Sally Flint

Ways to Entertain Children in Restaurants

I’ve just discovered Brene Brown’The Gifts of Imperfections, which I’m listening to as an audio book whilst I swim. It makes a very welcome change to Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commandatore which I’ve recently finished. It wasn’t that Killing Commandatore wasn’t interesting to listen to, but at 700 plus pages, I think I could have swum to Thailand in the time it took to get through it!

Anyway, Brene Brown’s text is a very different type of book.  It’s non-fiction self-help and explores the obstacles to happiness and how to be courageous in facing our imperfections and making connections (or something like that anyway!). I haven’t listened to much yet, but so far there is lots to be interested in and to enjoy.  It too might be better to read a print version of (a friend mentioned, quite often within it, you want to pause and reflect on how her observations resonate personally) as by the time I’ve finished my swim I can’t always bring to mind what Brene Brown has said (perhaps my 50 year sieve for a brain), but one comment she made did get me thinking.

She commented on how in restaurants kids spend loads of time on their ‘screens’ when instead the family could be making connections. It was, I think a fairly insignifcant remark and I get the feeling that Brene Brown would be very open to discussing this, but I’m not sure if I agree or not.

I do get the whole thing about screen time and how it restricts conversation, but I can’t help just being a little bit defensive about using screens too.  I think any kind of ‘babysitter’ at meals can be a very good thing. When my own girls were young screens were still in their infancy – the most hi-tech phone was a brick like Nokia and a gameboy was a luxury item – so we took crayons and a colouring book everywhere we went. Rather than being criitcised for bringing something to occupy the kids with us, we used to get praised for the foresight in doing so. This is different to parents today who are criticised and berated for giving kids tablets or phones to occupy them. 

I’ve been trying to figure out the difference between screens and colouring and why one is deemed ok and the other isn’t. 

The Benefits of Colouring

The colouring argument:

  • Kids can still chat whilst colouring or drawing so ‘connections’ can still be made. (I think Brene would say this if I could ask her)
  • Kids can  improve their motor skills when colouring.
  • The diversion of drawing actually means that some really good kid/parent conversations can occur.

The Benefits of Screens and Tablets as Babysitters

The screen argument:

  • Parents can have a complete adult conversation (if kids earplugs are in) being fairly safe that the kids aren’t taking a bit of notice of the content of the conversation.
  • Lots of apps are educational and also develop hand-eye coordination.
  • Educational apps are diverse and entertaining and can develop open -mindedness (with the counter argument being that colouring really only teaches kids to stay inside the lines and not be risk-takers.)
  • Restaurant based screen time can be reserved for kids to watch their ‘favourite TV shows’, so there is an argument that other time can be used for more productive things, such as going to the park. (Though whether this will actually happen is a different story!) 
  • Screens can be used for all kind of things, including homelearning so time can be used wisely.

Therefore according to this it seems screens might come out on top. (I’m fairly sure I haven’t created this bias simply because of my own ridiculously high daily screen time consumption, as reported to me by my trusty I-phone!) 

Colouring v Screens - Summing Up

Actually, if I had to comment on what I think the very best ‘babysitter for kids’ is I’d say engaging with books (even for pre-readers). Of course this does require some independence, but then so does colouring and using screens. I think it always makes sense to have a pile of books in the back of the car or in a bag at all times when out with kids. Anyone who knows me though will know that a book is my answer to pretty much everything!  Stories can be accessed on screen of course, but there is nothing like the tactile feel of a printed book!

As we have been talking about crayons the following picture books spring to mind to include in that pile in the car:  Drew Daywalt’s and Oliver Jeffer’s The Day the Crayons Quit and the Day the Crayons Came Home.They’re both lovely stories with a strong moral, plenty to discuss and plenty of humour too. And, whilst I am definitely not putting myself up there with the likes of Jeffers I guess as we are talking about screens or otherwise then I’ll give my own story ‘The Day the Wi-Fi Broke’ a mention. It is available on Kindle and hard copy too, not that I’m sitting on the fence! It really does work well for exploring balance in the use of computers and the kids I’ve read it with have loved it.  I figure it’s ok to give myelf a little pat on the back from time time. If I don’t then who else will and  I’m sure Brene Brown would approve :).

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