Screen Time and Your Child

Children under four years old learn best through hands-on experiences. For example, shaking a toy, playing with blocks, stacking and sorting objects, playing a game of peek-a-boo or catch with you. However, the reality is that most are exposed to screen devices at a very young age and can learn from these experiences too.

What is most important is that parents are involved and interacting with their child during screen time and making connections between the screen and the real world.

Screen time is the amount of time your child spends using a device that has a screen. It includes time spent watching television or movies, playing video games, using a computer, tablet, e-book or smartphone.

Did You Know?

  • Watching television within two hours of bedtime can make it harder for young children to fall asleep. Watch TV Before Bed: It Doesn't Work for You
  • A television playing in the background can interfere with children's play and learning
  • The more interactive a screen experience is, the harder it is for young children to learn and focus on the storyline

Tips for Parents

Interact with your child during screen time.

If your child is playing an interactive electronic game, play with them. Ask your child to describe what the characters are doing, or predict what they will do next. If your child is watching TV or playing a game, act out what is on the screen with your child. For example, if a character is playing with a ball, take out a ball and play an age-appropriate ball game with your child.

Make the connection between the screen and the real world.

Choose programing that asks your child to participate in what is happening on the screen. For example, label objects or find objects on the screen. You can continue this learning by helping your child connect what is happening on TV, such as counting, letters and colours to the real world. For example, try counting the number of shirts when you are folding laundry or point out the colour of cars when you are out.

Set limits on screen time.

Be clear about the rules for using screen time in your home. Less is best. Set aside "screen-free" times and use this time for reading, visiting the library, or spending time outdoors. Avoid the use of screens during meal times as this is a great time to talk and connect with your child. Keep screens out of your child's bedroom and avoid screens around bedtime as it interferes with your child's sleep.

Be aware of your own use of screen devices.

You cannot connect with your child when you are distracted by your smartphone or watching television. Sometimes when parents are distracted by screens, children misbehave in order to get your attention. Children will imitate their parents' use of mobile devices, television and video games, so try to be a good role model. Watch Screen Time: Kids are Always Watching

Give your toddler / preschooler a five minute "heads-up" before ending screen time together.

This helps your child move from one activity to another. In a calm voice, making eye contact with your child, say exactly what you plan to do - "Jack, in five minutes when this game is over, we are going to go outside to play." When the game is over, then say to your child - "Jack, the game is over now, so it is time to go outside to play."

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