There is a lot of information out there about why you should limit screen time for your children (impacts on sleep, decreased attention skills, behavior issues, and ties to delayed speech and language skills – see Wallace, Kelly). Few resources offer suggestions on how to do this.

Parents may feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the thought of it. As a speech-language pathologist and mother of two young children, we’ve recently implemented simple and effective strategies for reducing screen time.  

 

Here’s what works for us (even in winter):

1. Create a “chore checklist.”

It doesn’t have to be fancy, but add pictures if your children can’t read. I drew ours, but you can use your printer if you prefer. All chores need to be completed before screen time.

Our list stays on our fridge and my son moves a magnet up for each “job” he completes. Some tasks are easy, like “eat breakfast” and “play and read.” Others require more effort: “make your bed.”

When he asks to watch a show, I show him what jobs need to be completed before he’s allowed. This has eliminated a lot of whining. For some children, a simple “first / then” visual may be more appropriate.

Stick with it and your child will quickly understand the process.

2. Use Choices

Be ready to offer other suggestions when your child asks to watch a show or use their device. Control what your child watches by offering them a choice of better quality programs/more educational apps.

Be prepared to shut the device off as soon as the allotted time is over and offer a new choice, “now you can play or read books.”

3. Don’t forget YOUR value

Marketing will make it seem like your child can learn more from an app, but nothing is more beneficial than engaging with you. (Apel, Kenn; Masterson, Julie)

4. Keep Things Fresh.

Hide toys in a closet and rotate them with ones you keep out.  Our library offers theme bags.  We can essentially check out new toys whenever we want and then return them.  

Put together a craft drawer (it can simply be markers, paper, tape, and stickers).  When you are desperate, make something messy.  

Change your scenery. A simple trip to to the grocery store might be enough.

5. Model decreased screen time.

Keep the TV off as much as possible.  Read books in front of your children to show them this is a worthy way to pass the time. (Eliot, Lisa. 1999)

Spend time with your children without your phone in your hand.

6. Encourage independent play.

Keep developmentally appropriate puzzles, toys, and books within reach and your children will use them.

7. Music.

Make it, play it, dance to it.
 
If you are looking to make adjustments in how and when your children get screen time, stay consistent to establish new routines and your child will quickly learn the expectations.  Little changes now can lead to big improvements later in your child’s life.
References

Apel, Kenn; Masterson, Julie.(2012). Beyond Baby Talk From Speaking to Spelling: A Guide to Language and Literacy Development for Parents and Caregivers. New York, NY. Three Rivers Press.

Eliot, Lisa. (1999). What’s going on in there? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. New York, NY. Bantam Books.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, November 18). Screen Time and Your Children–How to Guide Your Child. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/screen-time/art-20047952

Wallace, Kelly. (2017, May 4). Letting Children Play on an iPad Might Lead to Speech Delays, Study Says. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/04/health/babies-acre en-time-speech-delays-study/index.html

Image Credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Jennifer Houch

Jennifer Houch

Speech-Language Pathologist

I equip children with the tools needed to increase their speech and language skills so they can reach their full potential socially and academically.

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