The beginner's guide to buying children's DVDs

There comes a time in most parents lives when they have to admit that, despite what the prophets of doom say, TV is not always a bad thing and in fact children's videos/DVDs could be up there with lightweight buggies as their favourite parenting invention.

It's true, all children sometimes watch too much TV, but it can often be educational, it can certainly be entertaining and it can definitely give a worn out parent a well-earned rest. Plus, at least with a video or DVD, you know how long it will last and there are no adverts.

So, guilt trip over, how do you go about choosing a video/DVD to suit your child? 

Babies

If someone had told you when you were pregnant with your first child that you would stick them in front of the TV before they could even crawl you probably wouldn't have believed them. But nowadays most video stores will have a veritable shelf-full of DVD entertainment tailor-made for the non verbal child, so there's plenty of educational material available - and you can convince yourself that you are enhancing your child's chances of a place at university, while indulging in a bit of downtime.

As with books, attention spans are short and babies' tastes vary wildly, but look out for lots of colour, movement, repetition... imagine a televisual mobile and that's the stuff that seems to work best. Having said that, you could argue that the first few months of a baby's TV life could also be the perfect time to catch up on all your missed episodes of Sex and the City - colour, movement, repetition - it might not get your baby into university, but at least they'll have interesting dress sense. 

Toddlers

Most toddlers love watching television and soon start to develop a taste for what they like. The good/bad news is that once they like something, they tend to like it a lot and want to see it over and over and over, "again again". On the positive side this means you don't need to buy that many videos. On the negative side there are only so many times you can watch Scoop save the day without wanting to melt Scoop down for scrap.

All the parenting books say sit and watch the video with your child and talk about what's going on and this is, of course, a top idea. But back in the real world this is the age where a well-chosen video can be a reward while you make a phone call, open the post, go to the loo - and all those other things you never have time to do.

Some children will happily sit and watch Apocalypse Now with no obvious side effects (though we don't recommend you test them out!) for others the sight of Thomas the Tank Engine coming off the rails is enough to send them into a decline. So it's worth being aware that at this age children have very varied fear thresholds. Don't tell them they're silly.

Do try and talk about why things upset them and don't make them watch anything that's likely to disturb them at night (for your sake as much as theirs). Having said that there's no accounting for taste - we know many two year olds who love Monsters Inc - especially the scary bits. 

Ages 3-5

If you haven't already, this is the age to introduce some of that learning is fun stuff - not only will it make you feel all virtuous but it's good preparation for school. Plus at this age they love to show off their knowledge and it's amazing what they can learn from the small screen.

Children of this age will also start to identify heavily with the characters on the screen - so thank goodness for happy endings and morals in stories. The Disney ethic of the bad guys always getting their just desserts and the good guys coming out on top may jar after a while, but children seem to like this kind of world and let's face it, it beats real life.

You will have a definite feel by now of your child's interests, what scares her or excites her and you'll be able to choose videos accordingly. However, it's also a good time to try and interest your child in your favourite oldie film, or pick one of the newer ones from the survey with a nutshell that says works well on both adult and child level.

As with toddlers, the ability to watch the same film over and over seems to increase rather than decrease at this age, so you might as well choose something you're both going to enjoy. 

Age 5 and over

By this stage tastes are well formed and children are certainly old enough to say what they will and won't watch. The things that are likely to concern you are peer pressure - your child wanting to watch films you deem unsuitable but that other people at school have seen - or the fact that given a choice they would watch DVDs to the exclusion of doing almost anything else, both tricky parenting dilemmas that each family needs to resolve in their own way.

If you need any tips or advice on dealing with this age group or any of the others, why not visit Talk and ask a group of folks who are bound to have some useful suggestions - other Mumsnet members. 

What Mumsnet members said:

(A sprinkling of the more pertinent comments about choosing a video/DVD from some of our members).

"Don't get too hung up on how much TV your child watches, but do be aware of what they're watching and how it might affect them. I am constantly amazed at the things my children have learnt from TV and by the bizarre things that seem harmless to me but that really disturb them."

"Do choose films you think you might enjoy. Some of the Disney Pixar stuff is really very funny for adults - even on the one hundredth viewing. We literally wore out our video of Monsters Inc, but I still love it."

"Don't forget you can always start a DVD pool with your antenatal group friends. That way you can freshen up your collection regularly and try before you buy."

"There's no shame in letting movies/videos whet a child's appetite for a book (rather than vice versa). Many a child didn't realise that Matilda was a book before videos were invented, but has since enjoyed it, and gone on to discover other Roald Dahl treasures."

Last updated: over 1 year ago