10 simple ways to limit screen time with children. Positive habit-forming ways to create an unplugged family life & raise healthy, balanced kids.
If you’re like most parents, you probably worry, at least a little, about the amount of screen time your kids are exposed to.
- Did they watch too much tv today?
- How long is too long to play on the kindle or iPad?
- Should we get rid of screens all together?
I know I ask myself these questions often.
My youngest is four-years-old and asks me often, “can I watch a show” to which my usual reply is, “let’s go outside to play!”
At our house, my three kids play devices once or twice a week while we’re waiting at a sibling’s sports practice, or I’m making dinner. We also keep devices out of reach in a high cabinet and out of sight, because out of sight, out of mind, right?
There’s nothing wrong with a little Paw Patrol or Trolls here and there, as long as their eyes aren’t glazing over from hours in front of a screen, and you feel comfortable with your choice.
All things in moderation is a good rule of thumb, after all, and screens are no different.
What’s The Research on Screen Time – is it Harmful or Not?
The research on screen time is clear: When it comes to kids, less screen time is best.
Studies show that today’s children spend less time outside and engage in less physical activity than previous generations.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation has even begun urging doctors to prescribe playtime to children. They cited screen time as one key reason children are playing less.
Today’s children do less socializing and have far less face-to-face interactions, which results in less meaningful relationships and connections to friends, even with immediate family.
Technology definitely has it’s place, but it’s clear there is value in setting screen time limits for children, especially if they’re under the age of five!
Raising Unplugged Kids
Let’s be real.
It’s not easy raising kids, especially unplugged kids in this day and age.
Children have an endless supply of energy and require constant attention. Sometimes, parents just need a break or time to make dinner while kids are peacefully occupied.
I get it.
No double, there’s a time and place for screens.
Whether you’re looking to cut your kid’s screen time, set meaningful limits so your children aren’t glued to their devices, or eliminate it altogether, here are simple ways to get your children unplugged from screens – without starting a power struggle or losing your mind.
Simple Ways to Limit Kid’s Screen Time
When we say ‘yes’ to screen time often, it’s usually an easy way to keep children occupied while we clean up, make dinner, do work, or take a moment to ourselves.
It becomes too easy to hand over a device, or turn on the television
Here are easy ways to encourage playtime without screens, that don’t involve a lot of planning ahead or expensive toys.
1. Keep Devices Out of Reach
Out of sight means out of mind.
Keep your devices in a cabinet or space that’s out of reach, and even behind closed doors. If your kids can’t see it, they won’t ask for it.
This is easier for devices to hide them away, but you can also unplug and remove remotes to televisions so they can’t be turned on and used.
We keep a basket on top of the entertainment center where my husband and I put the remotes and it’s out of reach of little hands. We also have our cable box on top of the entertainment center where we control if the entire unit is turned on, or off.
2. Encourage Playtime Outdoors
My first response when my kids ask to watch a show or play on their kindles, is to say, “go outside and play.”
Granted, over the last eight years, we’ve made our backyard to be a kid’s playground with a swing set, climbing dome, balls, a sandbox, chalk, and bikes and a basketball hoop in the front driveway.
The options for them to play outside are endless and usually the neighbors see them outside and want to play too. Once they’re outside and in the fresh air playing, screens become the last thing on their mind.
Being outside is also essential for development of their gross motor skills through running, jumping, climbing, balancing and exploring with their bodies.
The health benefits of being in a “green” environment are essential to healthy emotional and mental wellbeing. Spending time in nature is an important part of childhood. Exploring helps children learn about the world around them through their budding curiosity.
Children who are physically active and regularly connect with nature, help them to become a healthier calmer and more balanced child.
3. Encourage Independent Play
I talk about how important our routine is a bazillion times on The Pragmatic Parent, but that’s because it’s the glue that holds together our days.
With a routine we all know what happens during the day, there’s time for chores, reading, getting outside, making meals and even nap time since my youngest still naps (thank you, Lord!)
These are the golden nuggets of time when you need to get work done, clean the house, even read if you want!
If you’re just introducing routines or need to get yours back on track, using routine cards has been a lifesaver for teaching my kids about independent play.
Especially since my 4-year-old gets easily distracted, routine cards remind her what comes next.
When you have independent play as a part of your daily routine, children come to expect when it’s time to play on their own.
Here are some ideas to help your little ones play on their own:
- Keep simple toys in bins like blocks, mega blocks, age-appropriate puzzles, magnet tiles and dolls.
- Opt for toys without batteries, sounds, flashing lights which affect the attention-span of little ones
- Create a play space in your home where your children can use their imagination with items such as dress up toys, a dollhouse, or baby dolls.
- Offer a sensory experience for 20-30 minutes of independent play. Water beads, kinetic sand, play dough and rice bins with measuring cups or red solo cups work well.
- Set up an art station outside (or inside if weather is cold or bad) with watercolors, crayons, papers and washable markers.
4. Keep a Special Stash of Activities on Hand
I admit, I feel a tinge of pressure to squeeze as much out of the days with my kids as I can, but I also need to pay our mortgage and put gas in the car that takes my kids to all their activities.
Basically, I need to work and I don’t want to plop the kids down in front of a screen.
This is exactly why I like to keep a stash of activities when I need the kids to play on their own.
It feels good to be prepared and have a plan, right?
My friend Jamie from Hands on as We Grow has two awesome activity resources my family relies on just for this reason.
The preschool activity bundle (2 – 5 years old) and Camp Mom: Summer Activities Pack (kids 3 – 8 years old) are true lifesavers when you need to pull together an activity and even WOW your kids in the process.
Here’s what she’s making this week:
- Monday: Make a walking stick
- Tuesday: Weave something outside
- Wednesday: Mud painting
- Thursday: Wash toys
- Friday: Trace squiggly lines
- Saturday: Draw a sidewalk family portrait
- Sunday: Go for a walk and jump over all the cracks
I was shocked at how easy she makes the activities, but my kids love them and keep asking for more.
Get the whole week’s plan with supplies and how-to here: Camp Mom: Summer Activities Pack
The trick though, is to only pull these ideas once in a while, or the excitement of them will wear off. That’s why they’re your secret stash for this Summer!
You can also sign up to for the waitlist for when the Activity Room re-opens in September and get monthly activity plans all year long!
5. Allow Kids to Earn (a Limited Amount of) Screen Time
It’s ok to allow screen time in small doses, right?
So, why not incentivize it?
Create screen time rules for your children to earn a show or 30 minutes of screen time. Here are some suggestions to get started:
- they need to complete age-appropriate chores first,
- help out around the house,
- take care of family pets
- work in the yard pulling weeds, helping with a garden, mowing,
- read or finish all homework are great ideas for earning time too!
- play outside for 30 minutes
- Do something active like riding bikes, shooting hoops or scootering for 30 minutes
The key is to make the screen time children earn, minimal. 20 minutes or 30 minutes of screen time, with a cap on how much they can earn, is the best way to make this rule stick.
You’ll also want to make sure this falls in line with your daily and weekly time limits on screen time (see #9.)
6. Set Aside 1 or 2 Days of No Screens Per Week
It’s a good idea for everyone in your family to take a break from screens and devices at least one day a week.
We designate Sunday as no social media or screens in our house, and instead spend time outdoors together.
My feeling is that if your family time is spending time in front of a television together, then you lose the ability to connect and create meaningful moments with one another.
Certainly there are times when kids are sick, or you’re sick, or the weather outside is burning hot or freezing cold and screens can be a relief, but if this is your go-to babysitter every time something like this comes up, then you’ll never be able to break the screen time habits of your children.
7. Model Healthy Screen Habits
You are your child’s first and most important teacher. What you model for them, is what they will follow and if you want them to have healthy screen time habits, then you need to set a good example.
That means, if you’re constantly on your phone or flicking on the tv to watch a show, your child will likely follow your lead.
Moderation is key. It’s okay to be on your phone here-and-there or watch a show occasionally, but monitoring your device and screen use sets an example for your child.
Here are some suggestions to healthy habits for adults:
- Keep devices away from the table while eating.
- When your kids wants your attention, put your phone down and give them your full attention.
- Keep the television off during the day and only turn on at times when your kids are asleep.
- Remove apps off your phone so you aren’t tempted to scroll on your phone or check in often.
- Set your phone to airplane mode without internet.
8. Don’t Give Screen Time as a Reward
When you reward children with something – say, screen time – they think of it as something valuable and appealing.
That’s how reward systems work, right?
You earn something “good” if you follow rules, or help out around the house.
If your goal is to limit screen time, reduce it or eliminate it all together, than you don’t want to manifest a desire for them to have it as a reward.
It’s not a winning strategy in your battle against screen time.
Instead, find rewards that get your kids out of the house or being active like playing with a new jar of bubbles, filling up a pool in the backyard to splash in or sprinklers to run through.
Here are some alternative healthy & active rewards that don’t involve screens.
- Reward your children with a new set of chalk or bubble tube.
- Use a sticker chart
- Stickers, art supplies, a new jar of play dough (or make your own at home with them)
- Popsicle or dried fruit
- Take a special outing or try out a new park in your town
9. Set a Weekly Time Limit of Screen Time & Track It
Think about how much screen time you want your children to have daily and weekly – and then stick to it by enforcing these limits.
Without limits, it’s easy to say “yes” to one more show or not watch the clock while they’re on them. And we all know that when we don’t stick to our boundaries, children learn very quickly where they can push the envelope with their parents.
Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends for screen time:
- Children younger than 18 months: No screen time other than video-chatting (with Mom, Dad, or Grandma for example)
- 18-24 months: Less than 1 hour per day of high-quality programming
- 2-5 years: 1 hour per day maximum of high-quality programming
High-quality programming are the age-appropriate learning based content such as what you’ll find on PBS such as Sesame Street or a nature show.
At this age, children don’t know how to separate reality from fantasy and need a parent to watch the show with them and help them understand what they are watching and processing.
10. Listen Instead of Watch
There are plenty of ways to listen to engaging entertainment geared towards young children without watching something on a screen.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Get a screen-free smart speaker like an Echo Dot to play kid-friendly audio media
- Listen to music
- Turn on a directional song (you might find these on youtube but all you have to do is minimize the screen). The song will give kids directions such as, “put your hands on your head and wiggle all around” and have fun!
- Listen to an audio book
- Listen to a podcast or stories for kids especially if you’re in the car or on a road trip.
I love Audible for audio books for myself and my children. The cool thing is that when you sign up for a free 30-day trial through Audible, you get 2 free audiobooks – and you can keep them even if you cancel! Click here to sign up for a free trial or learn more about Audible.
The magical result of listening, not watching?
Children who are actively engaged or dancing to music, instead of staring blankly at a screen.