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The benefits of watching slow TV for kids, according to a former teacher

cute little girl watching tv - benefits of watching slow tv for kids
MIA Studio/Shutterstock

My 2-year-old had somehow developed a TV addiction. She had just undergone a major surgery which required her to stay put for two entire weeks—that’s how it started. I don’t know if you have ever tried to keep a toddler down without jumping, crashing, dancing or racing. But it’s next to impossible. And so we turned on the TV.

Soon after that two-week stint, I quickly discovered how certain fast-paced TV shows affected my toddler—and made her irritable. As a former elementary school teacher, I could tell that the quick scene changes, the bright flashing colors and lights, and the loud music was starting to wear on her. I started to notice that turning the TV off was met with one tantrum after another.

Even after her full recovery from surgery and once she was back to her normal self, the tantrums were escalating—and the only reason for it seemed to be our shift in screen time habits.

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I knew we needed a change.

That didn’t mean forgoing screen time altogether—but opting for slower-paced TV shows that wouldn’t cause my toddler to become overstimulated right after watching.

I started to really pay attention to the types of content my toddler was consuming—and seeing if watching slow TV was in fact more beneficial. Here’s what I learned.

What are signs of overstimulation?

First, it’s important to know the signs of overstimulation in kids. If you feel like the TV shows your child is watching may be causing them to become overstimulated, you may see them:

  • Acting more tired than usual

  • Becoming clumsy

  • Becoming bored more easily

  • Becoming fussy over food

  • Beginning to have a hard time verbalizing when they’re upset

  • Having increased tantrums

The benefits of watching slow TV for kids

Just like many things in parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to screen time. Where some kids are highly affected by the types of content they’re c onsuming, others may not be.

According to a study done by Common Sense Media, there is evidence that children who consume high-quality content on screens are more likely to develop strong executive functioning  skills.

But what is considered “high-quality content”? The study goes on to say that high-quality digital media content can be recognized as “engaging, actively involved, meaningful, socially interactive, and have a learning goal in mind.” It dawned on me that the shows I used to watch growing up embodied these content pillars.

It became my mission to find slower TV shows for my child to enjoy.

I chose to focus on these high-quality TV shows (find my favorites below) to help develop those executive functioning skills in my toddler, like planning, organization, and working memory.

What to look for in TV shows for kids?

Once you know what to look for, it can be obvious what shows are considered more gentle and calming. You’ll want to seek out shows that don’t have many rapid scene changes (look for ones that change only every 3 to 4 seconds), use more muted colors, have calm music in the background that isn’t playing over characters talking, and feature characters who your child can relate to.

I also found that shows with segments or characters who are real—rather than cartoons and puppets—were soothing and more beneficial to my toddler’s mood after watching.

When you make the switch to slower TV shows, you’ll find yourself more willing to take a break with your little one and relax with them. They just make you go, “Aaaah” (said in a deep sigh).

A secret weapon to finding slow TV shows for kids

A secret weapon I have started to use when looking for slower TV shows is very simple: Go back to the television shows of my childhood. Some of my favorites we can watch together and really connect.  I love that most of these shows feature a slower pace, calm music and include important lessons for kids to learn.

Our favorite slow TV shows for kids

While there many slow TV show favorites on our list these days, you can’t go wrong with these options:

  • “Little Bear”: Paramount+

  • “Franklin”: Prime Video

  • “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”: Prime Video

  • “Stinky & Dirty”: Prime Video

  • “Tumble Leaf”: Prime Video

  • “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”: PBS Kids

  • “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”: PBS Kids

  • “Elinor Wonders Why”: PBS Kids

  • “Through the Woods”: PBS Kids

  • “Puffin Rock”: Netflix

  • “Trash Truck”: Netflix

  • “Get Rollin’ With Otis”: Apple TV

  • “Frog & Toad”: Apple TV

  • “Bear in the Big Blue House”: Disney+

How to make the switch to slow TV shows

There are several streaming services and networks that are paying close attention and creating these gentler shows for our kids. But at first, you may find some backlash from your little ones.

I started creating a TV Show Menu for my toddler to use during her screen time. Every few weeks I would make a visual menu of six TV shows I felt comfortable with her watching that fit my high-quality guidelines. She could pick any show off of that menu to choose from.

This cut down on seeing all of the choices available on streaming services, but still gave her control for which show she wanted to pick off the menu.

Slow TV encourages creativity

Something these calmer TV shows have in common is that they all encourage imagination, creativity, problem solving and exploration. They will actually inspire your child to try new things in their play and with their friends.

Use these characters to extend imaginative play, copy favorite games or adventures they go on, incorporate books with these characters into your home, and find ways to engage with these characters—both on and off the screen.