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Turning off screen time made me a better mom

Sometimes the things we things are the quick fixes are actually what are holding us down.

Turning off screen time made me a better mom

Those close to me know I have never limited screen time with my kids—in fact, I'd likely have rolled my eyes at the suggestion of cutting back.

My daughter loves Mickey Mouse. She has learned every episode by heart. She's not even 3 years old yet and she can pick out a Clubhouse episode on the DVR by name (I swear she can read sometimes.) I saw so many benefits to kids television shows. I mean hey, they've come a long way since we were little.

She will sing along, count numbers, and help Dora find her way. Never once did I chalk up behavioral blips to screen time. But in the back of my heart, I knew. I would hide the Amazon Fire Tablet. Avoid eye contact with the DVD player in the car. Subconsciously I've been safeguarding spaces.

Last year we needed to go from Atlanta to Miami by car. We packed DVDs for the car just in case and had the tablet ready to go; backup battery and all. But heading to the car, I told my husband not to hand the 'book'—as we call it—until necessary. "Once it's in play... it's in play." I was worried about her eyes being locked on a screen in a moving car for so long.

We didn't hand it over until nearly eight hours in, 30 minutes from our stop to see grandparents in Tampa. We never plugged in one DVD. She was having plenty of fun looking out the window, taking naps and singing songs to us.

Because of the nature of the trip, and Thanksgiving being in there, we barely even turned on a TV. She was behaving like a champion but I still didn't connect the dots. "She's getting so much attention. She's thrilled!"

Then one Wednesday morning, a few days after we arrived back home, she was watching her shows and not listening. Lost in my frustration, I blurted out "No TV for the rest of the week!" She sobbed.

I wasn't sure where it came from. I wasn't even sure she understood what that meant.

I texted my husband. "No TV through Friday." "Ok," he replied. Probably confused and worried about how his early morning coffee time would pan out without a screen.

Over the next several days, something magical happened. Our daughter started to play much more than she ever had before. She played dress up and sang songs into her microphone. She pretended to cook in her little kitchen, and acted out stories with her dolls. She was also being noticeably kinder to her baby sister.

Sure, she asked to watch some things, but only once a day. Sometimes she would cry a little. Sometimes she would just accept the fact that I said "not today." Naps even resurfaced. Bedtime had never been easier.

My mind was blown.

All of this time, the fights, the melt downs, the whining, had been linked to her screen time. A thousand people could have said that to me. A thousand people could have sent me YouTube links about the importance of letting go of screen time. I wouldn't have believed it was such a quick fix. I probably still wouldn't have wanted to turn the TV off.

But, it not only changed my daughter—it also changed me as a mother.

When I stopped depending on the television for her entertainment, I was able to get more done in less time. I wasn't waiting for an episode to finish before we could leave the house. I wasn't fighting to turn off the shows so we could sit down for dinner. All that time negotiating episodes was spent coloring together instead. I became more enthralled by her childish play. She even started talking to me more.

Motherhood can look easy. But it's exhausting and down right hard. In my mind, Mickey was my liferaft to keeping things together. I needed the TV to babysit when I wanted to wash dishes or get ready for the day. But those things were actually easier once I clicked power off.

Sometimes the things we things are the quick fixes are actually what are holding us down.

I'm still figuring out exactly where we fit in the managing screen time world. I love her knowing the characters like friends, and having a Minnie Mouse birthday cake. I love how she dances along to the hot dog song—nothing is cuter. But nothing compares to seeing her imagination come alive when she's not relying on a screen.

Explore some of our favorite screen-free creative play products in the Motherly Shop!

Wise Elk magnetic fishing game

Wise Elk magnetic fishing game

Solo or in pairs, this charming magnetic fishing game builds focus and concentration in the form of good old fashioned fun.

$20

Lovevery block set

Lovevery block set

With countless ways to play, this brilliant science-based system of 70 heirloom-quality pieces (in 18 different gorgeous hues) unlocks STEM concepts like math, physics, and engineering, along with higher-order planning and problem-solving. Prepare to thank this one for hours of screen-free entertainment.

$90

Janod wooden play kitchen

Janod wooden play kitchen

Meal prep can be made a little easier when little ones have a place to "work" right alongside you. This clean, modern wooden kitchen set from Janod isn't your typical colorful eyesore and features an oven, a microwave, a cupboard, 3 knobs with sound effects, a stainless-steel sink and a clock to keep them busy.

$152

Hijinks super hero cape 

Hijinks super hero cape

Like all of Hijinks mix and match dress up pieces, this cape is built to withstand whatever rescue mission your super hero can throw at it. Prepare to save the day, toss it in the laundry and save the day again.

$45

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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But the truth is, gratitude and appreciation is the kind of medicine we need now more than ever—and not just because the season is upon us. For one thing, practicing gratitude is a scientifically proven way to boost our happiness, health and relationships. More importantly, we need to ensure we're cultivating it in our children even when things are challenging. Especially when things are challenging.

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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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