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How to Get Kids to Put Down their Devices

Updated on January 28, 2014

The Family Rules

Before you ask or demand that your child put down their "device" it's important that everyone in your family know the rules regarding the screens in your home. When can they turn them on? For how long can they use them? What needs to be done before they play a video game?

Every family has a different schedule and therefore a different set of rules. What works for our family is that my children are expected to come in from school, hang up their stuff, empty their backpacks, unload their lunch bags and do their homework. This is all before they can even ask if they can turn on a screen. And then, their screen time is limited to a designated amount of time. We've gone over the rules with them several times and they know what is expected of them. If they do not complete their tasks, they do not get any screen time that day.

I have also made it clear to my children that time with a device is a privilege and responsibility, and not a right. Having a clear set of rules, that we enforce and stand by daily, helps the children know what to expect. It helps avoid confusion and tantrums.

We made an apple pie and added our own "D" initial.
We made an apple pie and added our own "D" initial.

Cook Something

My kids love to help me cook or bake. But I don't always have the patience or time to include them. So I know that the invitation to help me in the kitchen will trump any video game. For our family, it's a sure fire way to have them turn off electronics without a big fight.

Because I have three kids, the kitchen can get crowded quickly. One solution is to have one of my kids help at a time. I tell them that I will need their help on a few things, and that they can wait for me to call them in, or they can quietly wait and watch their brother or sister take their turn. But they are not allow to play on a screen while they wait their turn.

Another way I enlist their help in the kitchen is to have one of the kids read each step in the recipe while the other two help with the ingredients. This works especially well with baking, when precise measurements are needed and a certain order needs to be followed.

While having three "helpers" in the kitchen certainly adds time onto the process of cooking and baking, it's worth it for me to have them busy with something other than a video game.

Play Something

These are the games we play in our home. My kids are ages 7 and up, and we find that these games work for all of our ages.

  1. Monopoly
  2. Cards (our current favorites are Rummy 500, Spit, Go Fish and Solitaire)
  3. Life
  4. Rummikub
  5. Battleship
  6. Head Bandz
  7. Sorry
  8. Hangman
  9. Tic Tac Toe

When the kids don't feel like playing any of these games, we have room time. Each child goes to their own room, or another designated room, and they quietly find something to do on their own. I'm always amazed at how a child can use their imaginations to come up with just about anything!

Build Something

We have a large supply of legos in our home. The kids build kits from time to time, but I find they get really excited about their own creations with random pieces.

I have a box containing post-its, scissors, tape and scrap paper. When the kids get into this box, there is no telling what they will create. I've seen them make a store with their toys and use the post-its for price tags. I've seen them make 3D items with the scrap paper and tape. They make signs for their rooms. I just give them the tools and watch them create.

We have a collection of puzzles. They are perfect for snow days where it's too cold to go outside, or quiet nights when everyone is home. There is something about a puzzle-in-progress sitting on the kitchen table that draws little hands out to help.

Or Just Do Nothing!

Sometimes we do nothing - and that's okay too! We're not always in the mood to play a game together. Or sometimes I need to cook dinner quickly without little helpers. But I have to remind myself (and the kids!) that it's okay to have nothing to do. And that having nothing to do is not a reason to turn the television on or to watch a video online.


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