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Nurturing Healthy Screen Habits for Little Ones - Screen use for Under 4s

As a positive parenting coach, one of the most common concerns I encounter revolves around the topic of screen time, especially when it comes to the youngest members of the family.

(NB This blog is one of a series, part one is here)

father and daughter at a computer

In our modern society, where technology is omnipresent, parents often find themselves grappling with the dilemma of how to introduce and manage screen time for toddlers and pre-schoolers. The challenges are real, and many, from concerns about the potential negative effects of excessive screen exposure to the struggle of setting appropriate boundaries.

Despite these challenges, it is crucial for parents to approach the issue of screen time with a proactive and mindful mindset. By implementing thoughtful strategies and guidelines, parents can create a balanced approach to screen time that promotes healthy habits and fosters positive development in their children. This may involve setting limits on screen usage, selecting high-quality and educational content, and engaging in interactive activities that complement screen time.

Moreover, cultivating healthy screen habits from an early age can have a long-lasting impact on children's cognitive development, social skills, and overall well-being.

The Role of Screens for Little Ones

For children under 4, the primary focus should be on hands-on, active play and human interaction. While screens can offer educational content, the key is to use them sparingly and thoughtfully.

Guidelines for Screen Use

toddler riding a balance bike outside
  1. Set Clear Limits: The World Health Organization recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day for children aged 2 to 4, and ideally, no screen time for those under 2 years old. I love how they put their advice in the context of play and getting outside. I'm involved in an association called Pas à Pas l'Enfant, and I have the privilege of supporting parents in learning about the benefits of play and reading with young children. Prioritise activities like playing, reading, and exploring. You don't need fancy toys or a big budget - kids love making things out of cardboard packaging. Or, have you ever played 'Kim's game' while waiting at the doctors? When you are setting limits for young children, set it by 'episode' (2 episodes of Fireman Sam, for example) rather than by time, in order to help with smoother transitions.

  2. Choose Quality Content: Opt for educational and age-appropriate content for your under 4s. Channels like the UK's CBeebies offer programmes designed to support learning and development. In our family, we enjoyed episodes of 'The Bear and the Big Blue House' (for 4+, maybe 3.5) Daniel Tiger (2-5) and Sesame Street (3-5).

  3. Co-view and Engage: Whenever possible, watch with your child. This turns screen time into an interactive experience, where you can discuss what you're watching and connect it to real-life learning. If you can't do this, make sure to join them for the last 5 minutes of an episode and talk about what they're seeing on the screen. This helps bring them from the screen to the real world. Again, this is really important to support tantrum-free transitions.

  4. Create Screen-Free Zones: Ensure that mealtimes and bedrooms are screen-free to promote better eating habits and sleep quality. Yes, this tip is for the parents!

  5. Lead by Example: Model healthy screen use for your under 4s by limiting your own use of digital devices when around your children. Look - another tip for parents! When you are in the same space as your child, try to put your phone down and interact with them.

Activities Beyond Screens - and they don't need to all be child-led.

Encourage activities that stimulate your child's imagination and physical development. Building blocks, puzzles, and outdoor play are excellent alternatives that help develop fine and gross motor skills. Finally, the weather is improving here in Paris (it has been a VERY wet month of May) so take the opportunity to go to the park on the way home from school. HOWEVER....

I think that in recent years, parents have been sold a very high pressure version of parenting. The one where we are always looking for ways to stimulate and challenge our child. What if we simply got our child involved in our daily life. They can help us when we fold laundry, they love to clean the house (especially anything involving water/windows!) and two year olds are more than capable of unloading a dishwasher and learning how to prepare vegetables. If you want to know more about getting your child involved in chores, start here.

Final Thoughts

By setting clear boundaries and prioritising interactive and educational content, you can help your little one develop a healthy relationship with screens from an early age. Remember, the best way for children to learn is through real-world experiences and interactions - AND, we don't need to make our lives harder than they already are - if you want to chat about finding a healthy screen/no-screen balance that's the right one for your family, or how to stop the 'end of screen time tantrums', then please get in touch - I'd love to talk.

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great article and some good ideas on how to get kids involved and doing useful tasks. 😊

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Thanks so much Shirley - yes it's really important to get kids (small and big) involved!

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