Tips for Limiting Screen Time

adorable little boy watching tv

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years old have no screen time, and that older children are limited to one or two hours a day. We followed the stricter guidelines suggested by Zero to Three of no screen time under two, a 30 minute daily maximum from two to three years old and an hour maximum as children are older. The idea around these guidelines is to consider them for your family. Stop and think, how much time do your children spend interacting with screens? What are they watching or doing during that time? How do you measure the educational value of programs? How do you follow-up to what they viewed?

Here are a few basic guidelines to help reign in screen time:

  • No screens in their bedrooms – 30% of three year olds, 40% of six year olds and 60% of 10 to 14 year olds have TVs in their bedrooms. This is related to more viewing time per day, more consistent weight gain relative to peers and higher rates of sleep issues.
  • No screens during mealtimes – Children who are watching while eating tend to over eat. They are not learning to listen to hunger and fullness cues because they are distracted by the screens. This habit is tied to later childhood obesity.
  • No screens on playdates – This should be an easy one, but encourage them to be social when their friends are over.
  • Track it for a week – To determine if your family is at a comfortable level, start by tracking it for a week. Jot down how much time everyone in the family is on screens.
  • Find a way to be clear – I have known families that pass out half-hour tickets on weekdays and hour tickets on weekends. The idea is once the ticket is gone, their screen time is done. This makes the expectation and the use clear for all. When my girls were in elementary school, we had the simple rule of one, 30 minute program each day, and once it was over it was over.
  • Save screens in the car for long trips – If your child is on a screen in the car while you run errands, they may be above the recommended limits just by travel time.

Join me for a valuable discussion about why to limit screen time, the impact on developing attention span, academic readiness and obesity. This will include information about background media, reading on screens and guidelines about deciding on the quality of children’s programming. My workshop on Screen Time will be on June 18th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit

Want Kids to Play with Their Toys?

Trains are boys best friends

As a parent, I know the familiar frustrations:

  • There are so many toys and activities in the house, and the kids are complaining they are bored.
  • You have to get dinner ready and want them to play with toys, but they are under-foot.
  • They finally find something to play with, and it lasts 6 minutes (you were banking on 20).


  • Introduce and then occasionally play with them WITH their toys – When they get a new toy, it can be helpful to play with them with it. Help arrange furniture in the dollhouse or build a lego structure next to theirs. The more you can get down on the floor with them and play, really engage and play, the better. Through playing with them, you are showing them new ways to use the toys and ways to interact. Through your attention you are letting them know the play itself is valuable.
  • Have a stash of toys you can start with them, and they can continue on their own – If your child is good at puzzles, set aside a few that you can start with them and then make trips away. If they love to color, sit to color a page and then take regular breaks while they continue to color.
  • Focus on open-ended toys – Open ended toys are toys that can be used in a wide variety of ways and are often simple. There isn’t a right or wrong way to use open-ended toys. This includes blocks, balls, lincoln logs, bowls, legos, boxes and dress-up clothes.
  • Buy the low-tech toys that “do nothing” – If you are buying a new doll, opt for the one that does nothing. If you buy the one that grows long hair or the one that speaks Spanish, that dictates to the child how to use the doll. It narrows the play. If you are buying a dollhouse, opt for the one that is quiet. If you buy the one that has a doorbell, tv sounds and barking dogs, it lessens creativity.
  • Think multi-age – This means to look for toys like dress-up clothes, art supplies or building blocks that children can use when they are three years old and when they are seven years old.
  • Give them things to do that are like what you are doing – Need them to play while you cook? Give them a kitchen set and put it nearby your kitchen or give them pots and pans with spoons and a bit of water so they can “cook with you.”
  • Provide accessories – If your children like to play dress-up, add shoes, hats and bags. If it’s the kitchen set, give lots of pots and pans, place settings and food.
  • Organize the toys with all their accessories – It is helpful to their play if all of a toys parts are stored together. When they go to play farm, it’s best for all the animals, tractors and people to be right there.
  • Organize the space, so the toys are within reach – To play with toys, children need to have open access to them. Choose low shelves and clear bins.
  • Give them regular practice at independent play – It is good for kids to have real downtime (not screens), and it’s even good for them to get bored. Every day, children should have time to themselves. If your child is not good at independent play, they need more practice.
  • Encourage them or challenge them to keep at it – It is helpful to give an encouraging word such as, “wow, look how tall that tower is,” or a challenge, “can you build it faster this time?” to keep the play going.
  • Limit screentime – The more they are on screens, the less they are playing with toys.
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