Should You Limit Your Children’s Screen Time?

Young children are exposed to screen time and digital media throughout the day.

Young children are exposed to screen time and digital media throughout the day. Tablets and phones are used as sources of babysitting, entertainment, and for educational purposes. Screens are so common that toddlers who are calmed by a tablet or other screen are called “techno-tots” (Deal, 2017). Some infants and toddlers can navigate tablets and smartphones by tapping and swiping before they can walk or talk.

Screen time and its impact on child development is an important topic for those working with and raising young children. As challenging as it is, adults are responsible for monitoring and guiding children’s screen time. Research clearly shows that children mimic the behaviors of adults. When adults spend a significant amount of time on screens, it is not surprising that children are interested in screens and seek electronic devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has published screen time recommendations. They advise that children under the age of 18 months should not have any access to media. When children are ages 18-24 months, media and screen time should be limited to high quality, educational programming and it’s recommended that parents co-view the content with the children. Children between two and five years old should have an hour or less screen time per day with a focus on high quality, educational programming. Developing a “healthy media diet” is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). Children who use media without limits or guidelines are generally less physically active and screen time use can impact emotional, mental and social development.

Happy teenager boy using mobile phone and headphones in natural background.

One danger of screen time is the impact it can have on relationships, including the parent/child relationship, and a child’s ability to self-regulation of their emotions. When parents and caregivers spend time talking, reading, and playing with a child, they are helping the child learn how to socially interact with other people. Children who spend time looking at a screen may not adequately develop strong, relationships and social skills. As children develop, they need to learn self-regulation skills to manage their behavior and calm themselves. When a screen is used as a calming method, children may not learn how self-regulate or manage their actions during times of boredom or over-excitement.

Screen time can also impact physical health (including sleep and exercise) as well as social and academic development. Studies have shown that blue light, which is emitted by screens, changes the body’s natural sleep cycle, making it hard to fall asleep. For children, blue lighting could impact nap time as well as overnight sleep. Young children are growing rapidly, and an adequate amount of sleep is important for their development. Equally important is exercise and creative play which is often reduced with an increased use of screens and media. Reduced physical activity can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Engaging in media can also distract children from creative play. Unstructured play allows children the opportunity to develop problem solving, movement, listening, and social skills while allowing children to learn more about their unique interests.

Studies continue to assess the impact of screen time on academic performance and the overall development of children. “Devices may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-moto skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” shares Jenny Radesky, MD and Clinical Instructor in Development-Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston University (Washel, 2017). Children need to experience activities that foster problem solving, exploration, creative thinking, and experimentation (Lerner, Barr, 2015).

As technology advances, parents need to review the guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and take steps to implement a media plan that fits their family. With adults tied to their smartphones, Alexa, and other electronics, it’s not realistic that children will be free from these devices; however, it is important to teach children to manage their device use. The first step is for parents and caregivers to decide on a media plan and work together to track and enforce limits.

Young person using a computer with headphones.As screen time is reduced, a gap is created and here are a few tips to help parents navigate and guide children. Ideally, the additional time would be filled with family time doing activities together such as reading, cooking, going to the park, attending story time at the library, or playing games. During meal times, take a moment to turn off the television and instead of watching a show, use the time for conversation, turn-taking, or storytelling (Deal, 2017). When the screen turns off, it’s a great time to turn on some music. Take a moment to dance or let the children play with music in the background. Importantly, parents should reduce their screen time as a role model for their children (May Clinic, 2016).

Parents and caregivers play an important role in helping children develop socially in a society that is increasingly engaged in media. The American Academy of Pediatrics developed guidelines to help families navigate this new dimension in society. Although the impact of screen time is relatively new and the consequences are still being studied, parental monitoring of screen time and content can positively increase the development of young children.

References

  1. Deal, C. 11 Dangers of Screen Time, 24 February 2017, lessonandlearningforlittles.com.
  2. Lerner, C. and Barr, R. Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight – Research Based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old, Zero to Three, 35 (N4), 1-10. March 2015.
  3. New Recommendations for Media Use, 21 October 2016. americanacademcyofpediatrics.com.
  4. Screen Time and Children-How to Guide Your Child, 18 November 2016. Mayo Clinic Newsletter.
  5. Washel, E. 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Give a Child a Smartphone or Tablet, September 2017. littlethings.com

5 Ways Children Can Help Our Oceans

World Ocean Day is a great opportunity to teach children about the role of oceans in our everyday lives.

World Ocean Day (June 8) is an ideal time to teach children environmental stewardship. As the dominant species on Earth, we all have an obligation to be good stewards to our planet by teaching children their role in protecting the environment. World Ocean Day is a great opportunity to teach children about the role of oceans in our everyday lives. From impacting our weather to producing the oxygen we breathe, our oceans play an important role in our lives. The ocean absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than the air and provides vital food, medicine, and energy.

Each year, we expose the world’s waterways to an increasing variety of pollutants — plastic debris, chemical runoff, crude oil and more. 80% of all pollution in the ocean comes from people on land as 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. The 17.6 billion pounds of plastic in our oceans means there are more pieces of plastic in the ocean than there are fish. Although oil spills are devastating to wildlife, three times as much oil is carried out to sea by runoff from our roads, rivers, and drainpipes. It’s not too late to make a difference.

How Can We Help Our Oceans?

1. Reduce Plastic Use. Plastic kills more than 100,000 sea turtles and birds every year from ingestion and entanglement. Purchasing reusable straws, replacing plastic bags with reusable bags, and avoiding single-use plastic can make a big difference. Every little bit helps. If you are drinking from a single-use cup in a fast food restaurant, avoid putting on the plastic lid or using a plastic straw. Children learn through observation so it’s important to role model these desired behaviors. Teach children the habits of a sustainable lifestyle instead of a throw-away lifestyle to make a significant impact on how we use our natural resources.

Green Sea Turtle or Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Palau

2. Recycle Intelligently. Plastic takes thousands of years to decay and chemicals in plastic are released and contaminate the water. If the item can be recycled, ensure that it ends up in a recycle bin and not the trashcan. This can mean taking the item home if a recycle bin isn’t available. Know what can and can’t be recycled; greasy pizza boxes and some types of plastic can’t be recycled.

3. Volunteer. Plastic is so lightweight, it often blows out of car windows and the backs of trucks. It clutters around drains and enters streams and rivers, which eventually deposit the plastic into our oceans. If you live near a river or beach, organize a trash pick up event. If you live inland, picking up trash from the side of the road, vacant lots, community parks, or similar places in your community can have a positive impact.

4. Consume sustainable seafood. Global fish populations are rapidly being depleted due to fishing demands, loss of habitat, and unsustainable fishing practices. Some marine fisheries have declined by 35% in the past 80 years causing significant disruption in fisheries worldwide. In 2016, 171 million tons of fish were taken from the sea, and that number is expected to rise to 201 million over the next 10 years. Making sustainable seafood choices is vital for our oceans to maintain their ecosystems. To learn more about which fish are sustainable seafood options, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

Teenagers doing beach clean

5. Be an Ocean Friendly Pet Owner. Pet waste can also reach the ocean through runoff and city drains. A single large dog’s waste contains up to 7.8 million fecal coliform bacteria. Multiply that by the estimated 73 million owned dogs in the United States, and the amount of toxic pollution is significant. This pollution is avoidable if dog owners properly dispose of the waste made by their dogs and cat owners ensure litter is deposited in the garbage, not flushed.

There is so much trash in the oceans, that giant garbage patches have formed. Garbage patches are large areas (up to 1.6 million square kilometers or double the size of Texas) where litter, fishing gear, and other debris collects due to ocean currents. There are currently 5 known garbage patches; the first was discovered in 1997. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest and is located halfway between Hawaii and California.

As stewards of our planet, we must take responsibility for keeping it clean and healthy. We should also teach our children how to make choices that help our environment, even when a bit of extra effort or a change of behavior is required. We all have the opportunity to make a difference. For additional information, visit the United Nations Ocean Day website.

How to Help Children Manage a New or Departing Nanny

Many families need help from a nanny or after school sitter. Oftentimes, these childcare providers become members of the family to the children they supervise.

Many families need help from a nanny or after school sitter. Oftentimes, these childcare providers become members of the family to the children they supervise. When there is a change in childcare provider, it is important to consider the impact on the child.

Adults often struggle with change, and children do too. They may not understand why a nanny or sitter is leaving the family. There are two parts to this transition – managing the departure of the old caregiver and preparing for the entrance of the new nanny. Children have a harder time trusting new people and transitioning to a new schedule, so when welcoming a new nanny, show enthusiasm and positivity. When a nanny transitions out of the home, be respectful and compassionate. With support and communication, children can learn to better manage change and develop resiliency.

Managing a Nanny Departure

Ideally, your nanny will have worked for you for a while but sometimes, nanny departures are abrupt. In either case, it may be difficult for the children to understand why someone who has cared for them is leaving. Young children often view the nanny as an extended family member, a playmate, and someone who can tuck them into bed at night. Make sure they understand the departure is not their fault. Comparing nannies to teachers may be helpful as younger children understand that they will have a new teacher and new classmates when they move from kindergarten into first grade.

When possible and age-appropriate, tell the children in advance that the nanny will be departing, but not too far ahead of the departure date. Align with the nanny and give consistent answers about when and why the nanny is leaving. Allow children to ask questions and help them through their emotions and feelings. Share the positives things the nanny did for the children and reassure the children that those things will still get done, either by a new nanny or by other members of the family. Let children know it’s okay to miss the nanny and be sad they are leaving. Importantly, make sure the children know the nanny’s departure is not their fault.

If appropriate, help the children create a special way to say goodbye to the nanny or give a special gift. Children can create a memory or photo book with pictures of the nanny and places they went together. They could also create a piece of art or do a craft activity to gift the nanny. For older children, writing a special note or story may be a great way to say goodbye. If a nanny is departing on good terms and the nanny is comfortable with staying in touch, comfort the child by letting them know they may contact the nanny or perhaps visit a park together in the future.

A young superhero duo takes off to vanquish evil. It is never too early to be super.

Children will watch the parents and nanny for cues on how to behave. It is vital that all the adults set aside their feelings and behave respectfully. Even if the experience wasn’t positive, the children and nanny likely had a connection that may make a transition difficult. As children process the transition, they may exhibit changes in behavior for up to 6 months. Some children may be anxious and have more temper tantrums while others may not seem affected but regress in toilet training.

If a nanny leaves abruptly without a farewell to the children, the parents need to make sure the children understand they didn’t do anything to cause the departure. The children may experience feelings of abandonment or hurt and anger. Parents should focus on reassuring the children and refrain from negative references about the nanny’s departure. If children are struggling with a departed nanny, have the children write the nanny a letter or draw a picture for them, even if you never plan to mail it to the nanny.

Preparing for a New Nanny

Before a new nanny arrives, take the time to write down important information so the nanny can have a reference document. A cheat sheet that contains emergency contact information, an example daily schedule, lists with ideas for meals and snacks as well as the children’s favorite books can help the nanny better connect with the children. A checklist to help you orient the nanny to different aspects of the position as well as remind you to share where the pediatric medicine is kept and where spare wipes are stored is a great idea for the first few days. A local map with nearby parks circled and highlighted directions to swim class can help a new nanny find their way around the community. If you want a daily log completed, have a few printed out to help the nanny learn to track the information you’d like to see.

When a nanny has accepted the position, share this with the children. Explain that there will be a new nanny who will spend more time with the family. If they met the nanny during the interview process, remind the children of the activities they did with the nanny, so they can remember the positive experience. During the first few days, be available to support the transition as the nanny and children get comfortable with each other. Until settled into a new routine, don’t over-schedule the children or have play dates where other children may disrupt the newly forming relationships between your children and the new nanny. Try not to schedule any overnight trips during the early transition period.

A group of kids in a tug-of-war game

If the child comes to you with complaints about the new nanny, listen carefully. It may be challenging to determine if these are real issues or if they are the result of the new nanny doing things a little differently. You may hear how the old nanny was ‘better’ or ‘nicer’. Explaining to children that they may be multiple ‘right’ ways to do things and giving them time to adjust to the changes may be all that is required. If their complaints last more than a couple of weeks, you might want to investigate further.

Time of transition can be stressful for everyone. New nannies may have a difficult entrance into the family if the children are still processing their feelings about a departed nanny. Like most aspects of parenting, it is important to stay tuned to both your family as a whole and your child’s individual needs. Also, be sure to have open dialogues with the new nanny to understand how they are adjusting and coping with the transition period. If you have a child or children who are more sensitive to transitions, you should consider this factor in your hiring decision and aim to hire local long-term nannies over part-time nannies who may have a higher turnover rate.

How Visual Schedules Help Children Excel

Visual schedules can be adapted for use with any age group from infants all the way to adults.

visual schedule

There are many benefits to using a visual schedule with children under your care. Visual schedules can be adapted for use with any age group from infants all the way to adults. They can be tweaked for individual needs.

What is a visual schedule? A visual schedule is a plan or routine for the major events in a day that uses pictures and words. For most children, a schedule consists of mealtimes, self-care, and playtimes. A visual schedule takes the planned-out schedule or routine and creates a visual representation to follow. For older children and adults, this can be a simple list of things needing to be accomplished in order. The list may or may not have times listed for when to accomplish each task. For younger children, pictures can be added to the list that they can identify the tasks. Visual schedules are adaptable to everyone’s needs.

There have been many studies published on the benefits of schedules and routines for children. A consistent daily schedule has been shown to increase children’s feelings of self-confidence and security, as well as lower anxiety. Long-term use of a daily schedule has been shown to improve organization and time management skills in older children and adults. Daily schedules have also been shown to increase family stability, emotional regulation, and social adjustments in older children and teen (1).

A visual schedule provides children with a sense of control. They can follow along and anticipate what is coming next in the day. A visual schedule also offers a reference to verbal instructions as the schedule remains posted for review. A visual picture allows younger children to take ownership of the routine. Adults work with the children to teach the meaning of the symbols and then let the children guide themselves using the pictures as reminders. It is recommended to include written words with the images to contribute to a print-rich environment and early recognition of letters and word associations.

Visual schedules can be put in place at the beginning of a child’s life and updating them helps facilitate communication. To implement a visual schedule, lay out a written schedule, detailing the general daily routine. This written schedule can include general categories such as meals, nap times, and play times, or can be more detailed to include diaper changes, hygiene care, and specific play activities (2). I start the first schedules in pencil and more general so that they are easier to adjust with time and the age of the child.

 Childrens xylophones

The next step is to add the pictures. I use actual photographs of objects, but drawings and clip art can also be used. Label pictures with large letters, print them out, and protect them for subsequent use. Protection can be achieved using a sheet protector over a full-page photo, laminating the photo, or even using packing tape to completely cover the photo. Make sure the images are large enough for the infant to handle the paper without being a choking hazard. Before an activity, show the infant the photo and tell them what you are doing.

As infants get old enough to interact with the photos, display them in the scheduled order, in reach of the child. Point at the picture before the activity, and read it, then point to the next photo, read it, and explain that that is what is next. The child will be able to start pointing with you as they get older.

Many toddlers can manage a schedule that is all on one page. Keep the schedule in a reachable place so the child to interact with it. l Include pictures and add a short description and times for each activity. Velcro can be used so the schedule can be updated and changed easily. Cards with pictures detailing activities such as Legos, Play Do, going to the zoo or visiting a playground are great visual schedules. A set of cards with different activities allows for variety in the routine and lets the child see changes ahead of time. Velcro-style, adjustable visual schedules also work well for children in a school setting, where the schedule may need to be adjusted daily.

two young boys playing

As children get older and learn to read, the pictures can be left off, and the schedule transitions to written form. Preteens and teens can write or type out their own schedules. This allows the child to have control in how their schedule is laid out and lets the adults step back and give them some independence. Rather than reminding, or appearing to nag, the adult can remind the child to accomplish the items on their schedule.

Visual schedules can be a helpful tool for multiple ages. They are flexible and easily adapted to the needs of the child and the child’s family. They promote a sense of security and an understanding of expectations. Knowing what is going to happen each day allows a child to have a sense of control and helps to regulate emotions.

To learn more, a Learning Environments course is available with enrollment in the Advanced Childcare program.

  1. Malatras, Jennifer Weil, et al. “First Things First: Family Activities and Routines, Time Management and Attention.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 2016.
  2. Davies, Catherine. “Using Visual Schedules: A Guide for Parents.” IIDC – The Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University, Indiana University Bloomington, 2008, www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/using-visual-schedules-a-guide-for-parents.

3 Ways to Help Children Adjust to Daylight Savings Time

Spring Forward and Fall Back for Daylight Savings Time. Spring is on the way, so when we move the clocks forward, sunrise will be later creating darker mornings with sunset also later, allowing for more daylight in the evening hours. Whenever we experience a time change – whether it’s traveling across time zones or changing the clocks – our circadian rhythm is disrupted. We plan for jet lag and we can also plan for Daylight Savings.

Children’s lives are often schedule driven and deviations from the established routine can result in misbehavior. Thus, children are susceptible to circadian rhythm disruptions and may react in a variety of ways. Children may exhibit the same signs as to when they miss a nap such as increased grumpiness or crankiness, incessant crying, clinginess, and even increased aggression. Older children may have less energy or feel sluggish. The effects of the time change disruption can last from a few days to a couple of weeks. So how can we help children better adjust?
Many parents and childcare providers focus on bedtime as the primary adjustment; however, putting children to bed at a different time may not be as productive as we’d like. Just because we are in bed, doesn’t mean we can fall asleep. Time changes can make us feel sleepy, but they also result in changes in metabolism, mood, and bodily functions. The child’s entire schedule should be examined. For example, a toddler who has a regular bowel movement right before bed at 8 pm will have that move closer to 9 once the clocks change if his meal schedule is not adjusted. So, what do we do?

1. Proactive Approach. This involves adjusting the child’s schedule beginning a week or two before the time change. The most common method is to adjust the schedule by 15-minute intervals every three days or so. You would start about 10 days ahead of the time change and, for spring, wake a child 15 minutes later. You would then adjust their entire schedule (naps, meals, playtime, bath-times, and bedtimes) by 15 minutes for 3 days. On day 4, you would make another 15-minute adjustment resulting in a 30 minutes shift for another 3 days. On day 7, you would make a 45-minute adjustment. On day 10, when the time change occurs, you would have the child on a schedule that syncs with the time change. This is easier with children who are not yet in school but is more challenging if others control part of the child’s daily schedule.
2. Do-Nothing Approach. Simply change the child’s schedule all at once when the clocks are changed. There may be some resistance to going to bed Sunday night since it’s lighter out and there may be grumpiness in the morning they have to get up when it’s darker, but these normal reactions to circadian rhythm disruptions are handled as they occur.
3. Reactive Approach. This involves adjusting the child’s schedule gradually after the time change just like the preemptive approach described above. A child who rises at 8am before the change would rise at 8:45 for 3 days, then 8:30 for 3 days, then 8:15 for 3 days, and then back to 8am. Remember that the child’s entire schedule (naps, meals, playtime, bath-times, and bedtimes) should be adjusted by these 15-minute intervals for the best result.

As with most advice, these three are not the only options and hybrids are often used. Since we have little to no control over school-age children’s daily activity schedules, many try to ease their transition over the weekend of the change. This involves an accelerated proactive approach. If the time changes occurs at 2am Sunday, this approach would begin with an earlier bedtime Friday evening. Decrease activities on Friday evening and put the child to bed 30 minutes early. On Saturday morning, get them up 30 minutes early and keep their schedule 30 minutes ahead the entire day (including going to bed 30 minutes early again Saturday night). Once the time has changed, you can follow one of two paths – let them sleep in 30 minutes late and adjust their schedule accordingly all day or get them up at their regular time and ‘force’ them to the usual schedule. They would go to bed on time on Sunday evening and start the school week with their usual schedule. Given the acceleration of the ‘adjustment period’, the child will most likely still exhibit some of the misbehavior discussed above, but hopefully, the duration is less than if you do nothing.

How to Help Advanced Children

Giftedness refers to children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing.

Federal reports approximate 3-5% of the school population can be considered gifted or talented. Giftedness refers to children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others their age, experience or environment.

Talented learners are those who have particular abilities in sport, music, design or creative and performing arts. There are many myths and misconceptions of advanced youth. Some feel all children and people are gifted but, in this case, the definition of advanced focuses on a child with an outstanding talent. Others believe gifted students must be high achievers; however, not all gifts are academic. A child can be gifted musically or artistically and still struggle to understand math. Along these lines, it’s possible that a child can be advanced or gifted in one specific area and at the same time have a disability in another area. Another misconception is that gifted students only come from advantaged homes.

Identifying a gifted or talented child begins by looking for the characteristics and traits that many gifted or talented children exhibit. These include an unusual emotional depth and intensity for their age, a large vocabulary, the ability to think critically, persistence, independence, frustration or boredom, possible volatile temper (especially when they fail to accomplish a task), and non-stop talking. Of course, not every gifted or talented child will exhibit all these traits.

There are tests designed to identify giftedness with respect to academic endeavors including verbal comprehension, general reasoning, numerical operations, and mechanical knowledge to name a few. Artistic giftedness and other talents are often identified by teachers and childcare providers.

When a child is identified as gifted or talented, they may need additional support if they require services that are not ordinarily provided in the public school system. Parents, teachers, and caregivers are the most important influential elements in the child’s development and function as mentors, disciplinarians, and educators. Special care is needed as advanced children may struggle with perfection as they seek to be the best. This self-imposed expectation may generate stress, so the child must learn to adjust their expectations and manage their emotions.

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented shares helpful strategies when working with advanced and gifted children. An important strategy is for parents and caregivers to evaluate their parenting style and align it with the child’s needs. Efforts should focus on the positive aspects of the child’s behavior, not the progress towards perfection. Advanced children should also be allowed unstructured time and provided with an enriched environment that has lots of materials and opportunities for exploration in areas that differ from their talent. Creativity requires a nurturing and expressive environment, so allow for regression, solitude, and divergent thinking. Finally, use everyday tasks to help with decision making and make learning fun. A child’s motivation and interest will increase if pressure is taken off homework and other academic material.

To learn more, an Advanced Children’s course is available with enrollment in the Professional Childcare program.

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