5 Things Going Screen Free Taught Me About My Child

by added on 22 June 2018, Comments Off on 5 Things Going Screen Free Taught Me About My Child , posted in Blog
By Maggie Homer, WFP Parent Educator

Let me just start by saying I never set out on my parenting journey thinking I would live in a completely screen free household. No, no. I love cuddling up on the couch and binge watching Netflix as much as the next exhausted parent.

However, I recently hit my TV limit with my 3-year old daughter and decided to get rid of screens completely. Telling her all our TVs, iPads, Kindles, and phones were broken was not the easiest news to share, but it took all of one week for her to totally forget they were even a part of our life.

Oh, and she was too busy playing outside to care.

Here is how eliminating screens helped me to see my daughter more clearly and to better understand her needs:

1. She Still Needed a Nap

Screens were making my daughter chronically sleep deprived

Here I was thinking she was developmentally giving up her nap, when in reality, she was choosing not to nap knowing she would get a screen instead.

As soon as I stopped giving her screens, she began sleeping an extra 1 to 2 hours a day. The first day we had no screens, she took a 4-hour nap…4 hours, you guys!

Don’t let the screen trick you

If your child is still getting a great nap, wonderful!

If he is not or is taking crummy naps, I challenge you to reflect on your screen use and cut it down or completely out.

If you use screens before naptime, it may be over stimulating your child, making it more challenging to calm him down to sleep. There’s tons of research showing how screens can change the brain chemistry and decrease the release of melatonin, which in turn decreases sleepiness. If you want the research, look up blue light effect on sleep, or check out this quick read from the National Sleep Foundation.

Children rustle around quite a bit when they’re sleeping, and instead of self-soothing and returning to sleep, your child may be waking up during those interrupted parts of his nap because he knows he’ll get a screen once he wakes.

Overall, try not to use screens before or after sleep…or ever.

2. Screens Caused Her Night Waking

She was scared of what she was watching

I thought I was doing a good job of monitoring what she was watching, but I wasn’t.

Okay, is it just me or does every Disney movie have something incredibly scary in it?

Moana Te Ka & the Kakamora
Frozen The Abominable Snowman
Finding Dory The Octopus
Trolls The Bergens
Tangled The Evil Mother
Mulan The Huns

I could go on and on.

According to Common Sense Media, a site that rates movies based on age appropriateness and learning potential, here is the breakdown of some of our beloved Disney movies:

Moana 6+ years
Frozen 5+ years
Finding Dory 6+ years
Trolls 6+ years
Tangled 5+ years
Mulan 5+ years


So it makes sense that my sweet, almost 3 year old was scared out of her mind by the things she was seeing on the screen. I was giving her shows that she was not developmentally ready for.

The day I stopped using screens was the day she stopped waking up at night.

Monitor more closely or just stop completely

Is your child waking up at night? It could be from screen time and being exposed to ideas her brain is not ready for. You will be hard-pressed to find a show for children under 3 on Common Sense Media because children that young should not be watching anything.

If you choose to continue using screens, pretend they work like an old time TV (before Netflix, Apple TV, Hulu, YouTube). Tell your child there is one time of day the show comes on. It is on for 30 minutes. When it’s over, it’s over. If you miss that time, you miss it.  Be consistent. Be confident. Children smell when you’re not committed to what you’re enforcing.

Best-case scenario = you stop using screens completely.

3. She Has Sleep Cues

I can tell when she’s getting tired

When she was having a hefty screen diet (and therefore was constantly overtired) she was pretty much always whining, complaining, hitting, throwing, and generally one incident away from completely losing her mind. Sound familiar?

Once she started to get the sleep she needed, I could tell when she was getting tired. Instead of being a challenge to have around, she is now totally lovely 95% of the time. So when those nasty behaviors start to surface, I know with confidence it is time to put her down.

It is such an empowering feeling to know what my daughter needs. The screens had me fooled and made it impossible for me to tell when my daughter was truly tired…because she was always tired.

4. She Loves Being Outside

Our outdoor time nearly tripled

I had always (I mean ALWAYS) struggled to get my daughter to really engage in outdoor play.

Scratch that, just getting her out the door killed me. First I had to wrangle her out of her jammies into normal clothes, then pin her to get her shoes on, and finally capture her in a jacket. By the time I got ready to go outside, I was ready to come back in for a break.

We spent, on a good day, one hour outside.

After eliminating screens, we spend at least 3 hours outside a day (no joke). She asks to go outside. I motivate her to get dressed with outdoor time. I say, “We can go outside and play when you’re dressed with your shoes and jacket on.” And you know what she says? “Okay, mommy.” Are there any words more precious than those? I don’t think so.

She runs outside and does not need me. She immerses herself into her own world of play. I fade to the background. She climbs trees. She digs. She discovers worms, beetles, flowers, and plants.

And guess what I do? Drink my coffee. Water my plants. Garden. Workout. Smile lovingly as I watch her play. I feel like I’m in a utopian world.

Turn it off and go outside

Just like food and water, fresh air is a component to sustainable life. If we want to raise healthy and happy humans, outdoor play must be a priority.

Invest in your backyard. Create an outdoor space for your child to enjoy. Throw a tarp over a rope tied between two trees and stake it down to make a tent. Plant a garden. Have a space to share a meal.

There’s a wonderful book called Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children by Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook. She suggests children need 3 hours of outdoor play a day and offers fun and engaging strategies on how to get there!

Another phenomenal resource is Richard Louv. He has written multiple books on the value of nature in our children’s lives, especially in an increasingly virtual world. His most recent book, Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health and Happiness of Your Family & Community offers 500 ways to engage with the natural world.

5. She Loves Being At Home

We needed unstructured time

I used to feel this burning need to get away from our house and go, go, go. If I didn’t have something planned for every day of the week, I would start to get anxious about being home all day.

If we had no plans, the hours would drip by slowly and I would eagerly wait the time I could put on a show and take a personal break.

Now, I never want to leave our home. She is so happy exploring her world. She is confident in her home. She is independent in her play (and WAY more creative!).

Large chunks of unstructured play is the best way for children to learn, and now I can give that to her without losing my sanity.

And, as a mom, I finally feel content in my own home.

Create a home

There is a big difference between a house and a home. I used to live in a house, and now it’s a home.

A house is simply a place you live. A home is a place you love. Now that we are screen free, our family loves being home. We spend more time in the day connecting with each other, learning social skills, and exploring our interests independently.

 Foster Your Relationship

Above all, the biggest victory from going screen free is my amazing relationship with my daughter.

Her negative behaviors (hitting, yelling, pushing) have drastically decreased, and her positive behaviors (hugging, kissing, listening, playing independently) have increased.

The time she had previously spent watching a show (2 hours!) is now spent building our relationship and her relationship with her brother.

We are teammates, not adversaries. She trusts me. I used to give her a screen, and 30 minutes later pry it out of her death-grip hands. I was teaching her that mommy gives, and mommy takes away.

Why give something that has to be taken away? Give your child open-ended toys that he can play with over and over again without regulation. This way your child is free to explore his world without feeling like there’s a time limit.

So, am I asking you all to go screen free? YES. If that seems like too much right now, cut back. My hope for all of you is that you can experience the absolute magic of living in a screen free home.

I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and challenges! Please email me at

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