How do I keep my toddler from throwing a tantrum when I turn off the DVD player?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston

Q: Each morning while I shower and get dressed, I let my two-year-old son watch 10-15 minutes of an innocuous video. This has worked well to keep him safe and still while I shower, but he pitches a fit every time I turn the movie off, despite the fact that we do this same routine every day and have discussed several times that movie watching is just for when Mommy is in the shower. This is the only transition in his routine that turns him into a screaming monster every single day. I don’t think it’s good for either of us, but I’m not sure what else would be as effective at keeping him safe while I’m in the shower. Any suggestions?

Showers and Storms, in Boston, MA

A: Dear Showers,

Based on how long your shower routine takes (10-15 minutes) and your son’s reaction to the video being turned off, my guess is that the shower and the video don’t finish at the same time. Toddlers have a hard time leaving a story unfinished, especially when the reason for doing so (in this case, how long it takes you to get ready) has nothing to do with them. And explaining to them that they have to fit to your schedule, as you’ve found, doesn’t really work.

To set you both up for a successful morning routine, think about ways to fit your rhythm to his. Spend some time watching him play to see how long he focuses on one toy or activity. Then, arrange your morning routine so it works with his natural play time, giving him the time he needs to complete an activity before transitioning to the next thing. Here are some other ideas to try:

  • Change the routine. Instead of playing a DVD every morning, introduce other developmentally optimal toys or activities for him to use during that time, such as books, blocks, flexible figures, or imaginative play sets.

  • When using DVDs, use those that include 15-20 minute stories or segments. Be sensitive to when each segment ends, and stop the DVD at one of those natural end points. Allowing the story to finish should help keep your mornings storm-free.

  • Give him safe options that will keep him close by. You want your toddler to be in eyeshot (or at least earshot), so bring him and his toys in the bathroom with you. When my children were toddlers, they had a kitchen set in the bathroom, and they had “breakfast” ready for me when I got out of the shower.

The more imaginative the toys and activities you give him during that time, the better! Try things he can watch, figure out, or imagine with, like an ant-farm or puzzle. Then, after your shower, ask your son about what he did—have him show you the block-tower he made or explain the game he invented. This will not only re-engage him in what he did but will also build a sense of accomplishment.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®