is and it is something that you created to give parents on yet another thing that they can do with their preschoolers when they’re looking for something screen-free to engage them in. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Alison: I absolutely can. I’m really proud of Petit mail. It’s a snail mails subscription experience for preschoolers and their families. So, um, I write every month, I write an illustrated story postcard and it gets sent in the mail to families. I originally came up with this idea, um, when my daughter was small and she loved to go to the mailbox with me to check the mail and that was kind of our time together. Um, when, you know, after I was back working and uh, she was at daycare and I really wanted to create this experience where people could slow down. So you know, you go to check the mail, you can come home, you have something new and exciting to read together. It’s really targeted to young children. You can read and then there are activity suggestions and ideas of things that you can do together. So it’s meant to be inspiring for screen-free time. Everything from many science experiments to dress up and creative play. Everything really focuses on building imagination. So it’s all about that family connection and that family experience.

Sharon: That’s awesome. I mean, I can imagine that for my daughter, she would love to get something in the mail that’s just for her. That’s really cool. Um, where can we find it? And uh, you have a little surprise for our listeners too, don’t you?

Alison: I absolutely do. So you can find me online at Petit Mail, that’s PetitMail.ca or on Instagram at PetitMail. And I have a discount code for listeners. So anyone who wants to try a Petit mail subscription can use code Raiseology and get 10 percent off any subscription.

Sharon: Thank you so much. Um, I think it sounds like a really cool option for parents of young kids. Um, I will note that, um, that is an affiliate link, which means I do get a small commission if you purchase a petit mail subscription, but I would not recommend something that I didn’t believe in.

Alison: Thank you so much for having me today.

Sharon: Thank you so much for being here. I think we’ve learned a lot and I’m excited to try creating a new screen-free schedule for my kids. Um, I think that that was probably my favorite of all the suggestions and um, and involving them in the process. And I will let you know how it goes.

Alison: Wonderful, I look forward to hearing about it.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the Raiseology podcast. Head over to www.Raiseology.com where you’ll find plenty of, you’ve got this resources for parents and any links or tools mentioned it today. Show be sure to hit subscribe on your podcatcher so that you can listen to the next episode, the minute it’s out. Until next time, have an empowered week!

Meet Your Mentor

Sharon is a general pediatrician, loving wife and mother to 4 daughters.

 After a decade of practicing general pediatrics and working with families, she realized there often wasn’t enough time while tending to children’s medical needs to help parents in the way that would be most helpful in shaping their children’s futures.

 The Raiseology Program was developed to teach parents how to raise their children with the love and authority necessary to promote resilience and responsibility.

Sharon’s experience with hundreds of families as well as her own help her meet you where you are on your parenting journey to help you make it what you want it to be.

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