Mornings, Screens and a Bit on Executive Functions…

Mornings are challenging for many of us. Having to wake sleepy children or being awakened by an early riser mixed with dressing, breakfasting and getting to school on time, can add up to a tough morning. There are many things that can be done to mitigate morning struggles; some are better choices than others. Tempting as they are, screens should not be the tool we turn to in order to make mornings easier.

Sometimes mornings are tricky…

There’s no judgment here. It’s easy to see why screens are appealing. They may seem to help your child stay at the table and finish breakfast or offer a distraction so you can shower and get ready for work. Perhaps the promise of a video on the car ride to school makes it easier to get into the car. Here’s our plea: please don’t offer a screen in the morning. Together let’s find another way. If you don’t need convincing about why to make the change and just want to know how to do it, feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs.

Why avoid screens in the morning? Remember those real-life skills otherwise knows as executive functions (EF) –  working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control – that are so important to our children’s success in life? Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson researched the effects of television on EF.  Their work published in Pediatrics concludes that “9 minutes of viewing a popular fast-paced fantastical television show immediately impaired 4-year-olds’ EF, a result about which parents of young children should be aware.”

The work they do is so very important!

Drawing parallels between studies and real life can be difficult, so here’s something else to consider. Guides ask us not to use screens before school. Let’s trust our guides about what contributes to the children having a more successful day at school.

There is so much good work to be done.

So, how are you going to make the change? The first step is to commit to the decision. Then, to be blunt, just do it, cold turkey. Tell your children that screen time will no longer be part of their mornings (and evenings? weekdays in general?). As a parent, you are in charge of this decision. Yes, your children might complain. Yes, they might fight it. They will also adjust and transition, and ultimately you will see the benefit of the choice you made.

This adjustment might require changes to your morning routine. Try to think about how and why you use the screens and make a plan to help alleviate these situations (think: adults showering at night, everyone sitting down to eat breakfast together, rearranging who gets ready when, etc.).

If you use screens on the drive to school here are some suggestions for your new screen-free ride to school – some of these can also be implemented in morning routines at home!

  • Audio books are wonderful and available for free downloading through St. Louis County Library and the Municipal Library Consortium.
  • Podcasts are available for children and are generally short in length – just right for the car ride!
  • Children’s music, classical music, your favorite music. All great choices.
  • There’s so much to look for and converse about with your children – the changing colors on the trees, holiday decorations, landmarks, etc.
  • As humans we like to know where we are in relation to things. Children are not excepted from this. They will enjoy learning the way to school (first we pass the library, then we pass the construction site…). Bonus – it’s a great opportunity to expand vocabulary!
  • Give the gift of silence. We sometimes assume children need something to listen to, something to be entertained by… in truth many will gratefully sit in silence.

You’re making the change for a reason, hold out until you see the fruits of your effort! You can do this!

Thank you, as always, for the beautiful photos Melinda!