How do you manage your toddler’s screen time?
Okay, sorry. This is not a Mommy blog, but this is a question I got that I absolutely had to put as a post because I AM STRUGGLING TOO.
Let’s struggle together, shall we?
Question I got:
How much screen time Little Bun gets on average?
Before I was gently admonished by my partner about how much screen time he got (which by the way, then sparked this massive fight about how he has to STEP UP and take Little Bun away from me when he sees me stressing and trying to get things done), I used to plonk him in front of the laptop, let him turn on, log in, fire up Google Chrome and select whatever YouTube Channel and/or video he wanted to watch.
He used to get about 2-3 hours a night. He was obsessed. We’d come home, he’d demand like a Little Emperor to log in to see his shows and be hand fed while watching. No joke.
I was so tired, I gave in.
I just needed TIME. I needed time to schedule bills and transfer payments, and not make stupid effing mistakes like this one in one week.
It got to the point where it became more and more and more screen time and then yeah, the big fight happened.
Nowadays, I limit it.
When I come home from work, NO screen time. The only time he gets it is if I am truly stuck and need the quiet time.
The only time he gets screen time now is:
A) When I have to do a LOT of dishes – about 2 hours of work which happens only maybe twice a week.
B) Saturday and Sunday mornings for 3 hours each day total.
So about… 10 hours a week or less. That isn’t bad in my opinion, about a little over an hour a day.
And way better than 28 hours a week. 😛
Some weekend mornings it is even less because I won’t even let him watch anything. I’ll take him out to go on the train, take him to play in the mall — anything but screen time so that he sees how much fun it is to not be in front of the videos all the time.
With the iPad however, I am not as strict. This is because I don’t have wifi, so he cannot see any videos on there.
How do you get him to stop?
To be clear. I have two “screens” that he uses often.
I do not have a television, he does not have cartoons and when my parents visit and in the hotel they show him a bit of cartoons (I am not as strict, it is just a few minutes or so), he is quiet as a lamb. He absolutely is docile.. it is a bit scary how addicted they can get to TV in just a few minutes.
The first, is the laptop with videos of nursery rhymes and alphabet rhyming or silly colour things. He likes Lizzie the Dog teaching English for instance. See above. I limit that time pretty strongly.
The second, is the iPad.
I actually don’t limit ANY time on this because it has no wifi, and I only put educational apps on there (see all my educational app recommendations here). Surprisingly, he has learned a heck of a lot from the iPad in a fun manner, and the more I give him the iPad, the LESS HE WANTS IT.
I suggest (often) to him that he takes his iPad and goes to his little house to play on it and he tells me no. I think it is because there is no wifi on there.
He can’t exit or go anywhere outside of the boundaries of the apps I have set, and it gets boring for him after a while.
However, the inverse happens with the laptop — the more I give him the laptop, the more he wants it. It is not the same attitude.
He loves “Google” and “videos on Google” because he sees Google Chrome and squeals: “Mommy I want Google! On Saturdays I can watch GOOGLE!!”… and I let him for a short period of time while I get #%() done like sewing, dishes, laundry, organizing, thinking.
I try to explain to my 2.5 year old for how long she can play (app games), or try to say “this is the last one” etc. But every time she has to put the phone down, there are tears and a tiny meltdown.
Now for the weaning bit off the laptop.
It was with a lot of difficulty. It was VERY HARD the first week to wean him off.
I just basically put my foot down and said: No. More.
The thing with kids is that once you set a boundary, and stick to it CONSISTENTLY, they know there is no way out of that and will accept it.
It is not that easy, and it takes constant, vigilant attention to make sure you don’t distractedly slip and let them do it “one more time”.
You have to be consistent.
When you say “NO” you mean it. When you give a consequence to saying “No” and not having them listen, you FOLLOW THROUGH.
After about 2-7 times (depending on the request/demand and then the harshness of the consequence), they will eventually learn.
What do I mean by that?
Well, here are some extra tricks I employ / use on a regular basis:
A) “Little Bun, I am giving you a 10 minute warning right now. In 10 minutes, when it is ___:____, you are to shut down. Okay?”
They don’t listen to you the first few times. They try to wiggle out a minute or two extra, but I am FIRM on the time, and I take it away in 10 minutes.
If he loses his #%(*#$), I take the item and place it in my closet on the highest shelf possible.
Expect a serious meltdown at this point.
Expect, and be prepared with earplugs of MAJOR, LEVEL BAJILLION screaming, kicking, crying and losing her #(%*#%)#.
Be prepared to sit there, and take it.
Just let them storm it out.
Scream, cry, lose it, kick… in the 10 minutes you are sitting there, just taking this #%#*%, you will just have to wait for the storm to pass.
Eventually, after about 10 – 15 minutes, they will lose steam. They will stop crying as hard, they will be tired, be out of breath, and be so fatigued, they will forget what triggered it in the first place (for a moment).
As long as you stay strong and firm, they will get it.
At this point when he is all tired out from screaming, I hold him tight in my arms, I give him big kisses, wipe his tears, and say: Little Bun, what did Mommy say? I told you 10 minutes.
Expect more screaming and tantrums to start up at this point.
They do not understand reasoning.
Let the second storm pass again. This one is quicker, they’re tired out already and you’re stronger than they are.
Then you repeat again: I told you 10 minutes. Now. If you don’t listen, I put the laptop away on top of the shelf and you do not get it for the rest of the day. No more laptop.
Expect another outburst.
Again, wash, rinse, repeat.
Deliver your message in a calm, even tone. If they scream over you, just stop talking and wait for them to be quiet before you repeat your message again. They can hear you. You don’t need to scream it back at them — it just shows a bad model / example to them and they scream at you even more.
Eventually, they will calm down and go through all the phases of Denial. They’ll reach Acceptance, and that’ll be it.
They also will not forget, and the next time this happens, they will REMEMBER VERY CLEARLY what happened.
They could try it again, and you need to repeat the above situation, but eventually, they will get it.
B) “Little Bun, after this video, I would like you to shut down please, and then we will go play _____”
Follow up your request with an activity.
I choose something fun he likes to do like Mommy Train (we pretend to be Trains and he hugs on to my bum and we Choo Choo all over the apartment).
Or follow it up with a trip to the park. Whatever you KNOW they will enjoy and don’t get often.
Eventually, they will see that being on the screen is not the be-all and end-all of fun. Sure, they like it, but they’ll like other things too.
C) “Little Bun, there is no videos today if we are doing ______”
On Sundays, when I want to take him out on the train or whatever, I tell him up front: Today, there are no videos. Today, we will go and do _______ instead.
Of course the ______ activity is something he really loves – riding trains and buses – so it is an easy sell for him. But if you have something similar, and want to do a physical activity — then use it!
And how about consequences?
The most extreme consequence? —- I have been known to toss things in the garbage.
Of course they aren’t necessarily toys, but with something I told him not to touch or play with (a piece of rope or tape), for whatever reason, I throw it away, and then his tears come.
I let him cry it out, and I am firm on it.
Other lighter consequences are that he doesn’t have the laptop for the rest of the day and / if he asks about it, I REMIND HIM ABOUT WHY I took it away.
I have taken away train privileges for the week, or I have refused to give in. Just simply refused and waited until he cried himself into a pink puddle.
AND I STILL didn’t give in.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
Cannot stress this enough that being consistent with your “nos” and your consequences is key.
You truly need to be consistent with “No’s”. I know parents who tell me they can’t stand the ear-piercing shrieks and wails, and I GET IT. I have been there. My eardrums are shot.
I get screamed at on a regular basis, but as of late, since I made a conscious effort a few months ago to be more zen, I am screaming less at him, and it is coming back as less screaming to me.
I tell him to “stop whining” and he may argue with me that he isn’t whining, but he does modify his tone and quiets down a bit more than before.
IT IS WORKING. It just takes time.
He still screams at me, don’t get me wrong. We still have tantrums, but far less than before when I started setting rules and boundaries of giving him time constraints — Little Bun, in 10 minutes…. — With that, he has a structure and knows what to expect.
If you just leave it open-ended with no boundaries, they’ll watch and play on screens until their eyes fall out (except in the case of my iPad without wifi).
My consistent “No’s” and follow-throughs have recently also been helping because he is now seeing that when I say something, I MEAN IT. When I say “No”, I mean it.
That is finally, not to say that I do not lose my #$(#*. All parents do. I get very angry and scream like a banshee about once every 2 weeks if not once a month. I think my Week of Money diaries prove this quite accurately.
But this is a HUGE improvement because it used to be daily if not twice or three times a day.
Screen time is an issue in my home, and I feel really crappy about it. I think the thing that made me feel worst is that we went on a vacation and did ZERO screens for an entire week. The kids were absolutely fine with it because we as parents were spending that time being present and engaged in activities with them. I know that the reason they watch so much now is directly related to how much time and energy we put into doing things with them, and clearly, it’s not enough.
The following is not meant as a criticism, it’s just an honest question of curiosity. You talk about being tired SO MUCH, and it’s clear from your Week of Money entries exactly how much the interrupted sleep affects your health and your work. If you are willing to put up with the temporary screaming and tantrums and consequences that are needed to reign in screen time, is there a reason why you aren’t using the same strategies to do some kind of sleep training for Little Bun? This is not a question of bed-sharing, just the sleep itself.
I was getting a bit worried about my son’s screen time but he seems to have weaned himself off for some reason! We could put on the TV but I find it now only keeps his attention for maybe 5-10 minutes before he starts playing with his toys in another room or wants to go outside. Its great in the summer that he can be in the backyard getting fresh air instead of sitting in front of a screen. Glad to hear LB is getting outside more too 🙂