For most of us, technology is a part of daily life. Let’s start by looking at the positives. It is a source of entertainment for kids. There are countless learning resources for children on video and online. I swear, my son learned how to count from ten to twenty from watching a YouTube video. And there are lots of kids’ shows that help introduce relevant concepts like sharing toys or adjusting to a new sibling in the house. For whatever reason, my kids take it better from Peppa friggin’ Pig when she tells them to brush their teeth than when I try to tell them. So that’s good. There is also plenty of video content that encourages movement and following-along, which is great for their motor skills development and physical wellbeing. Also, let’s not discount how helpful it is to have a screen to plop them in front of to hold their attention while we try to get anything done. The tablet can’t raise your kids for you, but they can be a productivity or survival tool for parents. In moderation, this is a positive thing.
There are two camps: those whose children have never seen the sun or sky outside of a screen, and those who believe children should only play with educational hand-crafted wooden toys until they reach school age. I’m exaggerating, obviously, but there does appear to be a divide on this topic on where right and realistic screen time falls on the scale. However, I recognize there is a common objective to modulate screen time on some level. For toddlers, I don’t recommend a strict time limit, for one reason: When you put so much focus on an object that they can’t have, it increases their one-track desire for that object. Think about when your newly crawling baby starts getting a hold of everything and putting those things in their mouth. There’s always that one thing that they get their sights set on – and it’s always something horribly dangerous or disgusting or a major choking hazard, like the toilet bolt caps or the batteries in the remote control – and because you made a big fuss about taking them away the first time, now it’s the only thing they focus on; as though their little life depended on it, as if they’ve made a pact with the devil himself to wear you down to dust until they can acquire the forbidden item. So, instead of militantly monitoring the television and devices, setting timers and hiding the remotes, I find it helpful to switch the focus off the devices and onto meaningful alternative ways to spend your time. Instead of trying to deter one behaviour, prioritize the preferred activity.
There are four types of activity that I have identified as priorities for young children. The first is socialization. Children benefit from interacting with others. Daycare, preschool and structured classes teach socialization skills, but they are not the only way. Spending time with friends and family, waiting in line at the grocery store, waving at the garbage collector, playing at the playground – these are all teaching moments for our children as they navigate a world of respect, kindness and cooperation with those we co-exist with. The second is nature-based activity. Exploring the outdoors is good for our minds and our bodies. There is a great big world to see, touch and learn about. Make a point of getting outside with your kids in all kinds of weather and as many diverse environments as possible. Third, prioritize creativity-based activity. In my view, this is one of the best parts about having kids – they bring you back to the creative mode that, as an adult, gets grossly neglected. You get to be a kid again and use your imagination. Paint, color, draw, build towers, make shapes with playdough; just play. Fourth, include movement in your day. Resist the sedentary way of life by moving. Play follow the leader, do an online family-friendly yoga video, dance in the living room, shake your sillies out, hide-and-seek. I didn’t mention any educational-specific activities, and that’s because, for young children, all of these activities are an invitation to learn. Through interaction with the physical world, they learn about people, animals, shapes, numbers, their bodies, themselves. Your ability to engage with them in these activities will have a big impact, as they look to you to learn ways of living. They don’t and won’t always need you to lead them, but remember, your relationship with your surroundings influences your kids.
I find when I put pressure on myself to creatively entertain and teach my kids, it begins to feel like work, and I lose momentum. I’m not the crafty kind of mom that makes homemade playdough and sets up elaborate sensory stations. Having said that, every now and then, inspiration strikes, and I take that resourcefulness within me and I run with it, whenever I can. I personally thrive on spontaneity in this area. A fellow mom once told me, have a routine, not a schedule. When I know our routine is set up to naturally get us away from screens at certain times of the day, I am free to enjoy finding opportunities for fun activities that pop up without effort. Impromptu dance parties in the kitchen happen when music is part of our lunch-making routine. Stopping to inspect insects or collect sticks happens when getting outside is an everyday occurrence. Make the desired activities part of your daily routine, and make including them daily non-negotiable.