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I recently wrote about why we should think twice about letting small children watch TV and I got feedback from a lot of parents saying that they know that TV time is not good for their kids, but they have no alternative. Sometimes it seems that TV is the only solution for getting some quiet time in the house and allowing parents to do other chores or just get some rest. And finding solutions about how to reduce screen time is not so easy!
This is why I decided to gather here some ideas that could help you to reduce screen time for your kids or even to eliminate it completely if you have young kids (under 3). Our son is now 3 years old and he is not watching TV at all, but occasionally he has some screen time using our phones or my tablet. I try to reduce any kind of screen time as much as possible because I know that at his age there are a lot of other activities that are much more beneficial and can help him develop his creativity and learn new things. If you want to reduce or to eliminate the screen time for your kids, I hope that the ideas on the below list will help you do this because I truly believe it is worth the effort.
If your child is used to a lot of screen time every day it could be difficult to make a drastic chance immediately. So the best way to start is to reduce the time spent in front of screens and to improve the quality of the programs. In my opinion, watching TV is the worst form of screen time. There are a lot of inappropriate programs on the TV and there are usually accompanied by lots of commercials, so the negative effects on children’s development are easy to understand.
If you don’t want to eliminate screen time completely, you could try to make a better selection of the programs. There are some easy changes that can have a very good impact on the child:
– replacing the time spent watching cartoons on TV with time spent watching animation movies on DVDs: the difference is that you have full control over the content, you can easily monitor the time spent in front of the screen (example: the child is allowed to watch a short movie on DVD per day; it is easier for the parent to end the screen time when the DVD ends instead of ending it when the child watches a cartoon program)
– replacing the time spent watching movies on Youtube with time spent using a learning app: the movies on Youtube are a popular choice for a lot of parents but they have some big disadvantages like the lack of control and the commercials. Also, the time spent on Youtube is a passive time because the child only watches movies without being engaged in any way. So if you still want to allow screen time in front of a computer (or tablet) it is better to purchase a quality app with some educational content instead of just letting your child watch movies on Youtube.
The two alternatives mentioned below imply some costs for buying the DVDs or the apps, but in time I totally think these investments are really worth the effort.
Replacing TV time or Youtube time with better alternatives is the first step, but using better options doesn’t mean that the child can spend hours in front of the screen without negative effects. So the next step would be reducing the screen time. The truth is that this step could be difficult for parents too because it’s more challenging to handle a child when he is not watching TV. The good part is that the benefits of reducing screen time are really important and you could see an overall improvement in your relationship with your child once you start to reduce screen time.
You can even make a schedule with your child and decide together how much screen time is allowed every day. For example, if your child is having now 3 hours of screen time daily you can gradually reduce it to two hours, then only one hour and so on, following a schedule you agree in advance. Because most of the arguing and crying is related to the moment when the child must stop the screen time, you can set together an alarm on your phone to let you both know when the time is gone. (Example: if you want to allow your child 30 minutes on the tablet, you can set an alarm after 25 minutes. When the alarm rings you inform the child that he only has 5 minutes left and you snooze the alarm. When the alarm rings again it’s time to end the screen time.)
Enforcing rules can be difficult at the beginning, but I am a great fan of respecting rules and, most of all, teaching kids how to respect them, so I think firm rules about screen time can be a solution. If the child has a difficult time understanding the limit, you would need to be supportive and help him manage this frustration by explaining him over and over again why this rule is necessary. After a time, you will see that it will no longer be difficult for him to follow the rule.
One of the most important things about all the rules we decide to implement in our home is being consistent about them. To really make a change is essential to know how to reduce screen time for long-term and how to find a way to adjust the daily schedule to this change.
I read a lot of articles about reducing screen time, but they were all focused on activities that parents can do with children instead of letting them watch TV. From my point of view, the problem is not that the parents don’t know what other activities they can do, but that they need some time for doing chores or resting, so some play ideas aren’t really helpful.
This is why I decided to show you a different approach on how you can reduce or eliminate screen time and still be able to do chores or have some quiet moments. Here are some ideas for reducing screen time for kids that could allow you to do your things too:
It may seem very difficult at the beginning, especially if the child is not used to it, but I can assure you from our own experience that it’s possible to involve even young kids in daily chores. Sometimes they aren’t really able to help, but at least you can keep them busy giving them some tasks and allowing them to be part of everything you do.
Example: When you cook you can ask your child to help you with some simple tasks: giving you ingredients, mixing them, washing dishes. If you have a young child who cannot help very much you can just make a dough from water and flour and allow him to play with it on the kitchen table while you cook.
Many of us are telling our kids about the negative impact of too much screen time, but we spend several hours daily in front of our phone screens, TVs or laptops. This is why I believe that for really teaching our kids to avoid too much time on screens it’s important to be ourselves good examples for them.
One good idea for reducing screen time in the family is to make a common effort that will imply that all the family members should reduce the time they spend in front of the TV or the laptop. The kids will certainly be happy to have more quality time with mom and dad and setting this example could really make them want to do it too.
To return to some more practical ways of reducing (or even eliminating) screen time, one of the most useful ideas is to use audio-books with stories for children. They don’t have the negative effects of the screens but still can keep the kids engaged for a long time. If you don’t want to spend money on audiobooks, you can borrow them from the library. So you can have a lot of new audiobooks every week for free.
I wrote before about all those articles with play ideas for parents to try with their kids instead of letting them watch TV and I promised to focus on ideas that encourage independent play and allow the parents to have some time for their own schedule. Here you can find four ideas of special activities that you can try with your child instead of screen time.
The main rule of “special activities” is that they are not available for the child on a regular basis. This makes them more interesting and allows kids to focus more on them when they get the chance to have them. To implement “special activities” you need some special boxes that you will keep in a storage and you will only give to your child on particular moments when you need time for yourself or for doing some chores more rapidly.
These activities are far more beneficial than screen time and you only need to prepare them once and then use them anytime you need.
1. The quiet time box – this is a box containing toys, books or activities that your child likes; you can choose to put in it whatever you think that will keep your child busy for a long time (I use often activity books, stickers, puzzles and little games)
2. The sensory tray – this box contains a sensory activity; depending on your child’s age you can make different trays (there are a lot of great ideas on Pinterest, I like most the sensory trays with a lot of rice and other small items that the child needs to search in the tray)
3. The special Lego time – almost all the kids I know like Lego, so your child probably does too. If so, you can choose a special Lego set, put it in a separate box and offer it to your child only on particular moments
4. The kinetic sand box – another idea that can keep kids busy for long periods of time is a box full of kinetic sand and some tools for it. (this can become a messy activity for young kids, so it’s better if you can either try it on the terrace or in the backyard).
I hope that all these ideas would be useful for you and will help you find ways of reducing the screen time or even eliminating it. I already have two friends who have tried these ideas and had great results, so I truly believe they could make a change!
If you have any other ideas, I would be glad to find them out and add them to the list!