Last week, my family decided to have a small break from electronics. At the end of the week, I walked into my house with my five year old looking like he had just experienced a horrific tragedy and then he informed that his brain was rotting from a lack of television. Despite my knowledge that too much TV was a bad thing and that a break would be more than beneficial, my son was not only convinced that I was wrong, but that my actions were going to rob him from a functional life. Throughout the week I heard myself telling my child “no, we are not watching TV today” over and over again. His requests became more and more drastic and I felt like a broken record.
Why do adults set boundaries with children, knowing that most likely those boundaries are going to be fought repeatedly? When we say “no” we are often trying to prevent a child from doing something that will harm them or someone else. You may say to yourself, “Why do I have to keep repeating myself? They should know by now that hitting is not okay, that we do not eat cookies for breakfast, that they cannot watch TV before doing their homework…” Not all people learn the same. Some of us are visual learners, others learn by hearing and yet others may need to read to comprehend the subject at hand. Sometimes repetition may be the key for some children and others may need to experience it for themselves.
Last month, Elk Run Afterschool decided to teach our students, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade, some emergency prevention skills. Right away, we saw that prevention often deals with saying “don’t do A to prevent B from happening.” With about 60 kids registered for our Fun Fridays, we knew we were going to deal with a variety of learning styles and, on top of that, we were adding a huge age range which meant previous knowledge and ability to comprehend would be an additional challenge. Despite all of the challenges we faced, we were determined to have a successful prevention day and wanted each student to walk away with more knowledge and skills than when they woke up. To make our program successful, it took a variety of approaches to get our message across and it ended up being a great success. We have five areas we focused on to make our prevention day a success that can be used any time we have to teach children a lesson that may be perceived as just saying no.
First, we broke the children up in groups based on age. It is important that children are getting age appropriate information. Fifth graders are more apt to actually help in a situation if someone else is hurt, while a first grader may get scared just talking about someone having a severe injury. For the younger children we focused a lot on things they could do, such as calling 911, and helped them understand why their parents may have certain rules such as “do not play with matches” and “keep away from a hot stove.” The older kids were taught about different emergencies that we could face in our area, some depending on the seasons and talked about what they could do in different situations. Make sure the information you are providing is good for the age level. I could tell my five year old we were not watching TV for a week so we could have more time to do other things as a family, or because we want to see what else we could do with our time besides watching TV. For an older child I may have gone into how watching too much TV can affect our brains and abilities to learn, where for a younger child I may have just simply redirected them to another activity such as “let’s read a book because we are not going to watch TV today” or “let’s color a picture instead.”
Second, we started by explaining vocabulary. Even older children may have heard a word many times without understanding the correct meaning behind the word. You can repeat yourself until you are blue in the face, but if the person you are talking to does not understand what you are trying to communicate it doesn’t do any good. Explain any words that are not every day words or have the child repeat what you are saying to make sure they understand the concept.
Third, we had a variety of activities for a variety of learning styles. We looked for video clips, had discussions in which we asked for ideas, did work sheets and even had some hands-on activities. Although we had a variety of activities, we made sure we kept to the theme. This helped our students stay focused and we were able to help show them how much they were learning as we went along. If you are teaching your own child, you may already know the best way to help them learn. However, if you are not sure or they do not seem to be understanding, try a different way to teach a concept to the child. For example, my five year old is very curious so I could have asked him questions on what he thinks he could do in the time he wants to spend watching TV and then let him see if he could accomplish the task in that time frame. I could have also made a deal with him that if he learned a concept we could go to the park and remind him that his “regular” TV time could be used to learn the concept. A different child may just be fine in discussing the concept or seeing statistics on what too much TV does.
Fourth, we focused on the positive. When we had to tell students something they should not do we explained the why behind it. Explaining why we do things can often settle the curiosity that is there so they do not try to figure it out on their own. We also helped them to see what they could do rather than just focusing on what they should not do. This helped them feel empowered.
Do not always just say “no.” Try to give explanations where you can or give alternatives to negative behavior and avoid phrases like “because I said so” or “I’m in charge, that’s why” which may create resentment or other negative feelings. Reminding my son of all the other things he could do with his time, like venturing outside, really helped him to focus on being happy about what he was able to do rather than that an everyday privilege was currently being denied him.
Fifth, we involved families so the learning was not left at school. We were able to find a variety of websites that were family friendly with things for children to do as well as ways for parents to prepare and discuss ideas with their families. We gave a worksheet to each child where they could map out an emergency plan and then handed a corresponding sheet to the parents when they came to get their kids so they could make additional preparations and help their children answer questions they could not answer on their own. Learning in a group environment may help children who are nervous about new concepts. It could be another way to help children who learn best by example and it can give you another view to where the child is still not understanding or struggling.
By making a the “no” TV event a family event, I was able to provide a good example to my son, it was easier for me to not give in and I learned a little about my own weaknesses in the area as well. Telling our children “no” can be frustrating at times, but there are a lot of things we can do to make the experience a positive learning experience. We can help children develop a variety of skills and guide them towards becoming responsible adults.