4 Ways to Limit Your Toddler's Screen Time

Too Much TV? Here's How to Cut Back.

It's a well-known recommendation echoed by physicians, teachers, parenting magazines and (yes) even the television news media: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, screen time, including TV, tablets, smart phones and other entertainment media, should be avoided until a child reaches the age of 2. For children 2 and up, the AAP recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time a day. 

It's not surprising that parents often struggle to follow this recommendation. In addition to the simple fact that media devices have become pervasive in our society, sometimes turning on the TV or handing a toddler an iPad is a true sanity savor. If there are older children in the home, it can seem almost impossible to limit a toddler or baby's time in front of the TV. But, if you're concerned about the amount of time your child is spending in front of screens, you can take a stand. Try these four tactics to limit your toddler's screen time. 

Model the Behavior You Want to See

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Toddlers are obsessed their parents' phones, which shouldn't surprise us. After all, adults can spent upwards of two hours a day on these devices -- checking emails, texting, scrolling through Facebook and making phone calls. And while your phone may feel like your lifeline, if you want to make a significant change in the amount of time your toddler spends using media, it's important to be more mindful of how often you're on your (possibly many) devices. 

Plan Activities Outside of the Home

If you're having trouble turning off the TV, leave the house and don't pack the tablet. Being away from screens will ensure screen-free time.

When the weather is nice, head to the local park, swimming pool, splash pad or forest preserve. If nature isn't cooperating, check out children's museums, play spaces, and child-friendly coffee shops and cafes. Meet friends for a playdate.

Struggling to come up with ideas? Enroll your toddler in a class or two to ensure you're getting out of the house, and sit down every Sunday night to determine outings for the week. Deciding in advance will make it easier to stick to a plan.

Encourage Independent Play

Young children can be particularly demanding of their parent's time, and turning on the TV provides a welcome and much-needed break from parenting. But letting a toddler learn how to play independently is very important -- not only can it help you find some downtime, it's also critical for learning creativity, problem solving skills, and self-sufficiency. 

First, edit a toddler's toys. If you have baskets filled with miscellaneous toys, go through them and toss the ones your toddler isn't interested in. Then set out a few items that your toddler can play with by herself. Try a box of blocks or legos; a few wooden puzzles; or a kitchen set with food. Set up a pretend scenario for her if she needs you to, like a tea party. If your toddler often has an adult guiding her play, encourage about five minutes of independent play, and work up to longer amounts of time as she gets used to being left alone. The longer a child is able to play independently, the less likely parents will feel like the TV or tablet is their only option for a break.

Set Boundaries with Screen Time

Many of us have hundreds of channels, multiple streaming services and DVRs that record our favorite shows. It's no wonder toddlers think TV is an on-demand service that allows them to watch any show at any time (it basically is).

That's why it's important to not only set screen time limits, but also to set boundaries with the shows a toddler is allowed to watch. The more leeway you give, the more likely a toddler is going to think of television as an all-you-can-watch buffet.

Limit your toddler's TV repertoire to a few shows. PBS is always a safe bet -- think Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Sesame Street and Super Why -- and watch a show or play with other media like apps on the tablet at predictable times. For example, maybe your toddler is allowed to play with the iPad for 30 minutes while you make dinner or he can watch an episode of his favorite cartoon on Saturday mornings. The more consistent you can be, the less likely you'll be dealing with constant TV requests and meltdowns when you say no. 

If you're looking to take more drastic measures, considering removing media devices from common areas of your home -- or all together. If the TV is located in the same space as the toys, it's more likely that it will be turned on. If it's not, it will be out of sight and out of mind. 

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