Parenting often involves a whole lot of scheduling. It’s your own schedule, it’s their school and activities schedule, their playdates and homework or screen time. It is a lot to juggle.
- Get a Master Calendar – We have a desk size calendar on our dining room table and have each year since our oldest was six. It has our work schedules, school events, parties, weekend plans and vacations. For a while, it had playdates then homework hours. The kids chore chart is right beside the calendar.
- An hour a day of downtime – If your family’s schedule always seems full, an hour of downtime a day, every day, may be the first thing to put on the calendar. Downtime for children is truly unstructured, go-play time. It is not time on screens and not full of activities that you provide. It’s a time for them to make their own plans. Ideally it’s a full hour at a time, but it’s okay to break it up when you have to.
- Consider limits – There are so many pulls on our time. It can be helpful to at least consider limits on screen time, set times for homework (even if it varies throughout the week, at least it’s on the calendar), and have 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of being read to daily.
General guidelines – These are all for starters, meaning a good place to start, and then a child may be able to handle more or need to shift to less.
- In Preschool – In the preschool years, consider only scheduling something fixed on days off. If your child is in school three days a week, maybe plan for two or three activities on the days off. For children in five full days, plan for just one other on Saturdays.
- Starting Kindergarten – The transition to Kindergarten can be exhausting for children. It is a fast paced, academic environment with little downtime or rest. It may be helpful to lay low on other structured activities for the first month or two of Kindergarten.
- In Elementary School – Plan for school plus two structured activities at a time. However, there are children who can handle far more and some that school is plenty. Two would men piano and soccer or boy scouts and swimming. It may be helpful to place these on Monday and Tuesday when they are more rested from the weekend, or on the weekend when the rest of the day is relaxed.
- In Middle School – Plan for school plus three structured activities at a time. Also plan for one major activity and two minor activities at a time. Major activities would be a school sport or being a lead in a school play. These types of activities may meet four or five days a week.
- Go for variety – For my own children, I encourage them to participate in something athletic and something musical at any given time. I’ve let them pick the instruments and sports, just encouraged them to go broad and try new things often. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children not specialize in a year round sport until at least twelve years old.
- Have a mission statement – When signing up for something, at least consider why you are enrolling and what you hope you or your child gets out of it.
- Have the child help decide on activities – By about six or seven years old, I’d ask and take their answers in to account. For sure, when they start in the school band, they should pick the instrument. When they register for high school classes, they should have at least half the say if not more.
- Also fine to have a few givens – In my house, everyone learns to swim. The option may be different in your house. Maybe it’s foreign language classes to be able to communicate with extended family. It is okay to decide some of this for them as well.
- Make family time a priority – It may be helpful to put this on the calendar as well. Goals might include whole family time, doing something all together at least once a week. Couples time, a date night (even if it’s at home in front of the TV) at least twice a month. Individual pairs in the family, at least once a month.
- Resist judging them at every turn – Children aren’t supposed to be good at anything. If they join the swim team, focus on enjoying the meets and asking questions to learn about their experience. Focus on their effort and process more than outcomes.
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 http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.
It seems the challenge of limiting screen time is a growing concern for parents. With TV, computers, tablets and smart phones, screens seem available to our children at every turn. When a child is complaining loudly in a restaurant or crying in a waiting room, it can be tempting and so easy to pass them a screen to quiet them down. The difficulty is the little bit of research available about screen time and very young children is negative and for older children it’s questionable at best.
The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to suggest that there be no screen time for children under two years old, and a one to two hour maximum for older children. Other researchers, including Zero to Three, suggest less is better with a 30 minute daily limit for two to three years old, and an hour daily limit for older children.
Part of the reason for these screentime limits is to leave more time for other more valuable activities. When screen time is given to children just to quiet them down, parents are missing a golden opportunity to teach the child to calm themselves. They are missing a chance to build empathy by pointing out the annoyed people around them. Screen time as a passive activity is time children could be playing, having conversations, climbing trees, coloring or reading books.
Part of the reason is the growing research that supports links between higher rates of viewing with childhood obesity, attention span concerns and later depression.
My children watch tv and as they are getting older they have their own phones. The idea is to make sure you educate yourself as a parent and make the decisions that fit your family. For more information on this topic, read Screen Time: How Electronic Media – from Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Young Children by Guernsey.