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Limited time: The 5-step strategy to setting effective limits with your child
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Inside: Have you ever wondered how to limit screen-time without a struggle? These 5 easy rules helped us handle technology without power struggles and find a healthy balance for screen time. I hope that they will inspire you too!
A few days ago I witnessed a conversation that remained in my mind the whole day. I was sitting on a bench watching my son play and next to me there were 2 other moms who talked about how they handle screen time for their kids.
And their opinions couldn’t be more different!
One of the moms had strict rules about screen time. Her child was only allowed to watch TV for half an hour a day and was only allowed to play on the tablet for a short time during the weekends. She said that this often leads to power struggles but it also protects her child from all the negative effects of too much screen time.
The other mom had 2 kids and they were allowed to spend time in front of screens anytime they want. There were no limits and no power struggles. But she confessed that it was often hard to see them “glued” to the screens for a long period of time. She said that although her kids spend time in front of screens on a regular basis they also spend enough time playing and she doesn’t feel that her decision to not limit screen time has ever affected them in a negative way.
For a while, both moms kept bringing up arguments that sustained their decisions. It was a very interesting conversation to hear and it determined me to write about our approach to screen times.
Because here is the truth: It’s not easy to find a balanced way to deal with screen time.
There is no “right way” that applies to all kids. On one side, we know that too much screen time comes with negative effects that affect kids in the long run. Studies show that limiting screen time can help kids behave, sleep, and learn better.
On the other side, our kids live in a world where technology plays a huge role and we cannot ignore this. If used right, screen time can also bring benefits and help kids learn new things.
Why we decided to limit screen time
In our case, screen time can impact my son’s behavior in a negative way and I’ve noticed this several times in the past. So I knew that I need to limit screen time but I also wanted to do this without unnecessary power struggles.
My son didn’t use screens at all before the age of 2 (with some very rare exceptions when he would see a short homemade video on my phone).
At some point when he was around 2 and a half he had a bad case of bronchiolitis and we had to do a 10-minute aerosol treatment every 4 hours. Hoping to make things easier for both of use I allowed him to watch Youtube videos for kids during the treatment.
This worked at first but it soon turned out to be a very bad idea. He started to throw tantrums or easily get angry after the screen time sessions and it was clear to me that my decision was a mistake. So despite his strong protests, I stopped playing the Youtube videos.
Until he turned 3 he didn’t spend time in front of screens on a regular basis. He never watched cartoons at home, he never played on a tablet, and he would only rarely play with my phone or watch videos of himself.
I never felt like he is missing something because of this. On the contrary, I think that it helped him have more focus while playing with his toys and find creative ways to deal with boredom.
After he turned 3 we started to slowly add different screen time activities into his schedule. At first, he only had one app on my tablet that had educational activities. He used it from time to time but most of the days he wouldn’t spend any time in front of screens.
After he turned 4 we started to have family movie nights on a regular basis and he loved them! We use Prime Video to find great movies for our movies night and we enjoy them together.
A few months ago someone recommended us the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood series on Prime Video and we gave it a try. My son loved it from the first episode and I enjoy it a lot as well!
Now my son is 5 and his screen time means either playing a few educational games on my tablet or watching a movie with us or an episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” (on Amazon) or “If I were an animal” (on Netflix).
We managed to find a good balance when it comes to screen time and even if I always try to limit it we don’t have to deal with unnecessary power struggles.
The 5 rules that helped us find a healthy balance for screen time
I will start by saying that I don’t think that our approach is better than others. Each child is unique and every parent has different opinions on how screen time should look like for their kids.
But if you are looking for a balanced way to deal with screen time I hope that you’ll find some good inspiration here. These 5 easy rules helped us handle screen time without struggles and for us, it was the best way to deal with technology.
1. Carefully select the programs that your child has access to.
I’m convinced that the negative effects that screens have on kids are highly influenced by the quality of the programs that the children have access to.
We only choose apps and programs without commercials and with a clearly defined content. We cannot control what the kids see during cartoon commercials or what movies they get to see while navigating on Youtube. On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to get high-quality content if we select good educational apps or choose recommended programs on Prime Video or Netflix.
At this point, when my son is 5, he has access to 3 apps on my tablet (the one that he uses the most is Lingokids, a great educational app for young kids) and 2 series (a cartoon series on Prime Video and a documentary series on Netflix). We also have a few movies on DVDs and some on Prime Video that we watch on family movie nights. His favorite movie is “Inside Out” and we watched it maaaany times at movie night.
2. Don’t use screen time as punishments or rewards
We don’t use any punishments or rewards with our son because we prefer to use positive discipline strategies. But some time ago I had an experience that showed me the negative effects of using screen time as punishments or rewards and I want to share this tip with you.
You can find the whole story here. If you are dealing with power struggles about screen time you might find some helpful answers in that post.
3. Discuss with the child about the effects of screen time on their brain.
A conversation about the effects of screen time can be a very powerful way to convince kids why limits are important.
Here is a great article written by Kelly from Happy You Happy Family where she offers a very helpful trick for limiting screen time. The conversation that she shares in the article can be a great inspiration on how to discuss this topic with your child.
I used her approach with my son and he loved the idea of “Brain Food” and “Junk Food”. This approach helps me explain to him why we don’t watch certain things on TV or why we don’t download certain apps.
4. Pay attention to the moment of the day when the child spends time in front of screens and set the rules in advance.
We don’t have strict rules or times for screen time but I do follow two rules:
- My son is not allowed to use screens in the first part of the morning. That time of the day is the one when his brain is the most active and receptive and I want him to use that time making something creative or learning through play.
- Also, he is not allowed to spend time in front of screens before bedtime. This makes him more agitated and grumpy and makes bedtime a lot harder for all of us. The only exception to this rule is family movie night.
We both agreed on these rules so we don’t have any struggles about them.
Also, anytime when my son asks me to give him my tablet or allow him to watch an episode on the TV we sat down and agree on what he wants to do and how much time he needs to spend in front of screens.
It’s a lot easier to agree on a rule beforehand than to try to convince him to handle me the tablet while he is playing. He knows that rules are important and that I need to be able to trust his word so he usually holds his promise and returns the tablet after the agreed time.
Setting a timer on the tablet is the easiest way to keep track of the time without the need to constantly remind him when he needs to return the tablet.
5. Use connection to end screen time without power struggles
Sometimes he wants to play more and I let him do this because I think that flexibility is important. But there are also times when I know that I need to set a firm limit.
For those cases I use the approach that Lauren shared on her blog. The idea behind her approach is very simple and effective: children are more likely to listen if they feel connected to us. The same thing happens when we try to gain the child’s cooperation for ending screen time.
Lauren’s approach worked great for us and I’m sure that it can help you too!
More tips and ideas on how to limit screen time
I hope that the ideas in this article will help you find a balanced way to handled screen time for your kids. These 5 rules made things easier and more peaceful for us and they helped me find the balance that I was looking for.
If you are looking for more tips and ideas about screen time, here is some additional inspiration:
- How to reduce screen time for kids (and what to do instead)
- Why you should think twice about letting young children watch TV.
>> Want to remember this? Share these ideas to your favorite Pinterest board!
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