26 Calming Kids’ TV Shows To Put On When Mama Needs A Minute
You already know that PJ Masks and Bubble Guppies pump your kids up and get 'em moving. But what can you watch to bring down the energy?
Have you ever noticed that while some kids' TV shows capture your child's attention and leave them glued to their seats, others cause them to go buck wild? You can shame "screen time" all you want, but sometimes Mama (and her kid) needs a break. Now that more parents than ever are working from home — with many also choosing to homeschool — it leads to a lot of time in the house together. Sure, some kids will happily play in their room on their own while you take that Zoom meeting. Others, well, they need a bigger distraction. Enter the television or the tablet.
Why do some kids' TV shows keep your kiddo snuggled up and safe while others seem to turn your child into a mini daredevil, though? And what shows are more calming than others? It's actually easier to figure out than you might think.
What does it mean to be calm?
You might have already noticed this, but "calm" looks different in many families. In your aunt's family, a calm night was a night that didn't end with five boys in a fistfight or a Nerf gun breaking something valuable. Screaming, flying leaps, and the never-ending thunderous roar of feet across the floor? That's still calm for them. In your own house, however, a calm night meant dinner together at the table and then you, Mom, and Dad sitting down to watch the original Dr. Doolittle for the 10 millionth time.
Dr. Helen Egger, renowned child psychiatrist and co-founder of children's mental health app Little Otter, has a more precise definition of calm. "What does it mean for a child to be 'calm'?" Dr. Egger asks. "Being calm means being able to manage stressors, cope with challenges, and manage emotions, particularly big feelings."
Helping Kids Regulate Emotions
A big step in helping your child to stay "calm," in any sense of the word, is teaching them to recognize and regulate their emotions.
"Children need support to 'calm down' when they are feeling overwhelmed by big emotions and having difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors," shares Egger. "There are many ways that parents can support their child's emotional awareness and capacity to regulate their emotions and behaviors. These are skills that children learn as they grow. Helping children to identify their emotions and the emotions of others, manage negative emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, and understand that grownups accept and will validate their feelings will help children to learn to manage their emotions and behaviors appropriately.”
To that end, says Egger, "TV shows that focus on emotion identification, validation, and management will foster your child's capacity to be calm. Shows that focus on emotion awareness and emotion regulation will support a child's emotional development. The best shows focus on supporting the child's emotions, not overwhelming the child's emotions. They also consider the child's developmental capacities."
Is it OK to use television as a calming mechanism?
While some people might snub their nose at using screen time to help calm a child, there's real evidence that it can work. You may have even witnessed that evidence in your own home. Sometimes a screen is a great distraction when your child has become very worked up. That doesn't mean you aren't going to talk about how they're feeling; it just means you're helping them to decompress beforehand.
"Screen time to enable a child to calm down/to center is totally appropriate," says Egger. "On the other hand, it is not recommended that parents use TV shows to put children to sleep. Children should not have screens in their bedrooms. Screen use before bedtime is associated with children having more difficulty falling and staying asleep. Bedtime routines should focus on reading, singing, and cuddling. Children should not be put in front of the TV to fall asleep and then be carried to their beds. Just a note: Music and audiobooks can be calming, too!"
So, it's OK. But it's not the best.
"I just want to be clear that TV is not the best way to help children be calm or to calm down," says Egger. "However, there are certainly shows that are more calming than others. The best way to help your child be calm while watching shows is to watch with them, to sit together and engage together. This kind of shared enjoyment and co-regulation is how we help our kids develop healthy capacities to regulate emotions and manage stress and challenges."
How do you choose the perfect calming show?
While much of the journey to finding the right shows for your child will depend entirely on your child's behavior, Egger has some tips that might help.
"Shows that are loud and noisy, with flashing lights and colors, and have fast-moving, frenetic, and rapid-fire narratives are not calming," says Egger. "Shows that engage the child in activity might actually help a child to get their 'wiggles out' and become centered. This will depend on your child's temperament. Shows that engage the child in calming activities like breathing or yoga may also be calming. A lot of developmentally appropriate media content is designed to engage children's attention without overwhelming or overstimulating the child. Shows that are peaceful, gentle, and quiet will be more calming."
What are some examples of calming kids’ TV shows?
The idea is simple. "Calming" shows are a mix of shows that will capture your kid's interest without necessarily causing them to spiral into chaos as they recreate the drama on television. We love Paw Patrol (I guess), but our kid immediately hops up and starts reenacting the action. The following shows talk about emotions, as Egger recommends, and have an overall captivating vibe:
3. Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood
4. Elinor Wonders Why
5. Lily's Driftwood Bay
More Calming Kid’s Shows
- Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom
- Curious George
- Sesame Street
- Peppa Pig
- Ada Twist, Scientist
- Sarah & Duck
- Clifford The Big Red Dog
- Jessy and Nessy
- Tumble Leaf
- Super Why!
- Doc McStuffins
- Dinosaur Train
- Puffin Rock
- Care Bears
Take note, though; Egger says the most important part of choosing television shows is making sure the shows are developmentally appropriate.
"I do not think the dichotomy is between calming vs. energetic shows," she says. "I think what is most important is to recognize the benefits of developmentally appropriate shows vs. shows that are not developmentally appropriate and primarily created to sell products to kids. Lastly, just because a show says it is 'educational,' it may not be developmentally appropriate."
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