Thursday, January 18, 2018

Therapy Tip: 5 Ways to Break Screen Time

It's Therapy Thursday! This is the day that I share a tip based upon my experience as a mother of a child with special needs and a pediatric speech-language pathologist.

Last week, I shared how screen time needs to be avoided in toddlers, especially those with language delays. If you missed that post that shared the recommended screen time guidelines and why screen time isn't great, then CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

Today's tip is a follow-up post from last week:

5 Ways to Reduce Screen Time in Toddlers

You may realize that your toddler or young child may be getting too much screen time via the family's television, phone, or IPad. However, you may not have an idea of how to lessen the child's time on screens. Change doesn't take place overnight. It also doesn't happen by chance. Careful planning and adjustments need to be made to help reduce screen time, which we are hoping will increase the child's time playing with toys or engaging with other people.

Here's some tips to reduce screen time:

1. Don't automatically have screens on.
This is the biggest mistake I see parents make. The child gets up in the morning, and the tv goes on immediately (or the Ipad or phone) and stays on for the rest of the day. If your child is accustomed to having a screen on non-stop, make sure the devices are off at certain times. Having devices off in the morning, after naps, during meals, etc. sets a new routine for the child. By having times when these things are off (even if it's just for the duration of a meal at first), then you are getting your child use to times without the visual and auditory sensations that come from that device.

Screens in the vehicle are not necessary! Sure, if you are making a long trip, then you may need a screen to help your child cope with the long drive. If you are giving your child a screen for every small trip in the car, then something needs to change! There are plenty of other things you can offer your child to keep them happy in their car seat, but they may not want to accept these at first. Having music on the radio that would appeal to them can help. (I use to have the Wiggles on in my van, but it wasn't for me!) Often times both the child and the adult have gotten into these screen habits, but it's important to have times without them or activities that are screen free.

2. Keep devices out of sight and reach.
If your child truly loves their screens, then it's important to keep them out of sight and reach. Of course, you can't do this with televisions, but you can easily put phones, tablets, and dvd cases out of sight. If the child sees the tablet, they will want it. If you put it away, you can possibly delay giving it to them. Over the years, I have had to place my own child's movies out of reach in her closet or move the location of the tablet so that she wouldn't immediately go for these when she woke up.

3. Redirect and distract!
If the child indicates they want screen time, don't give in immediately. This is the second biggest mistake I see parents make. The child points to the television, and the parents put their show on. Try telling the child to wait a minute. Busy yourself with an activity if you must to show your child you can't do it immediately. Delaying the screen time will teach them that you are not giving in to demands when they want. This is an important first step!

Toddlers also respond great to redirection and distraction. Grab a toy that may give them extra sensory input such as a musical toy or play-doh or finger-painting. Do something physical with your child like throwing a ball in a box or jumping over small toys. Active play is a great distraction. Get down on the floor and play with your child! Engage them in play so they aren't left alone to think about their screens. This isn't feasible all day long, but this will be essential in the beginning if you are really trying to break a screen addiction for your child.

4. Let devices run down.
If the batteries run down in devices, don't charge them immediately. Let them be off. The child can suffer through the power outage, and it's one way to control the screen time. Just don't let them watch it while it's charging.

5. Just say no.
It's easy to suggest, but it's hard to do sometimes. It's ok to tell your child no. In fact, boundaries are great. Your toddler especially needs to understand and adapt to this word. Yes, you may have some tantrums and problems for a few days while they are adjusting, but you are the adult. You can tell them no. Playing with toys is not a punishment, but they may think it is in the beginning. You can use visuals such as a stop sign or a circle with a line through it to indicate to the child that screen time is over. You can also make a visual schedule with pictures showing the child the routine: breakfast, playtime, screen time.

If your child is spending hours watching screens, you need to make changes. At first, you may be decreasing their screen time for a few minutes over the course of a day, but you can keep building to increase their time off the screens. It will be hard at first, but in a few weeks you will thank yourself for what you did.

Therapy Thursday is for educational purposes only and not intended as therapeutic advice. 

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