There are some awesome experiences in life you’d happily re-live over and over again. The time your footy team scored the last-minute try to clinch the grand final, that amazing curry on Newtown’s King Street, or that boozy night-out with the lads (now, sadly, the best part of 10 years ago).
On the list of ‘things you’d happily experience time and time again’, watching kids movies ranks only marginally higher than a drink with Kevin Spacey.
On a recent long-haul return flight, for example, my four-year-old discovered The Boss Baby. Eighteen – yes, 18 – viewings later we arrived back on home soil, and since then he’s watched it another 10 times.
“Would you like to watch something else?” we asked with increasing desperation. “No thanks, The Boss Baby please!”
And, just for clarity: “I love The Boss Baby.”
Whether it’s The Boss Baby (which is actually pretty good … first time round) or Peppa Pig’s Australian Holiday (which isn’t), the repeat watching of particular movies or TV shows is a scenario that’s common to almost every parent. As is the accompanying levels of frustration (ranging from a deflated “Oh, not again” to “If I have to watch that movie again I’ll f*cking scream!”) depending on what your child’s become addicted to.
For my son, every viewing is more enjoyable than the last. For me, it’s a form of animated torture. Funny, that.
Repetition is the best way to learn
Since we discovered The Boss Baby, the movie’s been a regular topic of conversation. Different aspects of the story are mentioned and discussed in (relative) depth.
It’s usually along the lines of “Dad, why did Boss Baby nearly get a dummy up his bum?” rather than an insightful dissection of the intricacies of the plot, but still it’s a good conversation to have.
But why? From the day they arrive on earth, kids are learning. And repetition is the best way for them to learn and master new things. Practice makes perfect? Damn straight. A 2011 study demonstrated that kids learn better when something is read over and over to them again, and repetition is a key component of all learning, for adults too.
In the case of movies and TV shows, depending on the type of show they’re obsessed with, they could be trying to get a greater understanding of the plot (“Dad, why does Boss Baby have a phone?”), perfect dance moves (“Dad, can you point your fingers and do The Twist?”) or learn the words to songs (“Dad, listen: Let it go, let it go.”)
I will if you will…
Once they’ve developed a greater understanding of a skill they want to keep practising it. When they feel able they’ll begin sharing it to show you that they’ve begun to master it. So they’ll keep watching. And watching. And watching.
One Aussie Netflix viewer watched Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted 352 times in 2017. (Although we are only assuming it was a child. It could’ve been Ben Stiller.)
You’ll notice that the more they watch a particular movie they will increasingly pre-empt what’s going to happen. They love doing this. They’re not competing for spoiler-alert champion of the year, but demonstrating that they’ve ‘got this’.
And it’s not just things on TV they get obsessed by.
Choosing the same book 10 nights in a row isn’t uncommon, nor is doing the same jigsaw, playing the same games or carrying out the same role-playing scenarios. The same reasoning applies. Practice makes perfect.
Watch it with them (even on the 25th viewing)
While hanging out with your kids on the couch is a good (if low-impact) bonding experience, it’s tempting to leave them in front of the TV to enjoy their favourite show (for the umpteenth time) themselves, leaving you some time to do well … anything else.
Unfortunately, your presence while they’re watching a movie or program is important for their development. Research showed that kids learn more from watching TV when their parents are present rather than alone.
You being there increases the perceived importance of what they’re watching, and encourages them to take more in. So you’ve got to stick with it.
If you’re really at your wit’s end with Thomas the Tank Engine or Peppa Pig, read a book or do some work on your laptop, but remain present.
But get in early when the pick is on. It’s a given your child’s going to get obsessed with some book or movie, so introduce them to ones that they’ll learn from, or you’ll enjoy watching many times over like Toy Story or to a much lesser extent Cars.
So just one question. At what age is The Godfather deemed kid-friendly?