Talking to Preschoolers about What They’re Watching
As we’ve written about recently, one of the best ways children learn from screen time to ensure it has a real-world connection and application. If your child is teaching herself Mandarin by watching instructional videos, that real-world application and learning is obvious. But when she’s watching a movie or cartoon over the weekend, how do you help her translate the action onscreen into to off-screen learning?
By talking about it.
But how? Talking with kids, especially young kids, about the movies or shows they’re watching may feel daunting because their ability to articulate their thoughts seems limited. But it’s actually critical to do so — ages 3 to 5 is a great stage for reinforcing prosocial skills and instilling appropriate problem-solving mechanisms and responses.
The good news is, there’s really only one rule, when it comes to talking to kids about what they’re watching: Ask open-ended questions. This is important for two reasons: 1) open-ended questions enable more conversation than yes-or-no questions (“Did you like the movie?” is a conversation-stopper; once the kid answers one way or the other, there’s nothing left to say, and the conversation is over) and 2) open-ended questions allow children more leeway to introduce their own ideas, unencumbered by the adult’s expectations or prompting.
Still, at the end of a long day, it can feel like a lot of pressure to ask the right open-ended questions. (“What did you think of the video?” is open-ended, but it’s likely to die a quick death with an “It was OK.”) So here are some sample questions that you might ask 3- to 5-year-olds, questions that will get them thinking critically about themselves, others and the world around them:
How to talk to preschoolers about what they’re watching
- How do you think [one character] felt when [other character] did [something not nice]?
- Why do you think [that character] reacted that way?
- If you were her/him, what would you have done in that situation? Why? (You may need to prompt if the first answer is “I don’t know.” You can follow up with, “Would you have [x]? Would you have [y]?”)
- How did you feel when [something good/bad] happened?
- Who is your favorite character? What’s your favorite thing she did in the movie/show?
- What was your favorite part? What did you like about it?
- Was there anyone really mean in the movie? Why do you think that character behaved that way?
- Which character do you think is most similar to you? Why?
If you plant a few open-ended questions, occasionally follow up with a ‘why?’, and show an interest in engaging with your toddler about her favorite shows, you’re likely to find that she’s eager to chat. These conversations are a great opportunity to guide your child as she processes what she’s seen, and in doing so, reinforce your family’s values. Kids will watch TV, and some of it won’t be supervised or guided. But when it is, when parents can sit with kids while they’re watching and talk to them about what they’re seeing, kids are more likely to learn from screen time.