The following week, the mother brought her child in. I spent 15 minutes playing games and interacting with him. We played with animals, play-dough, puzzles and blocks. He had good eye contact and conversational skills. He did not present with any symptoms of oppositional defiance, social skills difficulties, speech or language delay…yet. At that point, it was clear that the iPad was being misused, thus leading to behaviours. I explained to the wearied mother that she needed to put some boundaries and ground rules about using the iPad. She suggested getting rid of the iPad altogether but I told her there was no need for that yet. Plus, there are some benefits of children using the iPad.
Instead, I asked her to follow some strategies over two weeks. Two weeks later, we were both stunned and proud of the positive results and changes in his behaviours. Not only that, but she noticed that his interactions improved and that he was excited to talk and play with his mother.
As a result, I decided to type out and share 6 strategies to help manage iPad use with your child.
Put a time limit (and stick to it).
Explain to your child that the iPad is ‘special’ and we get to play with it for a ‘special’ amount of time. You will need to use obvious and create ways to help your child understand this, especially if they are a toddler. Use visuals with ‘first’ and ‘next’ to explain that when iPad time finishes, they will need to move on to the next activity. Use a kitchen timer to give them an auditory cue when iPad time is over. Don’t feel bad taking the iPad away when iPad time is over. Maybe find a place for it far from their reach or view. Even Steve Jobs reported in an interview that he ‘limits how much technology our kids use at home’.
Follow this guideline:
- Under 2yrs: strictly no iPads.
- 2yrs: no more than 20mins per day, three to four days per week.
- 3-4yrs: no more than 30mins per day, four to five days per week.
- 5-8yrs: no more than 40mins per day, four to five days per week.
- 10yrs +: no more than 1hr per day, four to five days per week.
Provide smooth transitions.
Plan a smooth and fun transition from the iPad to a game, cuddles and tickles, dancing or a song. Don’t snatch or take the iPad straight away. Instead, remind your child that ‘special’ time is over, the alarm went off and we need to say goodbye to the iPad. Have a different game or soft toy ready to move into. Even better, play a fun, interactional game such as ‘peek-a-boo’, ‘bubbles’ or ‘hide and ‘seek’.
Give lots of verbal praise and tangible rewards. I give away verbal praise and hi-fives like there’s no tomorrow. They don’t cost me anything nor do they take much energy from me but to the child it’s worth the world and gives them positive energy. Lots of it! The more you praise your child, the more resilient they will be, it will make them want to spend more time with you than the iPad and seek positive attention from you. Say things like, ‘Oh you are so much fun to play with! You are so clever at that game, let’s put the iPad away and play ‘I spy’ while I hang the washing’.
Make an iPad station.
Having a time limit is important but choosing the right time for your child to be on the iPad is just as important. Build or create an iPad station to put away the iPad at certain times including sleep and meal times. The worst times to let your child on the iPad is before bed and during meal times. Research suggests that meal times are important for developing social skills, manners, conversational skills and of course, relationships. Of course, the iPad would have to be out of the equation to achieve these. According to the Australian Sleep Health Foundation, screen time before bed can affect your sleep as the ‘blue’ light that it gives stimulates the brain and makes it think that it’s still daytime. It also affects the levels of melatonin, thus, affecting our REM sleep and without sleep, how can one function? It would be ideal to put these boundaries form the beginning but if you didn’t, don’t panic, make a start by putting away the iPad in the special spot and provide lots of positive and tangible reinforcements. This could be, having a small treat after eating dinner or making meal times fun by taking turns or giving foods name such as ‘Can you take a bite of Chelsea the chicken?’. Replace the TV with music in the background and be a good role model. Remember: Practice what you Preach!
Don’t use the iPad as a dummy.
If you want to get rid of a negative behaviour, you don’t replace it for another negative behaviour. If your child is crying, screaming and throwing a tantrum for a toy at the shops, avoid giving him/her the iPad. Instead, provide calming strategies such as a sequence of self-talk, ‘Oh you want the toy, I know you want it, you want it now, mummy doesn’t have the money today, let’s look at mummy’s wallet, let’s count the money, look I can see $1, how about you keep that and we can find something you can buy, it’s time form a hug, it’s time to wipe our tears’. If your child has Autism or severe communication skills, try using visuals or music to help calm them down. I think iPod’s with a portable speaker are a greater investment. Children can learn to use them from as young as 2yrs and play their favourite songs to dance or listen to. Use the iPad as a reward for their good behaviour. For example, ‘You were so good at the shops today, you can have ten mins on the iPad, let’s put the timer on’.
Use the iPad (to your advantage).
IPads can be helpful if used in the right way. Use it to increase interactions, encourage turn taking and responsibility. Sit beside your child while they’re on the iPad. Be the ‘voice’ of the iPad while they play, saying things like ‘ohhh’, ‘ahhh’, ‘wow’, ‘blue ball’, ‘you are so fast’. Use it to teach ‘turn taking’, saying ‘your turn’, ‘my turn’, ‘your turn’ and so on. The younger the child is, the harder it is to turn take because they haven’t quite understood the reasons for turn taking and may think that you are taking away the iPad and not returning it. To begin with, keep your turns short. Follow the guidelines below:
- 2yrs: 2mins for the child’s turn, 30secs for your turn.
- 3yrs: 2mins for the child’s turn, 1min for your turn.
- 4yrs: 2mins for the child’s turn, 90secs for your turn.
- 5yrs: 2mins for the child’s turn, 2mins for your turn.
Be a role model.
Children learn best from imitating and watching others. If you are spending a lot of time on your phone or similar device, expect your child to want to do the same. In a technology driven world, we must make conscious decisions to put down our phones. Maybe you could put anytime for how long you spend on your phone? I really like this blog on the effects of children imitating their parent’s good vs bad behaviours. Read here.
Put in the effort.
Follow these strategies diligently until they become second nature, use a timer or visuals. Don’t be lazy. If you want to make a change in your child’s behaviour, chances are that you need to make some changes to. That’s not to say that it’s your fault or there’s something wrong with your parenting. Most of the time it’s just about working out your child’s behaviours (good and bad), and putting effort into helping regulate their behaviours.
On a final note, these strategies may not be easy to apply with all children. It may take months before you are able to build healthy habits towards using iPads. However, if you continue to struggle and your child’s iPad obsession is limiting their social skills, speech or language development, please see a Speech Pathologist or a Psychologist.