The Surprising Effects of Screen-Free Kids on Mommy’s Mental Health

The Surprising Effects of Screen-Free Kids on Mommy's Mental Health | Learn how taking away their tablets and shows helped me be a happier, more fulfilled Mama.

Kids and Media
We all know it's better to talk to our kids than to plunk them down in front of a television. We all know that reading aloud to our kids is better than having a read aloud book or robot voiced ebook read to them. But when we're tired and lonely or battling depression or anxiety, it's really hard to fight the urge to occupy them.

I'll be honest about my battle here: At our worst, my toddlers spent as many as 7 hours a day in front of a screen, be it television or interactive media in the form of a tablet or phone. While trudging along through two infants, 16 months apart, and battling postpartum depression, the sanity provided by the iPad probably saved my life. It certainly helped me get by. But it also left me feeling guilty... Really guilty. It took me three years to figure out how to battle my depression successfully. That was three years of tablet babysitters. Three years worth of interactive media from which to break free.


Setting Boundaries
When I finally got treatment and found myself in a healthy place, my husband and I decided to purchase the Amazon Kindle for our kids because it has a built-in timer and excellent parental controls. Rather than sending my girls upstairs with their tablets and calling them down at some arbitrary time hours later, I could set a 2-hour daily timer so that they, and I, wouldn't lose track of time. It helped me stay accountable. And it worked for the season I needed it to work.

Then my oldest daughter started having nightmares. I did everything I could think of to help her with her nightmares, but nothing seemed to work. Shows as educational and innocuous as Octonauts were giving her wake-up-screaming nightmares every single night. My husband and I were desperate for change.

The answer we landed on made me more nervous than I thought it would.


We decided to take away their tablets.
Just for one week. One week of screen-free play time. One week to purge their little brains of the media they had been consuming constantly since they could barely even talk. It was a one-week hail mary to clear my little girl's brain of all her scary thoughts.
And you know what? It totally worked!
By the very next night, my little gal slept through the night without a single scary dream. And the next night, and the next, and the one after that. But it didn't stop there. We saw even more benefits in the form of their behavior and sociability and creativity. And it wasn't nearly as life-changing for me as I expected it to be.

The Benefits of Screen-Free Kids


They became more socially adept:
They play together better. There is way less fighting and way more cooperative play. My girls are close enough in age that they've always played together pretty nicely, so I was honestly surprised to find that, in the absence of screens, they formed an even closer bond.

Longer attention spans:
Together or separate, they play with one toy longer, stick to one story line longer, and rarely ask me for a new thing to do. They're more independent and it actually worked out that I'm able to get more housework and more writing done while they play on their own.

Increased creativity:
This may actually just be due to the developmental stage they're at, but they make up and act out new (non-movie) story lines every day. Artwork and writing have become primary activities which they can happily spend hours doing. Rather than tracing a letter on a screen, they are writing words with actual paper and pencil.



Nightmares banished:
It has been a month since we've ditched the tablets and my eldest has only experienced one night with a scary dream. Compared to the 2-3 nightly wake-ups before, this has been amazing!

Decrease in the "Gimmies":
They don't see any commercials or mainstream cartoons, so they don't even know about the latest and greatest, let alone ask for them. When we walk past a store's toy section, they like to look and admire the pretty dolls and animals, but they don't have the influence of the media telling them they need all those new things. It's pretty darn fantastic.

Decrease in Mom Guilt:
I used to spend hours agonizing over the feeling that I was failing my kids. Or else, I'd feel so guilty I would have to force myself to stop feeling in order to cope. I totally understand the whispers of depression that say you don't have a choice, you can't survive without it, or even that it's better than what you, Mama, can offer. But it's not true! You can do this and you can survive the transition!


For more help, get in touch with a therapist or call a helpline 1-800-273-TALK. 

The Costs:


Decrease in built-in "Me Time":
Without those two hours of silence, I've had to get more creative with my days. When I need time to myself now, I ask my husband to take care of bedtime so I can meet a friend for coffee or do one of these self-care activities. I also set out special activities for times when I need to get work done. Quiet time boxes can be super helpful for little ones, as well as monthly craft boxes like Koala Crate.

Messier House:
My kids are living and playing more, which means they leave more of a mess in their wake. For me, it's a small price to pay for all those benefits and I remind myself of that every time I trip over a toy. And if the mess becomes a deal breaker, you can institute a toy storage system like we did to help control the chaos.

We won't go back
Sometimes things as simple as arranging a quiet time box for the afternoons can be enough to shift your whole perspective. I know I always feel ten times better waking up to a clean kitchen than a dirty one. It's the same with screen free kids. When I see them playing together or building a fort with every pillow and blanket in the whole house, there's this deep-seated mom happiness that shines through all the other gunk I might be feeling.

And, because there's always someone, let me say: I'm not at all what you'd call tech-phobic. I'm a blogger married to a web developer, after all. Our livelihood depends on the internet and constant connection with the world. Because of that, I understand that my kids will need to know how to use things like tablets and computers. I have no intention of keeping them away forever but, for now, I'm happy to limit screen usage to the occasional car trip or family movie night. I have awesome kids and giving them the gift of a screen free childhood is worth the extra effort required on my part.

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi


Other parents on the subject of Screen-Free Kids:
"This was the wildest thing: They played together so much better...It seemed like they were more friendly, more sociable with each other. It's not a scientific study, but they came alive, if you will, for those months."

"And their approach to relaxation was so different from mine. When we finished exams, I would plunk down in front of the TV and just zone out—whereas they would make art, read, go for a run, call friends…. it just didn’t occur to them to relax in front of the television."

How much do you depend on tablets or television? Would you ever consider a screen free week with your kids? Let us know in the comments.
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Tiny Home Living: Why We All Want To and How to Curb the Desire

Tiny Home Living: Why we all want to and how to curb the desire.

Tiny Home Living
Unless you've been under a rock for the last 5 years, you're very familiar with these words. There has been a huge surge in tiny home popularity, even HGTV has taken notice. And I would venture to guess that you've spent time daydreaming, at least once this week, about a simple life on the road. You know how I know? Well, first, because you're reading this post. Second, because I have too! All the time. Literally.

In fact, I finally talked my husband into it and we're going to move into an RV later this year to tour the national parks with our kids. I know! I'm pretty darn excited about shopping for and choosing an RV, remodeling and decorating it to fit our needs, being that close to my kids and my husband, road schooling the girls, and so many other aspects of our trip.

It's a pretty huge decision to move your family into a small space and there are a lot of things to consider, even more so if your kids are tweens or teens. But today I'm more interested in the reasons you feel compelled to make the transition and a few ways you can curb that desire until you can make the change.

Reason #1: Freedom to Roam
A house or apartment ties you down to one place. Sure you can move but every time you do, you have to load all your belongings into a trailer and cart them from place to place, in and out of boxes. With a tiny home, you're able to take your home with you and leave all your belongings where they belong. No packing required to go wherever the wind takes you. Sunny beaches? Snowy mountains? Family on the other side of the country? Just roll out!
Solution: Be a Tourist at Home
Someone somewhere thinks it would be the bee's knees to visit the place where you live. So imagine being that someone. Figure out the things a tourist would do in your region and go do those things as if you've never been there. I can think of at least a dozen amazing waterfalls within an hour's drive of my house which I've never taken the time to visit. This may not curb your wanderlust for long, but it could easily buy you a few months.


Reason #2: Closer Relationships with Family Members
As a mom, you're super busy! Running kids from place to place, constantly planning for and preparing meals, cleaning up after everyone, resolving issues between your kids, and doing all the work and other life stuff you have to do. It's easy to get this romantic idea in our heads that tiny home living will be one long vacation. No one will have things to run off to and we'll sit on the (small) patio and watch the sunrise, sunset, and stars. We think simplicity will grow this incredible bond which seems out of reach right now.

I totally get this reason (I think it all the time), but I'm going to be real with you: It's not a very good one. If your family relationships are strained right now, then magnifying the issues by squeezing everyone into a tiny home is NOT the solution. Living close to each other can bring your family together, but it can also send it flying apart in a thousand different directions.
Solution: Build or Fix Relationships Now
Maybe you're a mom of preschoolers and you feel like you've lost yourself in the grind of motherhood. Maybe you have teens and you can feel them drifting away from you with no way to reel them back in. Perhaps your marriage is strained or your mental health has you seeing things that aren't there or you made mistakes early in your parenting that cost you now. Whatever's going on, you need to address that elephant. Get help or have a family meeting. Take time for introspection, consult a trusted but honest friend about how you as Mom can be better or stronger or let go more. Major changes can heal families, but time and attention do it better.


Reason #3: Lower Financial Strain
Living in a house is expensive. You have the mortgage or rent plus the utilities plus the cost of upkeep if you own. Tiny home living still has expenses but, with a smaller footprint, you can usually expect lower bills. Especially if you downsize from a 2000+ square foot living space.
Solution: Find Ways to Reduce Your Bills
If you can't increase your earnings, think about decreasing your spending. Do you really need cable? Is that second or third car truly necessary? Can you turn down the heat or turn up the AC? There are a ton of ways to decrease your spending, all you need to do is get serious about implementing a few of them.

Another thing to think about is that full-time RVing and tiny home living aren't as cheap as you might expect. I've spent a lot of time considering the cost while planning our next adventure. When we break down our travel budget, we expect to spend about the same as we spend now on a newer 1800 square foot home. Add to that the start-up costs of purchasing an RV or a tiny home, anywhere from $10-100k+, and you might be better off staying put.



 
Reason #4: Design and Aesthetic
Tiny home living looks so darn cute on Pinterest, am I right!? Those adorable eaves and lofts, the uncluttered surfaces and well-designed layouts, and the picturesque views through the many windows and skylights are enough to make any design-minded mama swoon. And because the tiny home is, well, tiny, it's cheaper to design and furnish to our tastes. A tiny house can be dressed to the nines for the same price as one or two well-designed rooms in a traditional home.
Solution: Invest in Your Current Home One Project at a Time
Start small. Refurbish your dining chairs. Purchase a new piece of art for your main living space. Build your own unique piece of furniture. Invest in beautiful and functional window coverings. But make sure that whatever you invest your time or hard earned money on is something that makes you happy and fits your style.

And don't make the same mistakes I have. Design for the place you live now, even if you only expect to be there for a year or two. You never know when you'll end up spending three or five or ten years there instead. Second, design for the style you want. Don't buy or make pieces you don't truly love so that they fit better with that second-hand living room set you were given. Better to invest in what you want to keep than in what you can make work for right now.
Reason #5: Live Simply/Reduce Stress
A smaller home equates to smaller responsibility. I can't wait to swap my two and a half baths for our RV's single just for the time I'll save cleaning those toilets! Tiny home living also requires you to purge your stuff, meaning you have fewer things to wash and care for and store and put away. Think of all that time you could be saving! I'll be real with you, my knees go weak when I think of how quickly I could clean 300 square feet. For real, Mama!

The flip side, obviously, is that you have less stuff. Only a few kitchen items, a significantly pared down wardrobe, fewer books. There is less to take care of, but also less to enjoy. My books will be the most difficult things to part with, but I know I'm going to have to make some tough decisions.
Solution: Implement Minimalist Strategies Today
Start with one drawer. Clean it out and ditch everything that is broken or unused. My general rule is if I haven't used an item in the last month, get rid of it. If I've used it more than five times in the last month, it stays. Anything that falls between that range is judged individually but, generally, if I can replace it for less than $20, I don't hang on to it. This is especially true when you start clearing out larger areas like closets, sheds, and the garage. Will you really do something cool with that broken chair you've been storing for two years? If the answer is anything less than 'definitely' than, girl, get it out of your house!

 

What are your reasons for wanting to downsize? What makes you swoon over tiny home living posts and pictures? Let me know in the comments and, as always, may you be blessed today, Mama!

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi

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Taming the Toys (and 5 Benefits of Doing So)

Taming the Toys | How to gain control over the chaos in 6 easy steps!
If you haven't already read about why and how I took my kids' toys away, you should start here, just so you know I'm not some crazy, domineering mom type! (Not all the time, anyway...)

When I took my kids' toys away, it was a moment of desperation, a time when something had to give. I'm so glad I did and I'll never look back.

So here's what we did.
1.Pack it all up!
I used big plastic storage totes left over from our move so I could keep things in the garage and go through them slowly, but boxes or garbage bags would work just as well. Collect all the toys, all the odds and ends, all the lost pieces hiding under the couch, and put them somewhere together where your kids can't come in and dig through it without you.
2. Implement your system.
Ours works like this: 5 cards per child. If you hit someone, you lose a card. If you throw a fit, you lose a card. If you disobey, you lose a card. You get the idea. At the end of the day, how many cards each child has left is how many toys they get to choose from storage the next morning. So if my daughter has a really good day, she'll get to choose 5 toys (or toy sets) to bring out and play with tomorrow morning. If she has a bad day and loses 3 cards, she'll only have 2 left and get to choose 2 toys for the next day.
3. Sort and categorize the toys.
Throw out any that are broken or store them in a memory box if you just can't let them go. Donate or sell any that don't get played with anymore or are too young for your growing child. Then categorize the rest and put them in their own easily storing bins, baskets, totes, or boxes. We use these and these because they're clear (easy to see what's inside for your pre-readers), stackable, and won't break open easily if knocked off a shelf, which sometimes happens.
4. Find a good location for Toy Storage.
Ours is a closet under the stairs, but you could use a tall bookcase with a curtain across the front or a cube organizer or a portion of your utility room. Anywhere the kids won't get into without your permission. Adjustable shelves make the storage space even more effective because you know your kids are almost always going to ask for the toy at the bottom of the stack....
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How to Shake Off This Funk

Sometimes you're just blue. How do you shake off the funk when it won't go away? Click through for 10 ideas and a free printable with 50 more!
As someone who has dealt with depression at some level for the last 9 years, I totally understand the funk. I often describe it as a wave. The sadness builds slowly, picking up momentum under the surface of whatever other emotions I might be feeling, and then crashes over me at the most (seemingly) random times. It wasn't until I started seeing a therapist that I began to recognize those triggers and do something about them before the wave drowned me. Today, I want to share with you some of the things that help me keep my feet on the ground.

Whether you're battling depression or just having a bad week, these tips can help you find your happy place again.

(Please note: If your funk has lasted more than a few months or you're thinking scary thoughts, then please, please, please stop trying to pull yourself out of it and go see someone!  Talk to your doctor, get recommendations for a good therapist in your area, or call 1-800-THERAPIST for a confidential recommendation.)
10 Tips for Getting Out of Your Funk:

Rest Those Hardworking Muscles! As a Mama, your number one complaint is probably lack of sleep. Am I right? Girl, put that phone down and go to bed! I know how hard it can be to get to bed on time. With littles to care for (who may or may not still need you in the middle of the night) or older ones with homework and sports and unending time in the car plus household tasks and quality time with the hubby and all your other commitments... It all adds up and before you know it, you're folding the laundry at midnight, crying quietly cause you just want to go to sleep. Well, I'm here to tell you: For your sake, put the laundry down! Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep. If a tiny cry will interrupt your beauty hours, then plan to stay in bed as long as takes to fill up on sleep. If ever there was an encouraged use for iPads, it's during those early morning hours!
You Are What You Eat: Food plays such an important part in every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. Make sure you're getting enough calories every day and that most of them are coming from whole foods. That means cut down on those processed foods and refined sugars, Mama. I know you only want to eat ice cream in the middle of the day... grab an apple instead. Your body will thank you!
Check your levels: It's always a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor and have them run blood tests. Deficiencies in iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and others can all contribute to suppressed moods.
Get Moving: Exercise has been shown again and again and again to improve depressive symptoms because it increases your dopamine and serotonin levels, two major players in the mood game. Plus, sweating is a great way to work out aggression for things you might not have any control over. Many a good rage has been dispelled with weights in my hands.
Go Outside: Ever wonder why sunshine makes people happy? It's because the sun helps your body produce vitamin D! Not to mention it's warm and comfortable and invites you out into the fresh air and wonderful, wide world where birds sing and children giggle and moms get tan. Oh, February... I wish you were July... This Pacific Northwestern girl is missing her some sunny days and poolside outings right about now!
Create something: Take time for yourself and make something you love. It can be a painting, a drawing, photos of your kids or nature, one of the many DIY projects you've been pinning for 'later'. Make later today.
Use all your senses: Smell is often left off the list of self-care to-dos but, I'm telling you what, diffusing my favorite essential oils or lighting a tantalizing candle can really shift my mood quick. Essential oils have many benefits, the most significant of which is known as aromatherapy (which doesn't have a 'therapy' in its name for no reason). My favorite oils for blue days are Quiet Time, Bergamot, and Cinnamon.
Practice gratitude: Gratitude has more beneficial effects on your body than I could ever list here! Stop for a minute and think of five things you are grateful for. Or better yet, make a list and post it somewhere you'll see it again.
Find the thing that makes you happy and prioritize it: If you love gardening, set aside time to be outside with a shovel and some seeds. If you love writing, plan to have Hubby put the kids to bed so you can write or journal without interruption. If you love hiking, then dust off your boots and get out there. If you love... You get the idea. If something makes you happy and you can shift your schedule or let something else go so you can do that thing, then do it! A happy Mama is an effective Mama.
Let some things go: Thanks to Facebook and Pinterest and, ahem, mom blogs, there's a TON of pressure to be awesome at everything, especially if you're at home during the day. It's easy to feel like you've got be on top of everything from whole foods to organization to a spotless house to the newest parenting trend to fashion to... the list goes on. Mama, you can't do it all. Let me say that again. You CAN'T do it all. I can't either. And we're not even supposed to. So pick your battles, fight for what's important to you, and let the rest of it go. Let it go, let it go... Now it's going to be stuck in your head all day. Sorry 'bout that.

That's my list. What would you add? Tell us in the comments!

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi

 



 
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Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away

Why I took my kids' toys away and how it helped my kids learn to be content, happy, generous people (and saved me an insane amount of nagging and discipline!)
It has been nearly a year since I took my kids' toys away.

No, they won't ever get them all back.

But it's not entirely what you think...

The Beginning

Well over a year ago, I read Ruth's amazing post over on her blog, Living Well, Spending Less, about why and how she took away her kids' toys. I was in awe and, as a mother of two toddlers, totally into the idea. But we had just moved and the girls had a whole room, separate from their bedroom, designated as the playroom. I wanted it to be full of beautiful things and as well organized as those perfect pins I had been collecting for so long.

The problem was that this playroom is open to the rest of the house (meaning there are no doors to close in the mess) and, on top of that, it's the first room you see when you walk into our home. Despite my best efforts, the toys rarely made it back to their labeled boxes and baskets unless I put them there. The girls, at two and three, had very little interest in returning an item to its proper place on the shelf. By the end of most days, I just wanted to bathe them and get their whining selves to bed rather than battle over the cleanup duties. Now, if clean up time could be around 10 am when they're at their happiest, maybe we'd have had a better shot....

Needless to say, this left me feeling stressed out, constantly worried about the prospect of anyone dropping by unannounced, and grumbling about tripping over things. There were days I would simply drag all the roaming toys back to the playroom, make a big pile in the middle of the room, and call it good.

When It Changed

I was growing more and more frustrated by the chaos in our otherwise tranquil home. The toys and the mess and the daily battles to keep it in order were wearing. Me. Down.

And then, my oldest started throwing tantrums.

Oh, these were big ones; screaming at the top of her lungs, dropping her weight so it was almost impossible to carry her to her room for time out, kicking the walls and door once she was safely delivered to baby jail. We tried letting her cry it out, putting her to bed earlier, cutting out refined sugar and artificial food dyes and taking away the tablet. We even resorted to spanking (never angry and always pre-warned). Nothing worked.

Nothing.

Then one night, she threw herself down because she didn't want to wear the pair of pajamas I had laid out for her.

Pajamas.

You read that right. She was coming up on her fourth birthday and had all the words she needed to ask me for another pair, but instead, she took one look at the bed and let out a monstrous scream. I couldn't even get her calm enough to talk to her. It was a nightmare.

And I lost it.

I turned away from her, stomped downstairs, grabbed a big garbage bag, and then paused to take a deep breath... Once I was back in my head, I walked calmly upstairs and began to pack all of her stuffed animals and books (the only toys allowed in their shared bedroom) into the garbage bag. I stripped her bed of the Frozen comforter and pillow case and replaced them with plain ones from the linen closet. All of her sister's special things stayed in place because my youngest wasn't the one throwing the fits. My oldest didn't even stop screaming long enough for me to explain what I was doing. I took the bedroom things to my room where they would stay until she earned them back.

Then I went downstairs to the playroom.

My husband put the girls to bed and my oldest cried until she fell asleep that night (which didn't take long). By the time he got downstairs, I had all the empty totes from the garage spread out in the playroom and I was tossing everything into them. In went the dolls, the plastic animals and dinosaurs, the instruments, the play food, the dishes. In went the felt play scenes, blocks, little people sets, dress up clothes, puzzles, books... everything.

It took me two hours. Once each tote filled up, my husband took it out to the garage. The only exceptions were my younger daughter's three favorite things: two dresses and a cape. The playroom shelves were empty, the art table clean for the first time in a long time, the floor uncovered and trip hazard free! My husband and I talked it out and then we came up with a plan.



The Solution

We decided on a reward system. This is how it works: Each morning, my girls start with 5 cards each. My oldest helped me make and decorate the construction paper cards and we hung them on the fridge where we'd all see them. Grace is new every morning, so are my kids' chances to have a good day.

If they throw a fit, or fight with each other, or disobey, or act in an unkind way, or hit/bite/kick, or anything else they know is not an okay behavior, they lose a card. At the end of the day, if they have 2 cards left, they get to choose 2 toys to play with for the next day. If they have all 5 left, they get to choose 5 toys the next day.

We talked about it all together, at 10 am when everyone was happy, and the girls agreed that it was okay. I spent the next two weeks organizing the toys in the garage and we created the toy closet, a utility closet under the stairs, with what toys were left after we donated or sold about a quarter of what they'd had.



The Results

Within one week, my daughter's tantrums disappeared. She spent the first three days using the 1-2 cards she had left to 'buy' back her comforter, pillowcase, and room things. The next three days, she used the 2-4 cards she had left to 'buy' back some stuffed animals and choose a toy or two to play with the next day. On day seven, she finished the day with all 5 cards and all four of us did a happy dance in the kitchen with her. She was even more proud of herself than I was, which is saying something, and we've never looked back.

Within two weeks of removing all the toys, I found myself way less stressed, clean up times were surprisingly easy and battle-less (they have to put their toys away each night or they lose a card and get one less toy the next day), and we were all happier. The most surprising side effect of the whole deal though came in the form of lasting change.

One day while I was cleaning up after breakfast and the girls were in the playroom, I heard them playing bakery. They'd played this game before, but only if they had the right toys, meaning the plastic dishes and proper dress up clothes. We had just picked toys for the day and I knew they hadn't chosen either of those things. Instead, they had a wooden food cutting set and they were pretending the food pieces were the bakery, standing in for everything from the mixing bowls to the baked goods to the spatulas. Later in the day, that same food cutting set became a box of moon rocks, a stencil set, and a collection of special gifts for the queen.



Our consumerist culture tells us we have to have exactly the right tool or utensil to do a job. How else do you think we get inventions like this and this and this? Instead of having one high-quality tool which we use for a multitude of jobs, consumerism tells us we have to have a dozen specialty tools for one specific job each. It's the same with our kids. If you give them a Cinderella themed castle, chances are they are going to want to only reenact the Cinderella storyline with that castle, especially if they have the right dolls and dresses to go along with it. Give them only a few, preferably generic, things to play with and, surprise!, they'll engage their creativity and imagination to use that one toy for a multitude of activities.

I don't know about you, but creativity is a major value which I want to cultivate in my future adults!

Would I Do It Again?

You bet I would!

Taking away their toys made them appreciate what they had, lifted significant stress from my shoulders, and encouraged them to play together nicer and work together to invent new ideas. I'll never go back to a room full of toys!

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi

 

How about you, do you have any similar systems and how does it work for your kids? Anything you would add? Share with us in the comments!



 
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