After the overwhelming response to our recent newsletter about at-home learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Children and Screens has teamed up with some of the top experts in the fields of parenting, education, and child psychology to bring you a new series of helpful hints and common-sense suggestions for navigating the uncertain days and weeks ahead. Raising young kids can be tricky, even under the best of circumstances, but as our experts share here, adaptability, patience, and understanding are the keys to ensuring healthy growth and relationship building during this crucial time in your child’s development.
Check out these 12 tips for parents of young children below, and be sure to tune in to the first installment of our upcoming interactive webinar series on April 27, when our panel of experts will chat about healthy screen habits for kids ages 5 and under and answer your questions via Zoom. RSVP here.
Don’t Feel Guilty
We know you’re stretched thin and doing your best to manage a whole host of issues, so please don’t feel guilty if your kids are engaging in more screen time than you’d typically allow. There are so many wonderful educational resources out there, even for very young children, and we recommend making the most of them (and getting other family members involved where possible). The use of video chat on a regular basis is also highly recommended to maintain social ties with friends and family members. – Dr. Sarah M. Coyne, PhD, Professor Associate Director, School of Family Life Brigham Young University
Role with It
Both you and your children will need time to adjust to your new roles. In one fell swoop, you’ve become a stay-at-home parent, a teacher, and a frontline responder (aka superhero). Be patient with this transition. It may be rocky at first, but children are adaptable and will thrive with well-intentioned efforts. – Kara Bagot, MD, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Department of Psychiatry
Reach Out and Touch Someone
With social distancing in full effect, it’s impossible for toddlers to get the kind of in-person attention they’d normally receive from friends and family. In order to maintain those tactile connections, it can be helpful to serve as the “hands and heart” for your loved ones while video chatting. For instance, if Grandpa motions to “tickle” your baby’s tummy, give your child’s tummy a tickle. If Grandma leans toward the screen for a kiss, give your toddler a kiss on the cheek. By taking on this role, you can help nurture the relationship between the child and their loved ones on screen. – Rachel Barr, Georgetown University; Rebecca Palarkain, ZeroToThree; Elisabeth McClure, Lego Foundation
When video chatting with young children, try rhymes, songs, dancing, finger plays, and games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek. The more toddlers can participate in screen time, the more they’ll get out of it. – Rachel Barr, Georgetown University; Rebecca Palarkain, ZeroToThree; Elisabeth McClure, Lego Foundation
Talk Talk Talk
Be a part of your young child’s screen time. Sitting with them, holding them, and, most importantly, talking to them are all important ways to help children learn and feel safe. Make a game out of describing what different characters on the screen are doing. Point and label the objects and people that appear in the videos you watch. Sharing screen time can be an excellent opportunity to talk with and engage your toddler. – Ellen Wartella, Director of the Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University
One More Time
It’s OK if your child wants to watch the same show or series over and over again. Children learn more with each repetition of a book or a song, and the same goes for screen media. The more children watch the same show or play the same game, the more they understand the storyline and educational content. – Alexis R. Lauricella, Associate Professor and Director of the Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center, Erikson Institute
Pajama Day (Only 1x/Week)
In anxious times, kids benefit from predictability and daily structure. As best as you can, maintain a basic schedule for things like meals, self-care, schoolwork, and screen time. Invite them to help you make and decorate a weekly schedule, and be sure to include some fun ideas for joint parent/kid break times. – Meredith Gansner, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Cambridge Health Alliance
Ready, Set, Play!
It’s a good time for all of us, kids and adults alike, to PLAY. Put on music and dance! Work on a puzzle, break out a board game! Grab those Legos and build a castle! Don’t forget how to have fun with your little ones. – Elizabeth K. Englander, PhD Director, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, Bridgewater State University
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Understand that there are developmental differences between children of different ages. Homeschooling a kindergartener will be very different than homeschooling a seventh grader. While younger children may need you to keep a closer eye on them, older and more independent kids can set goals and check in with you on their progress. – Colleen Kraft, MD
Physical objects and activities can help bridge the gaps presented by social distancing. When video chatting, encourage your child’s screen partner to read a favorite book while the child follows along with his or her own copy. Invite the video partner to play with a toy car while your child rolls around in their own. Puppets and stuffed animals are great props for playing together virtually, and sharing a snack together is always a favorite for young children. Joint activities will help your kids stay connected with their on-screen partners. – Rachel Barr, Georgetown University; Rebecca Palarkain, ZeroToThree; Elisabeth McClure, Lego Foundation
The Good, the Bad and the Interactive
Screen time isn’t inherently good or bad; what matters is how we choose to use it. Screens can take us to the zoo, guide us through the great museums of the world, and keep us fit with healthy movement games. Make the most of the current situation by finding active, engaging, meaningful, fun, and socially interactive choices to invest in. – Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D Temple University, senior fellow Brookings Institution; author Becoming Brilliant
Bored in the USA
Not only is it OK to be bored, it’s beneficial! These days, we’re all so constantly bombarded with stimulation and entertainment that we’re left with little time to explore our own thoughts and dreams. Let’s use this time to develop that important skill, and to appreciate the healthy power of boredom. – Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D Temple University, senior fellow Brookings Institution; author Becoming Brilliant
At the end of the day, nothing is more important than making sure your child feels safe, nourished, and loved. It won’t always be easy, but we hope parents can incorporate these 12 tips, along with a little extra kindness and creativity, as they adjust to their new roles and make the most out of the unexpected.