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There is no doubt that parenting can be very demanding. Keeping a young child entertained can wear out even the most patient and hands-on parents. To keep the little one entertained, many parents use digital devices with screens such as the television, tablets and mobile phones so that parents can have a much-needed break.
While pre-schoolers and older kids can have some screen time, it’s not advisable for babies and toddlers under the age of 18 months.
Source: Guidance on Screen Use in Children, Ministry of Health, Singapore. 2023
Children under 18 months old should not have any screen time as the early years are a critical window for children's cognitive development.
Children between 18 and 36 months old, suggest limiting total screen use to less than one hour a day.
#1: Babies learn the most from human interaction
Brain regions are developing rapidly during this age and young children at this age learn best from real-world experiences such as through physical play, reading and social interactions with family members. Screen time (including having the TV played in the background) reduces the time spent on these meaningful interactions which are important for developing language and social skills.
#2: Screen time at this young age can cause developmental delays
Having too much screen time at a young age can lead to developmental and behavioural concerns such as language delay. Too much screen time is also associated with inattention problems (lack of attention or reduced attention span) in young pre-schoolers1.
1Tamana SK, Ezeugwu V, Chikuma J, et al. Screen-time is associated with inattention problems in preschoolers: Results from the CHILD birth cohort study. PLoS One. 2019;14(4):e0213995. Published 2019 Apr 17. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0213995.
#3: You might find it hard to deny them screen time later on
Young children need time to daydream and learn to entertain themselves. These activities improve their creativity. If young children are constantly being stimulated by screens, they might easily get frustrated when denied screen time or their favourite channels.
#4: Screen time impacts physical health
Adequate sleep and physical activity play a critical role in children’s health and development. Screen time might take away time from physically activities. You want your baby to be practising tummy time or honing their motor skills by sitting, crawling, standing, walking. Plus, screen time before bedtime is associated with shorter duration and poorer quality sleep in infants and toddlers.
Screen time is the time spent on screens, e.g. using computers, tablets, smartphones, or watching TV or video or hand-held computer games.
Passive viewing refers to screen viewing without adult co-viewing and interaction.
With the large variety of educational programmes, parents might feel pressured to introduce digital devices early. But rest assured, unstructured play (free play) is more valuable for a young child's developing brain than is electronic media. Give your child opportunities for free movement and floor play to develop motor skills such as grasp, suck, search, startle, step, crawl. Your child will learn far more when interacting or reading a book with you than they will from passively watching videos.
After the age of 18 months, you can consider watching educational programmes together and use this time to interact with your child. Do limit this activity to less than 1 hour a day if your child is between 18 months and 3 years old. As your child gets older, adjust the amount of screen time based on his schooling requirements and individual learning needs.
Holding off on screen time means avoiding negotiations and meltdowns over it. If your child never gets to play on your phone, you won't have to worry about tantrums and power struggles over it.
There is no doubt that parenting can be very demanding and can wear out even the most patient and hands-on parents. Most babies and toddlers will be contented to play with toys or books. It might be tempting to let them play with your phone or tablet to keep them entertained, however it’s best to delay introducing digital devices to them at an early age.
If they kick up a fuss, distract them by offering them something else as a substitute. For example, offer them their favourite toy or point to a moving object to practise grasping.
You can also change the environment by bringing them to a different room or outside for a quick walk.
Background TV limits the amount and quality of attention we give to young children which can lead to a delay in language development. If you need some entertainment, put on music or an audio book instead.
You are the most important person in your child’s life so they will model your behaviour. If they see you looking at screens often and daily, they’ll conclude that the behaviour is acceptable and will want to do the same.
Screen-free zones at home like the dining table and your child’s bedroom help to consciously remind family members not to use mobile devices during mealtimes and while preparing your child for bed.
Set rules on when and where can devices be used at home. For example, you can set a rule to put away devices during meal times and at least 1 hour before bed.
There are many things you can do that does not involve a screen. For example, go on a play date, a long walk or try craft activities. Here are some ideas that you can try at home with your child:
Fill bottles with rice or pasta and them into make fun, colourful rattles your baby will love!
Littles ones love to paint, daddy and mommy hate the mess. Here’s a solution you’ll love!
Have some colouring fun with your toddler through these exercises.
Work with your little ones to keep them entertained with this DIY playhouse.
Ready some colour pencils and let your toddler trace and colour them in!
Make some home-made playdough with your toddler for hours of activity fun!
Guide your child to the Snowman by colouring the pattern on his scarf.
All you need is a bowl of miniature soft toys and containers of various sizes.
Guide your little one to find their favourite fruits and match their way through!
Lay it on the floor and have your little one run, stomp, and hop across it.
Let your little one choose their favourite stationery and colour away!
Jumbo blocks are plenty of fun so let your child build it from their imagination!
Learn and grow through mirror play
Babies like gazing at themselves in the mirror and playing in front of the mirror can be fun and fascinating for the child.
It offers a way to nurture your child’s development of self-awareness, which is a key part of their overall social-emotional development. Try playing peekaboo, teach your baby to clap the hands in front of the mirror. Try making funny faces and sing with motion.
Explore ways to promote independent play
Independent play is when your child plays on his own without parents interfering. During independent play, your child can explore and experiment and develop their creativity.
If you send your child to infant care, check with the school on their policy about screen time for children below 18 months old and ask if they control screen time.
If someone babysits your child while you are away, be sure that they know and follow your family's rules about screens.
Pack fun alternatives for outing. Bring a ‘fun bag’ of small toys, healthy snacks, stickers and books so when your child gets impatient, you have other tools besides your phone or tablet to come to the rescue.
Mindfulness and moderation are key. Be aware of how much time your child is logging with a screen and make sure much of that is spent with you. A toddler’s mind is impressionable, and they can adapt to the direction you put them in. Dedicate most of your child's day to screen-free time such as free play, social interactions, drawing, puzzles, books and toys.
Affectionately known as the "baby book" that every Singaporean child grows up with, the Child Health Booklet (CHB) is provided to parents at the time of delivery.
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Fill a tray with any noise making toys and homemade rattles. You can make a simple rattle by filling a bottle with rice or pasta.
Find a basket and fill it with balls of different texture, shapes and sizes. Crawlers might find it amusing to chase after the balls. Guide them how to put the ball back in to the basket after play.
Fill a baking tray with large pieces of magnetic toys. Make sure they are not too small for your baby to put in mouth. Let your child explore magnetic play!
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