Guest post: Have your kids got square eyes? Help is at hand.
I'm the @ParentingAdvisor on Scope's community. I run Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting and can give you advice on anything behavior-related to help you with your child. Here I'm talking about how you can minimise screen time for your kids.
Are you worried your kids are spending too much time in front of screens? Parents of children with special needs often feel that screens are the child’s only pleasure, so they may feel guilty when they think about cutting back screen time. Don’t give up. You don’t have to accept that too much screen time is the norm. Getting back in charge of the screens in your home may feel impossible or not worth the hassle. It is possible, and here’s why it is worth the hassle:
- Children and teens learn to entertain themselves.
- They play more and talk more, which develops their social skills as well as their vocab, sentence construction and thinking skills.
- They're able to focus for longer, and they develop the patience to enjoy activities that challenge them intellectually. They are more willing to read.
- Children generally become more active, which improves muscle tone, posture, even digestion, sleep habits and concentration. Physical exercise also burns off adrenaline so it's calming.
- Children and teens are more pleasant to be around. They're less irritable, less inclined to say ‘No’, and they are more willing to do their best on their homework and help around the house.
We can achieve these delightful results if we stay determined, strong and brave. The process may take longer if your child has an extreme temperament or special needs, but you can make it happen - and you’ll be so glad you did.
How to get back in charge of screen time
Screen time rules and routines need to be clear, simple and easy to remember. Do you need to make new rules? Or firm up some existing rules? Here are some ideas:
- Allow leisure screen use only on certain days. For many families it works to have Monday to Thursday as screen-free days so you can have evenings for homework and family time.
- Screen time has to be earned. Make sure your childrens’ daily tasks are completed to your satisfaction before any screens can be switched on. This might be homework, reading, music practice, taking care of pets, helping with housework, etc. This way you are making screen time a reward for small daily successes. In my new book, ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen Time’, I give examples of several reward systems, and I explain in detail how to introduce them and put them into practice.
- Make a rule that children have to ask first before switching on a screen. And make a rule for yourself that you will answer positively. Instead of ‘No’, you can say eg. ‘Yes, as soon as you show me your completed homework.’
- Limit screen time during playdates at your house. Not only is ‘old-fashioned’ playing better for their bodies and their brains, but it will also improve their social skills.
- No screens on school day mornings. This will help them stay more alert and focused when getting ready and also once they are at school.
- No screens on during meals. Keep the focus on enjoying the food and the company.
- Get all electronics out of their bedrooms.
- If your children are really fixated on screens, drastic measures may be called for. At first, you may need to keep all hand-held devices, remotes, chargers and dongles in your possession except for when they have earned their screen time rewards.
- If getting your child to turn off screens is a problem, make a rule that in order to earn tomorrow’s screen time they have to turn it off without any fuss today as soon as they are told.
How to establish new rules and routines and make them stick
When you make new rules about screen time, it’s quite likely your children will be upset at first, and they may test you to see if the new rules will stick. These strategies will boost cooperation:
Descriptive Praise motivates children and teens to improve their behaviour and habits. Notice and describe any tiny improvements:
‘You turned off the TV the first time I asked, with hardly any arguing. That took self-control .’
‘I like how responsible you’re being. You’ve already fed the dog and finished your homework. So now you’ve earned playing your computer game for an hour.’
This strategy will help your children get over their upsets sooner and accept the new screen rules more quickly. Imagine how they’re feeling, and reflect that feeling back to them:
‘You probably wish we didn’t have the new rule about only an hour a day of screen time.’
‘Maybe it feels like you’ve hardly had any screen time at all today.’
‘It’s upsetting when your friends get more computer time than you do.’
Preparing for Success
Daily think-throughs will help motivate your children and teens to follow the new rules and routines. In my book I explain these, but you can chat to me now on our community. For more practical and effective strategies, you can buy my book on Amazon.