First came warnings about toddlers and too much TV. And now that devices with screens have increasingly become playthings for kids, it’s even harder to limit screen time for toddlers.
In fact, preschoolers spend an average of four hours a day in front of screens. That’s too much, experts warn. Excessive screen time in the preschool years has been shown to limit language development, creativity, concentration, and sleep. Kids who live a screen-heavy life are also less active and more likely to become overweight.
Although there’s a place for electronic-learning games and Skyping with Grandma, nothing beats real-life interactive experiences during toddlerhood. So the next time you’re tempted to turn on the TV or hand over a tablet or phone to your little one, try these alternatives.
Enlist a helper. Toddlers love to imitate grown-ups. Involve your child in what you’re doing. She can dust while you pick up a room, for example, or copy your cooking motions with her own pots and pans. A toddler can set napkins on the table (or, at least, on every chair) or sweep with a whisk or child-size broom. Outside, your child can pick up sticks or water a garden.
Make music or listen to it. Toddlers like to dance and sing. Avoid screen time for toddlers by providing musical toys (xylophone, play piano, drum) for your child to play. Turn on some music and encourage an impromptu dance party. Mix up different styles of music to keep it fresh and interesting.
Keep lots of toys handy for creative play. When toddlers have open-ended toys to engage their active imaginations, they can keep themselves busy longer. Great examples: building toys (like blocks), play sets (castles, dollhouses, farms), crafts (“painting” with water, play clay, sidewalk chalk), and props (dress-up clothes, play tools, or kid-safe cooking utensils).
Bring in a constant supply of new books. Your child will enjoy flipping through them alone or “reading” them to a stuffed animal. You don’t have to buy new ones; check them out of the library, borrow from your child’s preschool, check tag sales for inexpensive buys, or trade among friends. Also look into age-appropriate audiobooks you can play for your child. Make a snuggly corner full of pillows and books for story time.
Keep devices out of sight and out of mind. Even having a TV on in the background can be distracting to a toddler. And you may find it easier to involve your child in alternate activities when devices aren’t right at hand—but toys, books, and other fun things to do are. It’s a simple way of limiting screen time and helping your child’s development.