3 tips for cutting back on your child's screen time

We all know how hard it can be to limit screens. TVs, iPads, phones–in our pocket, in the car, at the store–it seems like screens are everywhere. And it’s true, they can sometimes be a convenient way to keep your child occupied. But it’s important to know that too much screen time can put a child at risk for a language delay.

Here’s just one example. A study on screen use assessed 1,000 toddlers. The researchers found a strong correlation between media consumption and language development–the more videos that toddlers watched, the fewer words they knew or said. In fact, for each additional hour of videos that young children consumed, they said on average six to eight fewer words. This really adds up over time!

With all the screens in our lives, it’s not easy to cut back. And it can be even more challenging to limit your child’s screen use if they’re already hooked on these devices. So let’s discuss 3 ways to cut back on screens–while also hopefully avoiding any meltdowns!

When you’re weaning your child off screens, it’s best to do it slowly. This way the change will feel gradual, not drastic. Set specific times of the day or week that your child can use screens. And stick to it! Once you begin following a schedule, it’s important to be consistent.

You can also try setting a timer during screen time. For kids, a timer they can see works best. This can be as simple as the timer on a smartphone. There’s an option with a circle that decreases as time runs down.

When the timer beeps, your child will know that screen time is over. Kids often respond more calmly when an object is telling them that time’s up, instead of their parent. You may need to remind your child that it’s time to stop, but overall, the transition should go more smoothly when you use a timer.

Tip number 2 is a fun one, because it simply involves playing more! Encourage your child to play as much as possible. Kids don’t need fancy, high-tech toys and gadgets to have fun. Even household items like stacking tupperware or an empty box can be great for your child’s imagination. Keep it fresh by trying new activities together. If you’re out of ideas, ask friends or family members with kids what they enjoy playing. Ask your child what they like to play, too. Do they have any ideas? This will help them get excited about actively playing rather than passively sitting in front of a screen.

A big bonus to play is that it’s a great chance for your child to learn and practice their communication skills. Plus, it gives the two of you some bonding time. It’s a win for everyone!

Now, this last tip might be tricky, but it’s an important one. Try to limit your own screen use in front of your child. Children notice when we’re on our devices, and if your child sees you on a phone all day, they’ll want to be on one, too. 

Plus, your phone use can actually affect your child’s speech and language development. For example, in one study, parents asked their child fewer questions when using a smartphone than when they weren’t distracted. Children were also less likely to ask their parent questions while their parent was looking at a screen.

In another study, researchers looked at how often parents talked with their children during mealtime when phones were at the table. When a parent was using a phone, they had 20 percent less communication with their child and 39 percent fewer nonverbal interactions, such as eye contact.

Over time, all of these missed interactions add up. They can affect our emotional connection with our children, as well as our kiddos’ communication development. So if you’re helping your child power down their screens, it’s best if you try to do the same thing.

Navigating screens isn’t easy, but these tips should help make for a smoother transition to less screen time. You’ll be supporting your child’s language development–and enjoying more quality time together, too. 

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