Let’s talk about screen time detox for toddlers today, shall we?
I Will Never Be That Mom
I’ll be honest: I was definitely that pregnant mom who talked a lot about things that I would “not do” once I had my child. A lot.
I always said they would eat healthy, sleep well, have little to no screen time, play outside regularly, etc.
Now, while I have stuck to my guns about many of these things (my child, thankfully, eats very healthy, has a great sleeping routine, and plays outside a lot), there are some things I have since relaxed, for various reasons.
Until recently, one of the biggest things I had relaxed is screen time. And I felt horrible about it. Completely guilty and awful. Before I get into the why, let’s rewind back to July 2019 so I can explain the how.
The Back Story | Depression
Depression is something that runs in my family and in my genes. It is unfortunate, but it is what it is. After many years of struggling with it, on and off, I have come to grips with the fact that this is something that is simply a part of who I am; it isn’t who I am.
Last year, for whatever reason, I fell into a depression about mid-summer. It always seems to come out of the blue, but often times is made worse by certain factors. This time, it was made worse by an event that happened on July 31st, 2019: my cat of eight years went missing.
Now, I know what you may be thinking: “this sounds ridiculous!” – “You’re meaning to tell me that your cat’s disappearance made you depressed?” Well, yes, yes I am. Although, actually, I was already depressed; his disappearance simply made my depression worse.
Anyway, I digress…my cat disappeared and life as I knew it came to a screeching halt: I was so sad, so blue, and so depressed, that for several days I could not get out of bed. I can’t tell you the last time I had a depressive episode where it took me out this strongly. It was horrible.
Thankfully I have an amazing doctor and he saw me right away and got me on a medicine that helped. The only thing is – medicines that help depression take some time to actually work. So, while I was waiting on the medicine to work, I did the best I could.
The best I could, at that time, looked like this: I would wake up and nurse my son, 20 months old at the time, and then stay in pajamas all day. We didn’t go many places, we didn’t do much…mommy was just trying to survive.
This is when the screen started turning on more and more. Before this time, he had only recently been introduced to TV and we would only turn it on if he was sick or when we needed to cut his nails – that’s it.
But while I was trying to get out of my depression, turning the TV on was all I could do most days. Thankfully, we were together while it was on, cuddled up on the couch with each other – but it was still on, and a lot.
My guilt during this time sky-rocketed. I felt so absolutely horrible for allowing my son to be consumed by TV shows or movies 3-4 hours a day. AWFUL. I can’t even describe how horrible I felt.
Maybe I was too hard on myself, maybe I wasn’t…again, it is what it is.
But the unfortunate part about all of this is that while it may have been ok to do this just until I felt better, “this” lasted much longer than “until I got better.”
“This” became routine even after my depression. For nearly five months, my son and I watched TV shows and movies for about 3 hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, but around 3 hours.
Once I was feeling better with the medicine, we got out more and most things got back to normal – but the screen time never did.
Saving Grace | The Busy Toddler
Flash forward to Christmas break. Thank God for Christmas break. It was a break I needed, indeed. I was scrolling through Instagram one night and came across a post by Susie Allison from “The Busy Toddler” wherein she asked if there was anything we (mothers) wanted help with.
I immediately replied with a shorter version of this story and asked for help on getting my toddler away from the TV. Thankfully, for me, she replied and posted it as part of her Instagram stories!
She went through a really quick way to do a screen time “detox” for a toddler and I took copious notes while reading this. I went ahead and planned to do this detox right after Christmas break when my husband went back to work.
Flash forward a little further to the present day, January 15th, 2020, and I will say that my son is now consuming no more than thirty minutes a day of screen time, and many days he has zero minutes of it!
The detox worked and I am feeling so much better about it and my guilt has (nearly) melted away…although I’m sure some part of me will always look back on this time and feel guilt.
So, friend, I am here today to briefly go over the detox I did for my toddler and give you a few extra tips that The Busy Toddler did not mention…hoping that maybe I can help just one person out there who is in a similar situation.
Screen Time Detox for Toddlers | 8 Easy Steps ANYONE Can Follow
1. Cut It Out Cold Turkey
Susie recommended that, because of the age and development of a toddler, cold turkey is the best when it comes to a screen time detox. I can’t remember all of the reasons for this, but it was something along the lines of “your toddler will not know any better, so you may as well cut it out all at once.” I did this and it worked.
2. Have ZERO Minutes of Screen Time for Three Days Straight
This was another tip from Susie. She said that toddlers, once having screen time cut cold turkey, need time to “reset” – and after having been through this firsthand, I completely agree. The three days without any screens truly helped Harrison to reset (and it also helped me). Step 3 goes more into what to do during those 3 days without screens.
3. Have Activities and Adventures Planned for The Three Days without Screen Time
This is so important. Susie recommended going anywhere and doing anything that would get you away from the TV. For some that means playing on a different floor in the house, for others that means actually leaving the house; we did both.
We went on errands, we went to the park, we went to drive-thrus (lots of Starbucks!), we went driving, and so many other little “adventures” during these three days. I think the distraction helped to lessen the pain of going cold turkey.
4. During The First Three Days, Admit to Your Mistakes
It is ok for your toddler to hear you say “mommy made a mistake” or “mommy let you watch too much TV and that isn’t good for you and now we are going to change” whether or not they fully understand you. Being able to admit mistake is huge, even to your own children (and yourself).
Find a way to explain to them, during one of the many times they will ask about watching TV, that you are doing this for a reason and that you made a mistake. They may not fully understand, but they will understand a little, and you will feel better by admitting to it and communicating it with them.
5. Take an Evening to Go Through Your Child’s Toys and Set Up a Good System for Rotation, to Prevent Boredom or Plateaus
I have been doing toy rotation and thoughtful play set up for years now (even before I had my son, when I was a nanny) and have seen children reap the benefits of it.
I decided to use this screen time detox period (well, the day before it started so that the toys were ready and set up) to do another toy rotation and it was a good thing I did. I have a video about how to do a toy rotation and will include it below.
It’s as simple as having minimal toys and meaningful toys, and finding a way to rotate these toys and activities in and out so that they either seem “new” to your child or so that your children are playing with the things they enjoy most (all the while benefiting from the play).
6. Enjoy the Reward of Little-to-No-Screen Time
After about 4 days, you should notice a huge difference in your toddler. They will have a longer attention span, they will have fewer tantrums, they will be more pleasant and less demanding, they will have more interest in more things, and they will speak less and less about screen time (to the point where one day they simply will no longer ask for it).
7. Remember the Detrimental Effects of Too Much Screen Time
Screen time, when consumed too much and too regularly, can have detrimental effects on a child’s social, emotional, and physical health. Children who have too much screen time often have a higher risk of being overweight, have sleep problems, have behavioral problems, and much more.
Remember: a child’s job is to play. Play is what helps children develop both mentally and physically, as well as socially and emotionally. Play is what we want them to be doing; not sitting and being consumed by a screen all day long.
8. Use Screen Time as a Tool
I love this one. This is the last step in the detox (even though, technically, it is not part of the detox).
This goes back to where I was last July: there are times when you will need to “use” screen time to get through something. That “something” may be anything from cooking dinner and taking a shower to lying on the couch while you recover from a bad virus.
If screen time is rarely used, when you do use it, it will be much more beneficial for both you and your child.
I am so thankful to Susie Allison for giving me tips on getting through a screen time detox with my toddler. I really feel indebted to her because in a way, she saved us both.
I am so glad I reached out to someone – anyone – once I realized there was a problem (both with how I was feeling and the screen time situation).
I encourage each of you to do the same: reach out to someone when you need help, no matter how big or small your situation is.
If you would like to read more of my toddler and/or mom topics, head over to this post about Potty Training, this post about How to Make Mom Friends, and this post about products you need for relaxation!
Thanks for reading, friend. I hope this helps you. Take care.