After all, the mission of this website is to help families reduce their screen time.
All the activity suggestions in the world are sometimes unhelpful when you don’t know how to get started with limited screen time or a screen-free lifestyle.
For some families, the starting point for this journey is screen-time overload, and it’s daunting to think about how to take TV and tablet time away from their kids who seem to be addicted to those screens.
The fear of tantrums and outbursts, bored kids, and crying can make it hard to get started.
We’re here to help, though.
So, let’s get right to it.
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How to limit screen time for kids – step by step
Establish your goals
The very first step to limiting screen time for your kids is establishing your goals.
Everyone’s reasons for limiting screen time will be different and so will their goals.
You may want to limit just tablet time, as you feel that it has gotten out of hand, or maybe you would like to cut out screen time before bed.
Some parents may even want to get rid of screens altogether, even just for a set time period, because they feel that screens have taken over the day.
The first step is to determine what problems are being caused by too much screen time. Then, determine what could replace screen time at your house.
Ask yourself how you envision your and your child’s day being spent without screens or with limited time in front of the TV or tablet.
Will screen time be replaced with independent play, family time, trips to the park, etc.? What are TV and tablets replacing that you would like to see happen?
Essentially, you need to establish a clear vision and solid goals.
Determine the new screen time limits
After you’ve spent some time determining (with your parenting partner, ideally) what your goals for screen time are, it’s time to come up with some limits.
Again, these will be determined by the problem.
A few examples:
- John is 3. He wakes up early and you’re not quite ready for the day, so you give him your phone to watch videos while you rest.
You’d like to get out of this habit and for him to play quietly next to you while for 15 minutes while you wake up.
Your new screen time limit is no phone time in the morning.
- Cindy is 5. She is used to eating dinner with the TV on. You would lie to break this habit and instead have conversations around the dinner table.
Your new screen time limit is no TV during dinner.
- Janice has a 9-month-old baby, and her 2 other children, 2 and 4, have had several hours a day of screen time since the baby’s birth.
She sees that her older children are overstimulated by all the screen time and not getting enough gross motor playtime.
She feels ready to replace most of their screen time with independent play, but not all of it.
She’s set her goal to be 1 hour of TV per day and she’d like that hour to take place at 11 am when she puts the baby down for a nap.
As you can see, your screen time limits are going to be specific to the problem, and that’s going to look different in every home.
You need to have clear goals so both you and your children know what to expect from each day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has screen time recommendations that can help you set your goals.
They are as follows:
- No screen time except video chats for kids under 18 months
- Little to no screen time recommended, co-watch with your child for kids 18 months – 2 years
- Kids 3 – 5 should not watch more than an hour/day, co-viewing is recommended
- Kids 6 – 10 should have no more than 1.5 hours of screen time/day
- Kids 11 – 13 should have no more than 2 hours/day of screen time
If you need help coming up with goals for your family, healthychildren.org has a really great screen time tool you can use for free.
Set the stage
If there are any barriers to limiting your child’s screen time or things that can be done to make the transition easier, those need to be taken care of.
For example, John from the example above is going to have his phone time taken away in the morning.
His caregiver wants him to play quietly for 15 minutes, so they’ll have to make sure he has some quiet activities ready to replace the screen time.
This could be something like a quiet book or a small box of special toys that are reserved for morning-time play.
Many parents and caregivers would like independent play to replace much of the screen time.
If this is your goal, you will need to make sure your child has toys they are interested in and a tidy and appealing space in which they can play.
In addition to an independent play area, setting up areas around your home wherein your child can do things for themselves can be very helpful in keeping them busy independently and alongside you.
Having a music device, like a Toniebox, is another helpful item for caregivers trying to figure out how to limit screen time for kids.
Gross motor toys like Piklers are great for safe indoor climbing, which can aid independent play.
Whether you choose to purchase items or not, just be sure to have things on hand that your child can do when they get bored.
Limiting screen time certainly does not have to be expensive.
Prepare to limit your own screen time
When you’ve set your goals and made sure you’ve got what your child needs to replace TV and/or tablet time, it’s time to prepare yourself for turning off your own phone.
Zoning out on screen time isn’t just a habit that needs to be broken for kids.
Endlessly scrolling on Facebook or other social media apps is bad for our mental health, discourages engagement with our children, and sets a bad example for our kids.
The new TV and tablet rules are going to be hard for your child to accept at first, and you need to be off your phone and present to help them with their emotions.
They’re also going to want frequent engagement in their activities, at least during the transition period, and from then on, sporatically.
Even though independent play might be your goal for your child(ren), it may not happen right way.
In any case, you want to set a good example and be present for your children, and you can’t do that while you’re scrolling through Facebook or watching Instagram Reels.
Discuss the new rules (and reasons) with your kids
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to talking about new screen time rules with your child.
Mark on a calendar the day when the new screen time rules will take effect and let your child know exactly what the new rules are.
If you’re going to be using a device, like a digital egg timer, to time your child’s TV or tablet time, now is the time to introduce it to them.
Show them how it works and how much time you’re going to be setting it for during their screen time sessions.
Let them know that when the timer goes off, so does the device.
If your child aks why there needs to be new screen time rules, you can give them a simple explanation like, “Too much TV isn’t healthy for us” or “You’re missing out on lots of play time while you are on the tablet. I want to make sure you get to run and jump as much as your body needs”.
We have a great list of books that help children understand screen time limits, if you need help with this.
When the day comes to limit screen time for the kids, that’s exactly what you need to do.
Your child is not likely going to be very happy with the new limits, but if you’ve prepared them ahead of time, they may be at least accepting of them.
If you have a baby or toddler for which you’re limiting screen time, you are going to be dealing with some very big emotions and you need to be ready for them.
Your child is going to feel angry, frustrated, and sad. These are all of the same emotions you would feel if someone took away something you very much enjoy.
Your child, though, isn’t old enough to understand why you’re limiting their screen time and they don’t have the capabilities to show their frustration in mature ways like adults do.
Hugs, talking about their feelings, snuggles, book reading, and just extra attention overall will help them get through the transition to less or no screen time.
The choice to limit screen time for kids is a good one, but parents and caregivers really struggle with how to make it happen.
If you follow these steps, though, you’ll be able to successfully do it.
Set your goals, prepare yourself and your kids, and stick to the plan. Your commitment to following through with the new limits will make it easier on everyone.
The transition from screen-heavy to limited screen time or screen-free can be intimidating, but it is possible, and many who do it end up being very happy with their decision.
Many parents and caregivers report their children being happier, calmer, and more independednt and creative in their play after they reduce or eliminate TV and tablet time from their homes.
We’d love some feedback on this.
What are your struggles with trying to limit your child’s screen time?
If you’ve reduced or eliminated screen time for your child, what challenges did you encounter? What differences did you see in your home afterward?