I am personally very much excited and proud to write this post. My son is 3.5 years old and I have managed to keep him away from all the screens i.e. phone, tablet, laptop & television. He only watches one show or a few songs of his choice for 20 minutes each day which I set up on the television for him. But for the remaining 23 hours and 40 minutes, he does not talk or ask for a screen because he is constantly busy writing, reading, coloring, playing with Lego and Mega Blocks, magnets, drill-set, cars, and train sets, stacking buckets or setting up puzzles.
I think I can read some of your surprising faces as to how did I do this? How is it possible to keep a toddler/pre-schooler busy without letting them watch Paw Patrol or Peppa Pig or Bob the Builder or the Club House? How can I cook dinner if he is around at all times? What do you do if you need a break from all day craziness? The best way to keep him busy is to set him up for some cartoon or animation movie. I have had these conversations with a lot of my friends and colleagues and my response is always the same. I love this beautiful quote by Dr. Haim Ginott:
“Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
I am very much against the screen myself, but I do not deny the fact that we are in the 21st century where we live by the screens. However, I always want my son to stay away from the screens so he can explore things around him. We talk more about nature, cars on the streets, stores and places, he can recognize roads and routes, which I feel might not be possible if he was busy watching some show on the phone or on our in-car screen.
Here are some tips I would like to share with you from my personal experience to keep your child away from the screen:
- Set a Schedule – Decide on a mutual time for him to watch his favorite show, set the start and end time and do not miss the schedule (routine will help them to hold their urge and also create excitement for that time of the day)
- Encourage Book Reading – Invest in books he would like to read. While at the book store, let them choose the books, pick musical books, or read along, even if they cannot read yet, develop reading interest. My son’s favorite books are the Me Reader story books and he loves these because he can press the reader as we read along. Also, they have a lot of sets to choose from including Disney stories, Paw Patrol, etc.
- Assign Chores: Even though they are very young and chores seem to be not their thing, assign them simple household chores such as setting up the table, helping you water the plants, tidy their play area, clean up their toys, put the shoes in the shoe rack, help you pick veggies for dinner, etc. Including toddlers in the chores give them a sense of responsibility and you could reward them for their great work!
- Provide Screen Alternatives: You may want to introduce them to musical learning and educational toys. This will help them develop other skills such as reading, writing, color recognition, etc. My son’s favorite laptop/tablet toy is this LeapFrog 2-in-1 LeapTop Touch. When my husband and I are working, he sits beside us and pretends to type on his laptop. We all are the new work colleagues! Another great product you can try for screen alternative is LeapFrog Mr. Pencil’s Scribble & Write.
- Introduce them to the Surroundings: It is important for them to know about their surroundings. Talk about the place where you live, ask them to notice landmarks while you are walking in the neighbourhood or in the car. This creates interest and keeps them busy thinking about everything else but screens!
- Task them: Toddlers love being tasked. If I ask my son to find something for me or keep an eye on something, he is the happiest person on earth! Toddlers are natural explorers and thus, assigning tasking to them with activities that challenge their observation or alertness would help you. If you are driving, ask them to count the red cars, or watch out for tall buildings, or notice how many trucks are on the road. This will keep them busy looking at the road (not thinking of the screen).
- Let them be the Boss: If you want them to stay away from the screen, let them be their own boss! Let them choose what they would like to do instead of being on the screen. Even if the choice is coloring or painting rocks, let them do it! If they get to choose the activity they like to do, you will have a better success in alternative activity versus resistance and fight for screen time.
I hope these tips will help you rework your child’s screen schedule. It is important for them to enjoy the world beyond screens at this tender age because the remainder of their life will anyways be captivated by the screens, so try to give them a screen-free childhood as your own and think of the great ways your parents kept you busy without screens – and ultimately the question, you did grow up fine!