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How to Avoid Your Kid's Video Game Meltdowns

Video games have come a long way since the days when we were just trying to gobble up dots and steer clear of four pesky ghosts. Now they're 10 times as complex—just look at all the buttons on the joystick, ahem, controller. Story lines are far more elaborate. And a kid's desire to play just a little bit longer? Infinite. So how do you get your child to put the controller down? Our parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman received an email from a concerned school official dealing with just such a dilemma. Here's Rosalind's advice for putting playtime in its place.

Dear Rosalind:

I am an elementary school counselor, and so many parents have asked me for guidance on enforcing rules about video games. They don’t have problems setting the rules, but with enforcing them without meltdowns. What’s your advice?

Maybe some of you reading this have kids who follow your rules about games. Maybe some of you have kids who never argue or, worse, pretend not to hear you, when you say, “Your game time is up.” But for those of you who don’t, this is what I try to keep in mind.

Meltdowns are going to happen when your child stops playing a video game. As a parent, expect it and don't take it personally. Don't get annoyed. Don't think your child is insane. He’s going from fighting monsters or competing in a world championship sports event to… sitting on the couch listening to his parent nag him about going over his screen time limits. Come to think of it, maybe our kids get into fights with us in these moments to continue the adrenaline rush.

When my boys disconnect, I give them about 10 minutes to be grumpy, rude, butt heads. They don't get a free pass to be brats or say something personally horrible to me or about me. ("I hate you" doesn't count as horrible. That's a standard thing for your children to say and also should not be taken personally.) You should expect that they will lie (or be in denial) about how long they've played or argue with you about how much longer their sibling has been playing and how unfair the whole thing is. This is because they truly feel that they have been playing for only a few minutes and that their sibling(s) has hogged the controllers. Their passion fuels their justification about how unfair the situation is, which in turn fuels their belief that they are justified in being obnoxious brats.

Here’s how I try to manage myself so they don’t drag me into their tantrums: When I come into the house and they're gaming, I try not to greet them with, "How long have you been playing?" (which, to be honest, is not a question—it's an accusation) or "You better get off in 10 minutes" or "Have you walked the dog yet?" (again, an accusation). Instead—and this is very hard—I go in, say hi and let them play for 10 more minutes. Then I come back, tell them to pause the game and ask them about homework, the dog, cleaning the kitchen, etc. If they don’t pause the game after one warning, I do turn it off because that’s in our rules. (Rule #7: “I’ll pause the game within one minute after being told my time is up. If I don’t comply, I understand that my parent will turn off the screen so that any unsaved progress I lose will be because of my actions, not because my mom turned off the screen.”)

I have found that no matter what rules I have about food, leaving dirty socks on the floor or placing the cushions back on the couch, my kids still violate all of them. I don’t think I have ever come into the room where they play games and not found several dirty socks lying around. But when they stop playing, they have to clean up the space. Nothing happens until they clean up that room.

Bottom line: Don’t take their behavior personally. Don’t think they’re insane or game addicts. And don't let them get you into a bad mood, stomping around the house resenting them. Stay strong, keep calm, and when in doubt you can always hide the controllers in the laundry room.

What rules do you place on video games in your house? Post a comment and tell me. 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.