Managing how much time your little one spends in front of your devices is a tricky one – here are a few ideas to help you get the balance right
It’s been a long morning and your toddler has been showing you how terrible the ‘terrible twos’ can really be. You just need a few quiet minutes to recharge or empty the dishwasher, so you switch on the TV – while silently wondering how many hours they’ve watched this week. If this sounds familiar, you’re certainly not alone. Many busy parents regularly use the TV or a tablet to help them get on with chores or grab a moment’s peace. But working out how much is too much can be a tough decision.
In Ireland there are currently no official medical or governmental guidelines on screen time for children specifically. The best thing to do is to encourage your child to have an active lifestyle and the HSE has lots of useful advice on this. In the US, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that children over 18 months can use screens within certain limits.
Whatever their age and stage, it’s best to use your judgement – and if you feel you need to cut back, here are some routes you could take.
On their own
Independent play is an important skill for young children to learn – and one that they won’t necessarily pick up if they’re always being entertained by technology. Try setting up some toys in the room you’ll be in and encourage them to play while you do a quick chore. Start by leaving them to play without your input for a few minutes and build up the time so they get used to it. You’ll be amazed at the little worlds they can create from a very young age. Role-play toys are great for independent play – get them to pretend to iron while you do the real thing, invest in a play kitchen so you can ‘cook’ together or help them to set up a tea party for their cuddly toys.
For those times when only TV will do, set a time limit on how much you let them watch. Make this clear from the start so they aren’t disappointed when it’s time to switch off and try offering something fun to do once their time is up. Be firm and stick to your plan however much they try and persuade you to let them watch one more episode.
Make sure you have something fun lined up for when they finish, like puzzles or simple board games. Little ones will love rolling a dice or watching a picture develop as they find the pieces of a puzzle. If you take away their entertainment without giving them something else to do, there’s sure to be fireworks! Get them involved in something else and they’ll forget about it in no time.
If using a tablet is the only way to get through a car journey or to settle them when they’re having a wild moment in public, see if you can download a few apps that teach your child something whilst keeping them occupied at the same time. There’s a wealth of fun and engaging phonics, numbers and colour apps available that have the added benefit of helping your child learn. Of course that doesn’t mean you should let them play on these all day, but it might help keep those guilty feelings in check. And remember – however hard you try, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent!
It’s often easy to switch on the TV or reach for your tablet when the weather is less than cheerful outside – why not try our top rainy day play ideas instead? Also, check out our feature on time-saving tips for parents.