One of the most common sights these days is a fellow human being with his or her eyes set firmly on a screen. Eye-contact has become a thing of the past and most of our seemingly meaningful connections are through the internet. Rather than identify with their peers, children are increasingly living in a virtual world often missing out completely on the real world around them. While technology is undoubtedly a boon, the easy accessibility of electronic devices to young children is not exactly the best, as more and more studies show. If you are a parent who wants to limit the screen-time your child has, then this post is for you.
There are many ways to go screen-free and it makes sense to find out which way suits your household's schedule. When I became a mother for the first time in 2011, I remember scouring the net for ways on keeping young children occupied. You see, around the time my daughter was turning two, I had a new book I was working on and I was struggling with the process of working from home. It didn't help that we were staying in El Salvador in Central America, miles away from family and with no one to call to come and mind my daughter for a bit.
I ended up writing an entire romance novella on my phone when she slept on my lap and skyping my editor as she gaily breastfed. A huge step for multitasking mothers everywhere. Not!
Just another mum entering the ranks of the eternally sleep-deprived and exhausted.
My husband did try and pitch in during weekends and week nights, but this was also around the time a little thing called separation anxiety set in, which meant my daughter wanted her mother and only her mother. And being the attachment parenting advocate that I am, I just had to make it work without having to resort to handing over my phone or plonking her in front of the TV.
Of course, as the old saying goes about raising kids, the days are long and the years are short and before you know it your child is skipping away to do her own thing. But this post is for those mums who are in the days are long and never-ending zone - Mums with kids under the age of three.
Here are some things that worked for me.
Setting a Routine
This was as much for me as my daughter and for two reasons. The first reason was that I am a person who makes lists and finds immense pleasure in sticking to them. A routine ensures that I have an idea of the things I need to do in a day and it gives me some sort of order, amidst the unpredictability of living with a very young child. The second reason why a routine is important is because it sets habits if done consistently. If you routinely have quiet time after lunch, your little one soon starts to crave for that quiet time. Of course, this only works if you persevere for at least 21 days with your routine - that's how long it takes to turn it into a habit.
On the other hand, if even after 3 weeks it doesn't seem to work for you, please make changes.
And don't let the word schedule or routine intimidate you!
For example - this was my routine from when my daughter was 6 months old till she was 15 months old.
((Coming up soon – sample plans for children ranging from four months to three years old))
7:30 am - 8:30 am
Wake up, breastfeed, breakfast, goodbye to Dada and change
8:30 am to 9:30 am
Go downstairs for some time in the sun
(We had two teeny patches of grass downstairs, so I'd carry her there and point out plants and flowers and colours. Later on, this was the time, I would push her around in her tricycle and practice her walking and encourage her to take a closer look at the leaves, flowers and even stones and bugs)
9:30 am - 10 am
Read a book
(This is something we started early. We started reading to her at about 4 months of age and I believe it has helped her grow into the book lover and pre-reader she is today.)
10 am - 10:30 am
Feed/snack and cuddle- unstructured play - If older initiate a discussion about the book. This also helps in vocabulary development and grasping storylines and plot development.
10:30 am - 11:30 am
((Also the time for mums to either do a little bit of work if WFH or get their me-time on or do chores. I used to have to put my daughter in the sling 'cos she refused to nap alone))
11:30am - 12:30
Lunch for both
12:30pm - 1:00pm
((We used to watch Baby Jake in Spanish from Ceebeebies))
1:00pm to 1:30pm
Playing music of different kinds
1:30pm - 3:30pm
Nap for both of us.
3:30pm - 4:00pm
4:00pm - 5:00pm
Unstructured play time
Blocks, balls, crawling, even 30 minutes of baby Einstein videos
5:00pm - 5:30pm
(In our case it also used to be terrace time - heading up to the open roof to look at the sunset and colours
Or sitting on the balcony watching birds fly home.)
5:30pm to 6:00pm
6:00pm - 7:30pm
Dada comes home, feed, dinner, bedtime routine
This is a basic routine that of course became more complex as she grew - play dates came into the picture as did Gymboree, weekly mom and daughter day outs and Mom and me music and art classes.
Clearing a Play Space
Now, both you and I know that once you have a child, you might as well abandon the notion of grown up spaces in your house. Every room has at least one kiddy artifact that marks the thorough conquest of your heart and home by this pint sized tornado. Yet, there needs to be a space that is the child's alone. If you don't have the luxury to do up a whole room, that's fine - all you need is a little bit of space demarcated in perhaps your study or master bedroom. I did this with foam tiles and decals and I also shared the room with my daughter - creating my workspace in there.
This is the space where you set up all the essentials - books, blocks, toys and this is what the child views as an invitation to play and later on as their corner to retreat to play on their own. This zone needs to be tech-free.
Let your child lead
Try and observe what your child is into the moment.
For example, there are times when all my daughter wanted to do was string beads. Or other days when all she did was cut paper. Let them lead and remember that while repeating the same games again and again is monotonous to you, repetition is good for them - it helps in building up and strengthening their skills.
While choosing a game to play, try and look at what your child is into that particular week. The more you let them focus on that one activity of their choice, the less inclined they are to look for distraction in the form of screens.
Modeling your behavior
Right from the time that they are infants and they learn to smile looking at your smile, children learn from you. So if you sit around all day looking at your phone/laptop/kindle/whichever other screen, chances are your kid will do pretty much the same. And it also makes it pretty hard for you to order them away from the screen when you yourself have a tough time keeping away.
So start with yourself - keep the screens away while interacting with your child. And do more offline things that you can involve your kid in - like gardening, cooking, impromptu dancing, even cleaning and laundry. Kids don't think chores are chores till they are made to seem tedious. For the young child walking around with a damp washcloth, wiping surfaces is a fun game.
Take advantage of it. It won't last.
Create tech-free zones
Ensure that some areas are completely tech free. We follow the tech-free rule during meal time and while we are out. I play car games with my daughter when we are out and if my hands are tied, I play music. No devices are used at restaurants either. Your job is to get them to learn to behave appropriately in a social setting without having to resort to devices. The key to this is starting them young. Children will not ask for devices at mealtime, if you don't give it to them in the first place. To get through the waiting time for babies and toddlers try carrying a small toy and for young children - crayons and paper. These things are lighter than most devices and won't run out of charge.
And finally, if you can't beat them, join them
Sit and watch with them - making it an interactive experience rather than a passive one and be mindful what they watch.
Two hours of Sesame Street is better than half an hour of mindless animation.
Get the kindle out, and read children's books on it. Download educational games on your phone and sit with your child and play together.
Make the screens work for you, rather than just a pointless distraction.
As wise parents before us have said, 'what is best for the children is not always what is most convenient for the parents.' So, even though clamping down on our urge to remain logged on is difficult it is definitely worthwhile to do so.
After all, when we remember our own childhood is it the time that we spent with our televisions and computers that we cherish more than the memories we made with our loved ones?
What are the steps you take to limit screen time for your kids? Do let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook page.