How to Help Your Kids Kick the Screen Habit With a “No Screen Month”
By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer
I don’t know about you, but for some reason when February arrives I feel the strong need to hit the reset button for our family.
I’m sure it’s the time off over the holidays, and the cold weather, and being stuck inside, but we all start to get a little crabby and cranky. This year, my kids have already had eight snow days and were off of school more days then they were in school this month!
So we’re off-schedule and have major cabin fever since it’s even too cold to go outside and play. And I’ve noticed my kids are spending a little too much time in front of screens – either watching TV shows or playing games on the phones or tablet.
I’ve also realized that I’ve become a little lax with our usual rules and limits because I’m a little tired and cranky from being stuck inside too!
So for the past several years we’ve hit the reset button by declaring February “No Screen Month” for our kids.
For us this means no watching shows or movies on the TV, iPhones or tablets, and no games on the phones or tablets either. (This year we’ll still let the kids watch video tutorials for using their Rainbow Looms because that’s an activity they’re really into right now.)
Because here’s the problem I see – my kids can get too attached to the screen–to the point that any free moment they have they want to be watching or playing on the screen.
I don’t know if my sweet kiddos are the only ones like this – but they are easily addicted.
I’m not against screen time completely, but I do think that it needs to be used wisely and intentionally for our kids (and really ourselves too, right?!) so it doesn’t morph into a monster within our homes.
The first several days of “No Screen Month” are always a little hard for all of us. My kids have a hard time letting go and still ask to watch a show or play a game multiple times throughout the day.
And I have a hard time letting go of the break that screen time gives me as a mama. But with a little intentionality we all learn how to manage, and by the end of the month we have reset as a family, so that screen time is not our default.
How to plan a “No Screen Month” for Your Family
1. Set yourself up for success.
For us this means we need to help our kids stick to “No Screen Month” by removing the temptation for them. We take our Netflix apps off of our phones and tablets. We set pass-codes on our phones, so even if the kids try to use the phones, they can’t get on.
We keep the TV remotes hidden away, and we don’t have any gaming systems, but if we did, we would probably unplug them and put them away for the month too.
2. Find a replacement.
My kids’ regular screen time was in the afternoon when I let them watch a TV show while I put my youngest down for her nap. It was the easiest way for me to keep them quiet and entertained so I could be sure they wouldn’t wake up the baby.
I still need to put the toddler down for a nap in a quiet house, but I don’t want to back off our commitment to “No Screen Month,” so I needed to find a replacement.
Books on CD are an excellent way to help keep kids entertained and quiet.
We’ve purchased a few of our own, but we also love to pick up new ones from the library every few weeks. My kids love to sit and listen to several books in a row, and I love that I can get the baby down for her nap.
We also recently found Sparkle Stories, and I was thrilled to learn that they have a podcast that is free! I think they may be better for older kids who can sit and listen to a story without having a book to look at, but I’m really loving this resource for replacing screen time at our house.
Other similar stories on CD would be great too.
3. Plan some activities.
When you first cut back on screen time, you know there is going to be the inevitable whining around the time when your kids are used to watching a show or playing a game.
Plan a few easy but fun activities to offer at those times to help distract them and give them something else to do.
It can be as easy as water play in the sink or a new set of markers or paint and a giant roll of paper. I’m not a crafty mama in any way, so I don’t plan complex crafts, but you certainly could if that’s your kind of thing.
We stick to simple things that the kids don’t get to do on a daily basis.
One day we filled the bathtub with snow because it’s been too cold to go outside to play, and the kids had fun with that. Although the snow play didn’t last for as long as I’d envisioned, it got their minds off of screen time, and they were off playing with something else without asking to watch TV again.
We’ve also done a beach party where the kids put on their bathing suits, and we pull out the beach towels and get some tubs of water and they can play with water in the living room.
The Beach Party is always a big hit and doesn’t require a lot of materials or planning ahead. And while, yes, the water may be a little messy, just think of it as an excuse to clean your floor when they’re done!
You can always look to Pinterest for more inspiration and ideas!
4. Institute reading time.
In our house, when our kids get too attached to the screen they forget how much they enjoy reading. Instead of 20 minutes of screen time, we do 20 minutes of intentional reading time.
For us, this works best if I set a timer for my kids to read alone for 10 minutes – my oldest daughter can read to herself; my son just flips through books and looks at the pictures. Sometimes my daughter reads out loud to my son, which is also super cute.
After they’ve finished their reading time, I read aloud to them out of the chapter book we’re reading. We usually read the chapter book at night before bed, so it’s a little bit of a treat to read an extra chapter during the day.
It also helps us to get through the book faster so we can move on to the next great chapter book that we want to read! Right now we’re reading the Little House books and my older kids, ages 4 and 6, are loving them!
5. Use a reward.
You want your kids to feel good about giving up screen time, instead of mad or frustrated, and I think one additional way you can do that is to offer them a reward for their involvement and cooperation in “No Screen Month.”
Our family does this in two ways. First, we have Family Movie Night on Friday nights when we watch a fun movie together.
You may think that’s cheating on No Screen Month, but my kids look forward to this SO much that it’s a great motivator for them to forgo the TV during the week, so it works for us. And we don’t watch a movie every single Friday night; we often plan other Family Fun Nights for Fridays as well.
Secondly, at the end of the month we’ll plan a fun family outing to celebrate that we made it through No Screen Month!
We let our kids help us plan our outing, which really helps them to look forward to it, and we remind them about it when they’re bummed that they don’t get to watch a show or play a game.
Beyond No Screen Month
And, ultimately, the best outcome of “No Screen Month” for our family is that it helps to break the habit of regular screen time, both for our kiddos and for us as parents.
When the month is over, we may allow some TV shows and game time back in, but taking a long break from screens in that way helps us to really limit that time and use it more intentionally.
Afterward, our kids don’t ask for screen time every day. They’ve learned to occupy themselves with other things, and they do that much more naturally and automatically, instead of turning to the screen every time they’re feeling bored.
Our family has done a “No Screen Month” and helped to break our kids of their habit of using screens when they’re bored with great success for the past several years. I hope these tips can help your family to plan and actually enjoy a “No Screen Month” too!
Great article, Emily. My daughter is pretty good about screen time. She’s 9 years old, so she’s getting pretty independent with her play and leisure time. But my husband is really dependent on the T.V. Seems like he can’t sit in the living room for 10 minutes without turning it on. You can literally see him getting fidgety without the T.V. on. I’m laughing right now, because I’m imagining the look on his face when I propose no screen month (or even no screen week). Anyway, all your ideas are great…if your spouse is cooperative to the effort. As for me, I would have to get a lot more creative to pull it off. I’m still working up the courage to propose an unplugged day.
I would LOVE for us to do this. There’s only one problem… I need MY screen during the day cause I work from home. I need to check my e-mail on my phone and try to squeeze in as much work as possible during the day. Of course I have time to entertain the kids and come up with great activities (hey, that’s my job ;)) But I need my screen, and the kids see that.
I think we’ll try screen free hours at first, and that means I can’t work during those hours too.
Nathalie, I can totally relate! My husband is the exact same way! I have just been praying that The Lord would change his heart, because I have been wanting to get rid of our cable for years, but hubby wasn’t having it! Lol Until yesterday, when he told me he thought it was time to get rid of it. YAY! For him it’s more about saving money, which is one of the reasons I wanted to let it go. (Bill is $170 a month…whaaaa?) I would encourage you to pray about it, that your husband would be supportive, or even open to a short trial.
I like this, although, even from your audience I don’t think you’ll have a lot of yea me toos! The screen is so easy and my kids also get attached. We fell in a hole with doing this during the winter break and it took most of January to get back to our maybe once a week schedule. We’re still not quite there, not like I want. I think our society is becoming so digital, technology is such a part of what we do – work, school, everything is wired. But I do think it distracts us thoroughly from the cause of Christ and being good mothers.
Our family of 6 doesn’t have a TV, or an iPad, or tablets, or smartphones and use my laptop and my husband’s computer for email with family, sometimes reading online news, listening to our ripped CDs, or shopping online or selling on ebay when I have the time, or looking up tutorials like on youtube. The kids (almost 6, 4, 3, and 18 months) know that quiet time is for not getting all crazy and tuning down the volume (especially when my husband has worked overnight and needs to sleep during the day.) The girls have a play kitchen set in their room and an old dining room table for Legos in the den, and then there is the wooden train set, the Hotwheels track, no worries about bored kids here. When our garage is tidy the smaller kids can ride their trikes in circles in the double car garage and we also have a swing from IKEA hung from the garage ceiling for yuck weather outside, but the kids swing on it every day (and my oldest has now figured out how to swing standing up (saints preserve us! lol).
Before we got rid of our TV, Veggie Tales, and quit Netflix, I used those things as a babysitter. Then God convicted me with the fact that I was my kids’ parent, not some hyped, brain-numbing show (no matter how intelligent they masquerade themselves to be), and I should be working harder on teaching/training them to listen and obey, that the older ones could have more jobs around the house to keep them busy, and that there was a whole lot more intentional parenting as described in Deut 6:4-9 that I was slacking on (I shouldn’t depend on Veggie Tales or other inspirational shows to teach my kids about God, morals, or the Bible). My kids have since become more outward focused, less hyper or scatterbrained, more aware of their surroundings, and less lost in la-la lands and looking back now, I don’t see how in the world we actually had time to sit down and watch movies or such. lol
We run businesses from home, too; for me it wouldn’t be about unplugging everything for a month. More about refraining from visual entertainment for a month. Great idea! We’re not particularly “screen” people. There just isn’t time for entertainment, and while we both have smart phones and one tablet, they’re used for email, reading/watching news, listening to Sermon Audio, etc.. The kids do not ever have access to any of these devices. We haven’t had a tv for years, and digital/computer games are non-existent….but these are our life choices and convictions. 🙂 Watching an episode of something clean is an option for the kids when we all just need a quiet time. They enjoy the Walton’s and Little House and their Bible story cartoons. We have noticed our two six year olds asking a lot lately, though, and for me that’s a pretty good indication that it’s happening too often and is coming to be expected. This was a good “kick-in-the-pants” to back it off for a month and get a little more creative rather than “defaulting”. Thanks for sharing and being honest. I appreciate it a lot!
I’m not ready to commit to a No Screen month – especially this time of year! I’m not happy with how much screen time my kids are having, but I’m also having a very hard pregnancy, which combined with the inhospitable weather, means we are spending most of our time inside and relatively inactive. I just don’t have the energy to come up with new activities or clean up the messy ones (water, play-doh, paint, etc.) I am trying to be intentional with TV/etc, though – either through setting a timer or just saying “no” when there’s other things the kids should be doing. Even so, we are not anywhere near my usual goal of an hour or less per day. More like 2 hours most days, and often a lot more.
I am looking forward to cutting back (WAY back) on screen time once it’s nice enough for me to sit outside and watch the kids play again… probably in about 2 months. Spring will get here someday…
This is a complete aside from the no screen time discussion, but I needed to say that I love crafting on my daughter’s Rainbow Loom! That is all.