This is one of those things that just happens. Before we have kids we really want to be the parents that don’t give their child a screen to calm them down or entertain them, and then real life happens and it is a lot harder than we ever thought it would be.
But here’s the thing, giving our children an unplugged childhood is a gift that only we can give them. They can’t choose it for themselves and if we think about our childhoods, we remember all the times we were outside, exploring, playing,and we realize that our parents were never in this quandary. This problem is ours and all ours. It is up to us to do this for our children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain screen free for the first two years of their life. This is a huge developmental period and should be filled with interactions and hands on activities. After the first two years, you can start adding in videos or games but the time should still be limited and not during family time.
So here are five things you can do to ultimately make your life easier (yes! it is actually much much easier in the long run to be screen free or screen limited) and to give your children the gift of an unplugged childhood.
1) Make a plan
Without a plan, you won’t be able to keep your children screen free or screen limited. Talk with your spouse ahead of time so that you don’t find yourself in a situation where you have to give your child a screen.
2) Carry stickers and fruit chews with you everywhere
Having an arsenal of non-screen distractions will help you keep the screen from appearing in front of your child. Buy some cheap stickers online or at a craft store and bring them with you everywhere. When a situation comes up where your child is bored, give them some stickers instead of a screen.
The time that I was most wanting to use a screen to reign in my children was when they were screaming. Either because they were hurt, tired, hungry or just screaming because they were kids, I didn’t know what to do. Turns out, fruit chews worked really well. If they were sucking on something sweet (that isn’t a choking hazard and is mildly healthy) then they couldn’t cry. Worked like a charm.
3) Have the option to leave
This one is super important. We often don’t get out of the house enough, or we are so excited to see our friends, that we don’t leave open the possibility to leave the situation. If we can’t leave, then we have to give the child something to do for distraction.
If you can leave when your child can’t sit still or stop screaming, then you are dealing with the situation without giving them a screen. This may sound drastic, but it isn’t every time that you have to leave.
Two situations where you might not be able to leave are when you are in a car or on an airplane. For the car situation, I try to find places where we can get out and walk and get some fresh air, food and exercise and that takes care of that problem. And for an airplane, I use the old-fashioned techniques that our parent’s used: lots of interesting toys, stickers, games and just walking up and down the aisle.
4) Have a “no-devices-at-the-table” rule
This one is also super important. If you carve out part of your day where there aren’t screens, then you won’t fall into the trap of giving your child a screen for distraction. Dinner time is one of the most important times of the day for a family to get together and even if your little one isn’t a part of the conversation, they are watching, observing, learning and listening. They see how adults interact and they hear stories about the world. Eventually, they will sit and converse with you (if you don’t give them a screen) so the hard part is now- the benefit (which is huge) comes later.
5) Go outside at least once per day
This last one doesn’t seem at all related but it really is. One of the reasons that we turn the screen on is because we are all tapped out of energy and we can’t muster anything else. But if we open the door and get outside for even a couple of minutes (I know how hard that it when it is 3 degrees below zero, but those are the most important days to get outside) you will feel refreshed and refueled without turning to a screen.