Remember when too much screen time was one of a parent’s biggest concerns? That feels like a distant memory, and while most of us therapists still recommend limiting a toddler’s time on screens, there are some simple ways to use them as a vehicle for meeting social or language milestones.
1. Turn Taking – If your child gets engrossed in whatever she or he is doing on the phone, turn it into a game for them, say, “Oh, My turn” and take the phone while smiling, hold for a couple of seconds only, help your child sign “my turn/please” and hand it back to them for 30+ seconds, and repeat. Make sure your turn is very short (a few seconds) and their turn is a little longer. After a few repetitions they will learn the game and trust that they will get the phone back again. Keep your voice and tone positive but firm. With this simple activity, your child will learn to include you in play, and will be available for language (“my turn, your turn”) and eye contact .
2. Eye Contact – If they are not quite ready for the above tip, try simple eye contact. Hold the screen near your face and once you catch eyes with your child, even just a second, say, “Good looking at Mommy, here!” and hand them the device. Model, “My turn” but instead of prompting or helping them sign, just say, “Look at Mommy,” you may need to crouch down, and catch their eyes, but as soon as you do, hand over the screen again. Take quick but frequent turns.
3. Photo Album – Look at pictures on the phone with your toddler. Label family members, “There’s Mommy, Daddy, Evan” etc. If the person is in the room, point to them on the phone and in person so that your kiddo can start to understand the actual person and picture or representation. (Language after all is a representation of a real item.) Take pictures of your child’s favorite items so that they can see those on your phone too, “cup, ball, Teddy,” etc. The more expressive you are with hand gestures and voice, the better. Children tend to respond to catchy simple songs or mom/ dad singing tones more than our regular talking voice.
4. Toddler Gallery – On that note, take lots of pictures of your child, especially when they are in activities you want to see more of! Sitting at the table, coloring on paper, holding a spoon, sharing with her sister, etc. This way you can look at the pictures together, point and narrate and tell your child every single time how proud you were when they…..[ate their meal at the table, used their spoon, shared their favorite toy,] children want lots and lots of attention and praise, this is an easy way to “fill their cup” with praise and positive feedback and they will quickly learn, “Oh, Mommy is happy when I …..” Positive comments only, you want this to be a joyous routine, not a time for shaming.
5. Rock out – Remember children are very perceptive to our stress and moods, their sensitive dispositions mean they need to see us smile too! Music can be very therapeutic and the great news is you don’t have to listen to Baby Shark a million times! Play music that YOU like, and that gets you pumped, dancing, smiling, singing along! Your child will love feeling your Joy, and may just try to sing and dance along too! There are lots of free music apps out there, when you’re feeling the most stressed, crank up YOUR favorite music and take a 5 minute dance or car karaoke break with your tot, you’ll both be in a better mood afterwards!
This article is written by Monica Dangerfield, Developmental Specialist, Spot On Therapy Group
Jena Northen, MS, OTR/L, BCN
SIPT Certified, Occupational Therapist
Board Certified Neurofeedback
804.893.5010 Phone Ext 3
4840 Waller Road, Suite 200
Richmond, VA 23230