How to Make No-TV Rule Stick

Q: I’m a single mom who works from home. At noon, I pick up my 5-year-old from half-day kindergarten. Because I’m unable to pay attention to her while I’m working, she wants to watch television for the rest of the afternoon. We have a no-TV rule on school days, but I find myself unable to enforce it. If she isn’t watching TV, she’s at my door, complaining of boredom. Help!

A: My mother was single for most of the first seven years of my life, during which she worked and attended college. When she was home, studying or writing, she made it clear that her work was more important than my whims. Did I want more of her attention? Absolutely! Did I suffer because she created and enforced a boundary between us? Absolutely not!

In relationships of any sort, boundaries are essential to respect. No relationship boundary translates to exploitation on one side of the relationship and enabling on the other. Too many modern moms seem to think that enforcing firm boundaries between themselves and their kids will cause the latter to hemorrhage self-esteem all over the floor. Cowed by psychobabble into checking their authority at the door when they come home from work (or, in your case, when you bring your daughter home from school), the moms in question make one compromise after another with their kids.

COMPROMISE: Toss the no-TV rule because your daughter complains—with great drama, no doubt—of being bored after school.

NO COMPROMISE: Stick to your guns. Your daughter’s subsequent unhappiness will be short-lived, I assure you.

1. Make a doorknob hanger of the sort one finds in hotel rooms. Color one side red and the other side green. Hang it on the outside knob of the door that leads to your home office.
2. When the red side of the doorknob hanger faces out, the message is, “Do not disturb me for anything other than a dire emergency.” Every so often, when you can (but no more than twice a day), flip the hanger to green and call out, “Green light!” That means you are available to her for 10 minutes or so.
3. If she disturbs you when the “red light” is on, and she is not having an emergency, put her in her room, with her playthings, for the rest of the afternoon.
4. Regardless, the two of you will do something creative together for 30 minutes (plenty of time) every evening—draw, color, read a book—after which it will be time for her to begin getting ready for bed.

In short, you make your daughter a very simple offer: She can either leave you alone through the afternoon and enjoy freedom, or she can bother you and be confined to her room. Three experiences with the latter option (the so-called “charm”) should solve your problem. In the meantime, your daughter will learn how to occupy herself, which is one of the most valuable of all life skills.

Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond

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