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Screen-Free Week, Day 3: Sick Day Struggle

It's challenging enough to keep kids happy when they're feeling ill. But it becomes even more difficult when you can't rely on television to keep them content.

When I wrote about Screen-Free Week for Metro Parent, we asked three families to do the challenge in March and interviewed them about their experience. All three said they struggled with an unexpected snow day that kept the kids home from school.

In fact, one of the families quit the challenge altogether that day, and I can totally understand why. It was a situation where the mom, Allia, had to get permission to work from home so she could watch her 7-year-old son, Jordan, for whom they had no other child care option.

Allia has a stressful job in public relations and had to stay logged in putting out fires all day. Jordan is an only child so there was no one else for him to play with, and the bitter cold prevented him from going outside. To make matters worse, the family had just moved into a new home and many of Jordan's toys were still packed away.

"He had read books, drawn pictures, done cutouts, played with the dog. I didn't have anything else for him to do," Allia told me for the article. "I hit the wall."
Allia turned on the TV and called off the challenge four days in.

I thought of Allia today (day four of our own Screen-Free Week) because our 5-year-old daughter is sick and has to stay home from school. Yet I volunteered to help the gym teacher with that ongoing golf unit for a few hours this morning, as well as stuff the kindergarten teacher's Friday Folders. Not to mention all my deadlines.

My husband works from home so he'll be here to watch her, but I can foresee the boredom and frustration that's bound to set in.

I am ashamed to confess that sick days for my children normally mean binge watching … hour after hour of shows, video games, movies, anything to keep them resting in one place. Am I alone in this? I hope not!

Without screens, what will she do today? Especially if I'm gone and my husband is in Allia's position, trying to juggle the demands of his job with distributing medicine, making meals and coming up with screen-free activities that can be done on the couch.

Here's my plan: I'm going to pack a lunch as if she were going to school, which she can eat "camping out" in the living room. That should fill up almost an hour since she eats slow. I will also stuff an activity bag with coloring books, art paper, crayons, markers, scissors and glue. I will stack some of her favorite books on the table next to the couch, including that set of audio Disney books that uses a device that looks like a smartphone – almost a screen!

Outside of that, we'll just have to have a talk with her about keeping busy in quiet ways, but even if she wants to play with her dolls, Calico Critters, or tea set it means one of us has to fetch everything and set it up for her, then put it all away.

Unfortunately that is what's great about virtual babysitters. You just press a button and the kids are occupied for hours. (I'm a terrible mom!)

Well, this is what parenting is all about, being adaptive, flexible and always available regardless of how you foresaw your day, your week or your life! Didn't I read somewhere that the average parent is "interrupted" by their children every three minutes? It's terrible to think of our children as interruptions, and Screen-Free Week is designed to flip our perception so we recognize that media is the true intrusion.

But in the days of 'working from home,' it's nearly impossible to balance job and family and do a good job with either one. Let alone preserve our own sanity.

Anyway, I'll only be gone for a few hours and tomorrow is another day.

Let's just hope she can go back to school!

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