Most of us know that children today are exposed to more electronic devices and screens then previous generations. Add the coronavirus (COVID-19) into the mix and families are finding themselves stuck indoors more than usual, with colder weather resulting in fewer play options at home.
As a ground rule, it is recommended that children aged 0 – 24 months have little to no interaction with screens. Children aged 2 and up are slowly able to increase their exposure and this is best done in a healthy way with the rest of the family, as outlined in this article. When done correctly, screen time can allow children to enjoy some of the educational and social benefits of digital technologies. Below are our top 5 tips on how you can successfully manage your child’s screen time during COVID-19 and beyond:
1. Model healthy screen time habits
You are the first person your child will look to when trying to understand what ‘normal’ is. If you are constantly on your phone checking social media, messaging or reading the news, your child will want to follow your lead. Of course, checking the news may be a priority during this crisis. • Try to limit you and your family’s exposure to media and news about COVID-19, as it can quickly become overwhelming. Keeping screen time in check can mean leaving your phone aside while you completely engage in activities such as reading or eating meals with your child. Another suggestion is to catch up on the news and text messages while your child is asleep or to schedule in short breaks where you explain to your child what you are doing and set a time limit on your own screen time.
2. Be actively involved in their screen time
There are several benefits to having screen time as a family activity, involving both parents and children. Being actively involved means that you can influence what your child watches and ensure their online safety, while encouraging the educational benefits screen time can offer. Try to guide your child towards quality screen time apps or programs that encourage learning, problem solving, physical activity, social development, new interests and creativity. This is a great bonding experience as you can participate in these platforms together, while facilitating the learning experience for your child. We have included links at the end of this article to quality screen time options suitable for children of different ages. Families are also relying on video chat to connect with grandparents and other family members and friends during this time. Doing this together with your child is a great way to socially connect while you use a screen. For younger children it’s always a good idea to explain the activity so that they can begin to learn some context as to what you are doing on the phone. For example, ‘we can’t visit Aunty Amanda today, so we are going to call her and say hello’.
3. Set realistic boundaries
Setting realistic boundaries early lays a foundation of understanding with your child. This means that you can manage their expectations by helping them to know that screen time is a privilege and that there are limits. Your child should also know when is an appropriate time for screen time and what potential consequences for breaking the rules may be. Examples may be that devices can only be used in family areas and not in the car or bedrooms, or that screen time is limited to a specific time frame of each day. A great way to enforce these boundaries is to give them five-minute warnings when their screen time is almost up.
4. Encourage alternatives
Ensure that your child engages in a balance of activities other than screen time. This means encouraging a healthy amount of play, reading, games, activities and outdoor adventures – with screen time as an added extra on the side.
Sometimes the weather is not always on our side for bike rides or puddle jumping outside, so try to keep some inexpensive and age appropriate supplies in stock for rainy days. Examples include crayons, sketch books, stickers, puzzles, bubble mixture, water colours, glue sticks etc. Having the basic ingredients in the pantry to make play dough or bake together is also a fun activity. A useful tip is to constantly rotate your child’s toys and books, so that they feel like there is always something different to play with or read.
5. Get practical support
From setting boundaries to implementing structure in your child’s life – practical support can assist in building the foundations for healthy play and learning habits. Practical support can also help you gain insight into other problems or patterns of behaviour that may need addressing in the process. We offer an integrated Child and Family service that support families with a range of learning, communication and physical difficulties in children. We also have a dedicated Family Support worker, who delivers a range of services to our clients in partnership with healthAbility.
We are still here and providing services during COVID-19 yet are delivering some of our services differently. Click the link to learn more.
Raising Children’s Network-
Supporting healthy play during COVID-19-
Other community contacts and support lines during COVID-19-
The information contained in this article is a guide only and should not be used as a diagnostic tool or taken as medical advice. If you have concerns about any areas of your child’s health and well being we recommend you see your GP or contact us to arrange a service with our Child and Family team.