Photo credit for image above: @abbeydreamer
Part ONE: Screen Time
Your toddler wants to overindulge on cookies and TV, while you hope he will fall in love with broccoli and love to play outside. If you have a strong-willed child, you know the power dynamics between parent and toddler can be very challenging. This is not an uncommon struggle. Two battles that are often relentless: screen time and healthy eating.
In this two-part series, we will address both. Instead of giving into demands, or entering into a battle of the wills, here are a couple of recommendations to help your child begin forming healthy screen time habits of his or her own.
Dealing with Meltdowns When You Say, “No” to Screen Time
Scenario: You get home from running errands and your toddler wants to have screen time and watch Sesame Street on the couch. After saying no, and redirecting to play with toys, she starts throwing a full-on fit.
I must admit, I’m frequently tempted to turn on the tube so my toddler is entertained while I put away groceries or tend to household chores in peace. However, the last thing I want to do is make watching TV a habit, especially since we limit screen time to less than an hour per day in our home. While it is easier to give in and let her watch, saying no is often required. Unfortunately, “nos” are often met by meltdowns in my house.
1.How to Avoid Screen Time Negotiation Meltdown from the Start
If your toddler melts down at the slightest hint of rejection, try this strategy. Staying calm, and using a loving, but firm, tone of voice– acknowledge what your child wants. Explain that it is not a choice to have screen time at the moment. Avoid shaming vocabulary (i.e. “TV rots your brain” or “TV is bad for you, playing outside is better”). Instead, validate their interest and redirect them to choose a better option, like drawing a picture, playing with blocks or reading books.
2. Use Redirection
Your script may sound something like this: “I understand you like to watch TV, I like watching TV too. Right now, we’re not watching TV, but you can check out this book or build a tower with these blocks. After I am done putting away the groceries, we can do an extra special activity together. Which one would you like to do right now while I finish this project– look at books, or build with blocks?”
Sometimes simple redirection works. Sometimes you need to get creative. Here are other ideas to help you navigate minimizing screen time with your little ones.
3. Decide When to Use Special Activities
Keep a hidden stash of special toys or activities that only come out when you need a minute to yourself in order to get something done. Perhaps you break out some special art supplies, activity books, special magnets to put on the fridge or the stove or turn on your kiddos’ favorite tunes so they can have a dance party. Activities with many pieces or that get messy are not parent’s favorites, but of course, kids love those types of toys and projects! Reserve these types of activities for just such occasions of whining for screen time. “Other” appealing choices for toddlers are king!
4. Compromise on Technology Use
Another alternative—meet them half-way. Use technology– differently. Healthy screen time habits may mean getting more creative. Stimulate more learning or imagination on their part by turning on a kid’s yoga story time, a podcast story, or put their favorite kiddy soundtrack on headphones. This is certainly a deviation away from mindless screen-time.
It more slow-paced for their little developing minds, more movement positive, and more mind-body engaging for your little one. Movie soundtracks can be a big hit or consider letting them look at a book on a screen for something different. PBS Kids also has some wonderful educational games and puzzles for children to explore. Make this an option occasionally, and for limited amounts of time.
5. Playing the Long Game in Teaching Healthy Screen Time Habits
Your child may still meltdown over not getting their way–in which case you’ll need to ride out the tantrum until it’s over. However, it’s good practice to meet them where they are and calmly lead by example. The idea is that as they grow up and are faced with decisions, they will hear your voice in the back of their head reminding them how to make a healthy and positive choice for themselves. Over time, they will learn what feels good and healthy, and be empowered to make their own wise choices.
There is a lot to consider as you foster healthy screen time habits for your little one. It is increasingly difficult to navigate a world that has screens nearly everywhere we look. Weigh the pros and cons, make a plan, and stick to it. Consistency is most important when we are offering choices and direction with our habits. This helps our children to learn how to have a balance.
Next, let’s address healthy eating habits.