About a month ago, I discovered a great way to manage my 5-year-old daughter’s screen time, and teach her the concept of good things are not given but earned. It worked so well for us, and I can’t wait to share my method with you here in this post.
1. The issues of the screen time we were facing
My daughter has started Year 1 in the primary. I noticed day after day, the first thing my daughter asked me after school was screen time. It was like she didn’t care about anything but the screen.
Once she started watching, she would not hear anything we said to her. She was totally in a different world.
I must say I was the one to blame because we didn’t have any explicit rules on her screen time.
Sometimes, I let her watch 30-40 minutes of Mandarin-speaking cartoons. Other times, she could watch 1 hour if not more.
On weekends, she could watch a whole 1.5 hours movie. But, the watch time often extended longer if we’re busy at doing something else.
I was not tracking my daughter’s screen time.
If I ever not allowed my daughter to watch her shows, she would just be whinging, nagging, and crying.
On the one hand, it broke my heart to see her being sad. On the other hand, I knew the risks of too much screen time for her growth.
I grew more and more frustrated.
Sometimes, the situation could quickly escalate, and my daughter was always the one who ended up in the naughty chair.
Believe me. I don’t like that at all. That’s totally against my will to be a better parent.
Think about it. If I allow our daughter to watch one hour of TV a day, which is 365 hours or 15 days a year!
Do I really want the screens to babysit my daughter instead of using the 365 hours to play, to create, or to do something beneficial to her development?
Do I want to have my daughter growing up and glued on the screen as many teens do nowadays?
My answer is 100 times NO!
Look, I’m NOT saying that young children shouldn’t have screen time or play with educational apps.
I’m saying that a child’s screen time should be intentionally managed and supervised so that we can use the cartoon shows, games, and technology to our advantage.
So, after consulting with Dr. Google and with what I know, I came up with
2. The solution: a screen time earning chart
I designed this Chart with two goals in mind:
- Manage my daughter’s screen time.
- Teach her the concept that good things are earned, not given, or provided.
We’re at the end of 4th week of using this Chart, and it’s working like magic, which was not what I expected.
Not only that I’ve achieved the two goals, but we’ve also gained some unintended benefits as bonuses.
Download this Chart below for FREE.
3. Here are the apparent improvements I’ve witnessed in my daughter.
1. Growing creativity and imagination
- The 3rd week into using this Chart, my daughter has stopped asking for screen time entirely after school. It’s like she doesn’t know the screen exists!
- Instead, she spends her time reading, drawing, playing in the backyard and making crafts, etc. She even started to write her own story.
3. Learning the concept of good things are earned, not provided
- To earn more points, which equals her cartoon time, my daughter often offers to help with the chores around the house. When being asked, she generally does things a lot quicker.
- The concept of earning is crucial, yet kids won’t learn that from school. I think the earlier we teach our children, particularly girls, this concept, the better we raise them to be independent and self-reliant.
2. Improved self-regulating and time managing skills
- On the weekends, when it’s her screen time, she watches and then turns the TV off without being asked.
- The usual whinging and crying? Gone! In other words, she’s learning to manage the time herself.
4. Learning to delay gratification instead of the I WANT NOW attitude
- This came as a surprise for us. One day when my daughter has earned 40 points (or 40 minutes screen time), I asked her if she wanted to watch a couple of Peppa Pig (approx. 20 minutes).
- She replied: no mummy, I want to wait until enough time to watch a Barbie (I have explained to her before that Barbie would take approx. 60 minutes).
- She was learning to save the points (her screen time) for later. Wow!
5. Learning math addition and subtraction
- In my screen time Chart, I use 5 points to reward for each good behaviour. I also show her how to add up the points when earned (addition).
- On the weekend, when she’s allowed to use the points to watch her cartoon, the time used will be deducted from the last balance points (subtraction).
- This process complements the math my daughter has been learning in school (Year 1).
4. So, what makes this simple screen time chart so effective?
Make all family members involved
This is critical to ensure the effectiveness and receive the benefits I mentioned above.
Both parents or close relatives need to understand the rules first so that this Chart can work its wonders.
Kids are smart. They will try to beg the other parent for screen time if one parent says NO.
If the other parent is not on board or not clear about the rules and the children get what they want, your implementation could fail.
What I did was to read out the rules together with my husband and daughter.
I also typed out the six rules in simple words (for her reading ability) at the back of the Chart so that she can read them if she wants to. Or I’d help her to read them.
Whether your child can read the rules or not, don’t expect your child understand them right away.
You’ll need to repeat and explain the rules many times until your child fully grasps the ideas.
Be consistent and stick with the rules yourself
I find the hardest thing to make this Chart work is to stick with the rules myself, especially at the beginning of using the Chart.
You will most likely encounter a constant begging from your child for screen time, the relentless and non-stop following you around.
My daughter even asked me: mum if I don’t let you watch your show, how would you feel?
While her negotiating skills amused me, I knew I had to stick to my guns.
At the same time, I guided her to healthy alternative activities such as listening to her music, drawing princess, stirring mud and jump hopscotch etc. The things I knew she’d enjoy.
Parents, I find the alternative play to replacing the screen time is crucial in the first week. Don’t just say to your child ‘go find something to play’ because your child is not yet used to the new routine. It takes time to break the old habit, so be patient.
In my daughter’s case, it took her about a week ( 7 days) before she gradually stopped asking for screen time.
She still asked the 2nd week but just not that frequent.
Then in the 3rd week, she didn’t ask at all. When she came home, she just went straight to find something to play BY HERSELF!
I can’t tell you how pleased I’m because the struggles we used to face DAILY are now almost GONE.
In other words, my daughter has adapted to a new routine.
Do we still have not-so-good days? Of course, we do. But hey, we are working on it.
My friend, if you’ve been searching for an answer to manage your child’s screen time better, this Chart might be the solution.
Give it go, but please remember: STICK WITH THE RULES YOURSELF AND BE CONSISTENT.
By now, you must be thinking. Ok, that’s great, Maggie. You’ve intrigued me. Show me the rules. Here they are:
5. Six rules for using this Chart
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve also printed the following six rules at the back of the Chart for your child to read.
I designed this Chart in a simple format with both English and Chinese texts. Hey, we want our children to learn a bit Chinese alone the way, right?
I always print out each page, laminate it and stick on our fridge so that all family can all see.
Reward good behaviours and encourage your child to write down the reasons for a reward if they can or willing. Or, you can write it down for your child to track the points.
Here is what our Chart looks like at home.
Rule #1 – You can earn 5 points for each reward = 5 minutes of screen time
Notes for parents:
- Screen time can be a cartoon, movie, educational games on TV, tablet or phone. My daughter only watches cartoon so I name the Chart Cartoon Time Earning Chart.
- Reward your child with 5 points for each good behaviour.
- Use examples to explain clearly to your child what good behaviours are (your expectations).
- Help your child understand the time – what 10 points (or 10 minutes) mean. (e.g. my daughter is five years old. I just say 10 points means one episode of Peppa Pig, which runs approx ten minutes, or 60 points means a Barbie or 90 points means a full Frozen movie).
- Help your child to add up and subtract the points when they’ve earned and used, which is a practical way for your child (5 or 6-year-old) to apply the math skills (addition and subtraction) he or she learns in school.
Rule #2 – You can only use the earned points on weekends (Sat & Sun).
Notes for parents:
- Tell your child that there will be no screen time during weekdays from Mon-Fri. Be prepared for the protesting. If they earned enough points, they would have their screen time.
- Guide and encourage your children to play, read, draw, or something else they enjoy and suitable for their development after school days. Don’t just say ‘go and find something to play’. Find alternative activities for them.
- Initially, it’d be hard as it was the case for us. But if you stick with the rules, things will improve about after a week.
Rule #3 – You can use up to 90 points at a time and before 6 pm each day on weekends only.
Notes for parents:
- Give your child a sense of control and let him/her choose when and how to use the screen time but just not in the evenings after 6 pm because it may affect the dinner or sleep time. Explain what 6 pm means.
- Allow your children to use the points in small chunks or one go. But don’t let them watch more than a full movie length (or 90 minutes) each day.
- The screen time must be age-appropriate. Please keep an eye on what your children are watching or playing so that they don’t passively absorb some unwanted info.
Rule #4 – You can save the unused points (balance points) for future use.
Notes for parents:
- It is a great way to teach your child the concept of saving for the future.
- Saving is delaying gratification. This habit can benefit your child in many ways now and in the future.
- For example, financially, instead of taking out credit cards, or those Afterpay cards, they would save until they have enough money to buy the things they like.
- Environmentally, instead of buying plastic products, they would keep the glass jars for reuse. Instead of having the lights on in every room, they would turn off the lights or power points to save energy consumption… I think you get the picture.
Rule # 5 – Use a timer for screen time. When it rings, and if your show is still on, you can extend five more minutes only then turn off.
Notes for parents:
- The timer is there to help your child to learn self-managing or regulating their actions.
- Set up the timer five minutes ahead of the scheduled screen time so that you can remind your child the finishing time.
- Let your child keep watching five more minutes if the show has not finished when the timer rings.
- The trick is to be selective and estimate the length of the screen time in the beginning so you can avoid a massive protest at the end. You don’t want your child to feel stopping in the middle of the fun.
Rule #6 – When you break the rules each time, five points will be taken off the Chart.
Notes for parents:
- It is to help children understand their actions lead to consequences.
- I find my daughter learnt this very quickly as I never needed to take the points off her Chart. I did remind her a couple of times, though. She values her points very much.
- In any case, if your child does break the rules, make sure that you explain why you take the points off and write it down in front of your child.
- If there is no more point left, then don’t let your children watch TV, even on weekends.
- Do provide them with the opportunity to earn more points to encourage positive behaviours.
This comes to the end of my post. Be in mind. I’m not a parenting expert. What works for us may not be suitable for your family. Modify it and find the sweet spot is the key. Good luck and please keep me posted how you are going. I’d love to hear from you.
What’s your screen time management strategy at home? What works for your family? Please leave your comments below or discuss in Panda Mama Community. Thank you.