Jan. 31, 2022

Ask Amy : I Accidentally Created a Toddler Screens Monster!

The more screen time toddlers have, the crankier they get when you try to take the screens away. The good news is that a reset around screens really is possible with little ones, thanks to their still-limited short and long term memories. Here’s how.


I have created a 2-year-old screens monster! This week he and I have been sick with fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. (I also have a 6 month old who has miraculously stayed healthy.) My typically screen-free toddler has been given unlimited screen time because it was the only way we could survive! Now that he is getting better, he just wants to watch screens all day. I try to take them away and he screams, hits and goes crazy. How do I wean him off of this new and terrible habit?

Toddlers' memories are short enough that a reset is easily possible here. You don't mention which screens are problematic, but phones can be hidden in coat closets, TVs can have suddenly and mysteriously inoperable remote controls, computers can be "out of power" with no charger to be found.

You report that tantrums occur when the screens are taken away, so the key is to avoid turning them on in the first place, or at least to have them as readily available as they were before.

Another approach you can consider, from the world of animal training, is to create and reward an "incompatible behavior," or something novel your child will want to do that means by definition he can't be doing the other, less desirable behavior (in this case, hours of screens).

In this episode, Amy gives a few examples of incompatible behaviors to consider in this case. The overall takeaway? A hard reset is the answer, and that is fully available here. Hide the screens to the extent that you can, use your best branding to set up something super awesome that he will want to do more, keep that up for a couple of nights, and the new routine really will be set.

Until the next stomach bug, when you'll probably have to do it all again.

Amy mentions this video of a dog named Greta being trained using an incompatible behavior:

https://youtu.be/P0TB4v_rUj8

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