Help Your Child Develop Initiative, Concentration & Independent Play Skills (& Wean from the Screen!)
The hardest part of helping your child develop initiative, concentration, and independent play skills is the beginning, especially if you are already in the habit of using a screen to keep your child busy when you need to get things done, or when a younger sibling needs quiet time for a nap.
In my experience, the quickest and easiest way to get rid of the screens is to get rid of the screens:). Yup, that’s right – cold turkey. Those of you that know me well, know that for lots of things, I’m all about gradual. But, for things that are addictive, that change body or brain chemistry, and that are super-stimulating, it’s often really important to get the effects of the thing out of the child’s system so that your child has the best chance of adapting easily to the new situation. (I would say the same thing for artificial colours and flavours, gluten, and dairy, for example, for a child sensitive to these things). AND, we all know that at some point, most humans these days will need or want to use technology, and we also know that this can be done in a healthy way. Stay tuned for a blog post about how to establish screen-related guidelines and self-regulation skills for older children, AFTER initiative, concentration, and independent play skills are firmly established.
Now, before and after you get rid of the screens, you will need to do some really important leg work. Here are some key pieces:
1) Set up your home with developmentally-appropriate things for your child to do. Once your child shifts away from using the screen for entertainment, his or her initiative will naturally return and he or she will start to find things to do. This piece is the most important one, and it will take time and effort to find the right things to bring into your home to inspire your child’s initiative and concentration.
Here are three tools to help:
The Joyful Child and Child of the World books. (I have some extra copies of these – if you are in Calgary, Canada, give me a call to buy from me.)
My Summer Sanity Saver audio and workbook – it has lists of the kinds of indoor and outdoor activities that are perfect for each age group.
Most importantly, your own observation of your child. If your child likes taking lids off things, provide a variety of things for your child to take lids off of:). Think: “How can I say “YES” to this activity?” and offer ways for your child to do the activities he or she is wanting to do.
2) For the first couple of weeks, focus on things your child doesn’t get to do all the time: pull out a pile of empty boxes, blankets, and pillows for building large forts, prep for water-play or playdough, bake or cook with your child, spend extra time outside, take a long bath, or bring out some new books. For the first while, you will need to spend lots of time engaging your child in the activity, and keeping him or her company. Depending on your child’s personality, he or she will eventually move away from you and play independently, but remember that every child is different this way. Your child may be more successful playing close beside you than playing in a different room. Give your child lots of time and support to build up these skills. Plan extra support for your child during the first few weeks after you get rid of the screens. If you need the time that used to be your child’s screen time for your baby to nap, ask grandma or auntie or a friend for a screen-free playdate at that time for the first week or two to help your child be successful.
3) If your child is super active, be sure to go outside for an hour or two of hiking, climbing, walking, running, bike-riding, etc, every day to help him or her be more settled during indoor time.
4) Share your values with your child and stick with them – and do your very best to get buy-in from the beginning. (Do this proactively, when your child is out with you at the park, or in a happy mood, not when your child is melting down because you won’t turn Dora on.) If you believe that screen-time affects brain development, tell your child that you love him very much, and you want him to have a strong and smart brain. Tell him that screen time makes it harder for children’s brains to be strong and smart, so you want him to do things that help his brain be strong. Ask him if he will work with you to find new things to do instead of screen time. Tell him he will miss the TV/iPad/video games at first, but after a little while, you and his strong and smart brain will work together to help him find other things that he loves doing. At times when he’s sad or mad about no screen time, say, “I know, it’s hard to do things a different way, and TV can be fun. I know you miss TV time today!” Give him time to be sad, then help him focus on all the other things that he could be doing, and help to engage him in another activity.
5) Do daily things with your child, from the beginning. Cooking and cleaning involve lots of tools, and children love tools. Get child-sized tools and plan ways to integrate your child into the activity. Most young children will love tearing lettuce, washing dishes (yes, the kitchen will get wet), or spraying things with a spray bottle while you clean.
6) Brainstorm with your child and make lists of things that your child loves to do. When your child complains of being bored, get out the lists and go through them to choose something.
7) Be okay with boredom. If your child complains of being bored, and can’t think of anything to do, commiserate a bit, then move on, “That’s tricky. Being bored is boring…”
8) Build your community. If your children’s closest friends don’t do much screen time either, your child won’t be repeatedly drawn in to screen-related conversations, and will have independent-play skills modeled by friends, as well.
9) When you decide to unplug, do your best to limit your own screen time, too. Build your relationship with your child, work on staying present, and clear your plate so that you can support your child’s transition. It’s hard for your child to see you on the computer if you’re telling him or her NOT to be!
Okay, so those are the keys – please share below what has worked for you, and any questions that you have!
(And, for more information about my Summer Sanity Saver audio and workbook, which will walk you through the foundation for helping your child develop initiative, concentration, and independent play skills, all year long, click here.)