Developing Screen Time Routines
These days it’s to be expected that toddlers will have at least some screen time, and that’s okay! Phones and tablets are a part of everyday family life and can be included in a healthy lifestyle for your child. Guidelines from The American Academy of Pediatrics include encouraging parents with children under 18 months to limit screen exposure to opportunities for interaction like video chatting. For toddlers over age two, guidelines include limiting screen time to around one hour a day of high-quality programming that you watch together. This is a great opportunity for interactive viewing such as music, stories, or movement. By watching together, you are there to answer questions and help them relate what they are seeing to their real life.
The key is to decide what type of screen time is right for your child and your family and to create a routine around that so your toddler will know what to expect. Finding out what works for your little ones takes time and experimentation - some kids will watch a few videos and then be done, while others may need encouragement to move on to a new activity.
Apps are engaging - they’re designed to keep your attention, so young children can’t be expected to self-regulate the amount of time they spend on electronic devices. You’re the most important factor in setting healthy screen time habits in your home! Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to set your toddlers up for success when it comes to screen time routines.
How to set up healthy screen time routines
Set a good example
Do you open Candy Crush any time you have a moment? Your child notices this and will want to imitate you. Model healthy screen use, and when you’re spending time with your kids, give them your full attention. This is easier said than done for many of us. By putting down your screen and paying attention to your child, you are letting them know they are important to you. You want to hear what they are saying, and you want to share their experience. Remember you are your toddler’s whole world. The choices you make about where your attention rests have lasting impacts.
Have clear limits
Be clear about when and for how long screens are to be used. Rules like no screens during meals or an hour before bedtime help you underline the importance of face to face interaction and conversation. Give them a set amount of time during the day, and give them notice when the end of that time is approaching (ex: If they are allowed 20 minutes on a tablet after lunch, give them a 5-minute warning so they know this time is coming to an end).
Encourage free play
Keep in mind that playtime is more valuable for your child’s developing brain than watching electronic media. Children learn through their interactions with you and their environment. When they are curious they are learning. Help your kids explore and play by encouraging them to engage with their environment and find new things to do. This might mean playing with old toys in new ways, building a fort, or using kitchen pots and pans as musical instruments. When your little one is busy playing in creative ways, support them by giving them encouragement and asking them to tell you what they’re doing. When you join in the fun, it shows your toddler that you value spending time with them. Since children learn through their interactions with you, it is a great opportunity to expand their language by describing what is happening by using lots of descriptive words. When you can sense that your child is done playing with their musical pots and pans, you can gently introduce a new toy or activity before they can ask for electronics or say they’re bored.
Your child might whine or throw a tantrum when you tell them screen time is over, and that is a normal response! Transitioning from an enjoyable activity may bring up some difficult feelings. You can help your toddler by naming their feelings, and giving them boundaries. Be consistent and firm, and if you need to, remove the electronics from the situation and try to engage them in the new activity. Saying something like “I know it’s frustrating, but screen time is over now. Why don’t we play with blocks together?” will help them identify that they feel frustrated, regulate those emotions, and move on to another activity. At the end of the day, a mix of active play, calm play, rest/sleep, and screen time all go together to create your child's routine, and all contribute to helping your child learn and grow in different ways!
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