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Parenting -- Screen time and digital technology use for children 2-5 years: tips for balance

Key points

  • Screen time and digital technology use can be part of a healthy lifestyle when balanced with other activities.

  • Activities that are important for preschooler development include physical play, creative play, reading, socialising and sleep.

  • Family rules can help you balance screen time and other activities for preschoolers.

Screen time and digital technology use for preschoolers: part of a healthy lifestyle

Screen time and digital technology use can be part of a healthy lifestyle when they’re balanced with other activities that are good for your child’s development. These activities include physical and outdoor play, creative play, reading and socialising. Getting the right balance also includes making sure screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep.

Our tips can help you encourage your child to use digital technology in balanced and healthy ways.

1. Make rules about screen time and digital technology use

You can help your child balance screen time and digital technology use with other activities. One of the best ways to do this is by working together on family rules or a family media plan.

Your family’s rules might cover:

  • where your child can use digital technology – for example, only in family rooms and not in bedrooms or the car.

  • when your child can use digital technology – for example, mealtimes are free of TV, computers and phones, or no screens in the hour before bedtime.

  • how your child can use digital technology – for example, to play a dance competition game or a puzzle app, but not to watch YouTube.

It’s OK if your rules include time limits to help your child balance screen time with other things like physical activity. For example, it might help to know that preschoolers should be active for at least 3 hours a day.

Avoid having the TV or screens on in the background. They can distract your child from playing, looking at books, interacting with others and so on.

2. Aim for short screen time sessions

When your child is using digital technology, it’s good for your child to have short screen time sessions and take regular breaks. Getting up and moving around is important for your child’s energy levels, development, sleep, and overall health and wellbeing.

You can do this by encouraging your child to:

  • use a timer to set breaks from screen time.

  • do something active when the timer ends, like play outside.

  • make use of natural breaks in screen time – for example, see who can do the most star jumps during the ad break.


3. Get your child moving, especially outside

It’s a good idea to encourage your child to play outside several times a day.

At this age, outdoor play can include:

  • playing games of chasey, hide-and-seek or kick-to-kick

  • crawling through tunnels or climbing over fallen trees.

  • building a castle out of boxes, clothes baskets, outdoor play equipment or furniture.

Physical activity for young children and active play for preschoolers can happen indoors too. It can be simple things like dancing, catching and throwing soft balls, or rolling along the floor or ground.

4. Imagine and create

Creative activities like telling stories, dressing up or drawing are good for your child’s development. Activities like these help your child learn how to experiment, think and solve problems.

Reading and storytelling with your preschooler promotes brain development and imagination, teaches your child about language and emotions, and strengthens your relationship.

5. Encourage play and friendship with others

When children play face to face with others, they develop important life skills. These include getting along with other people, sharing and taking turns, being independent, and learning how to sort out conflicts and problems.

You can encourage preschooler friendships by arranging playdates with other children. Playgroups can also give your child the opportunity to learn how to play with other children.

6. Avoid screen time and digital technology use before bed

Preschoolers need plenty of sleep10-13 hours a night.

Screen time and digital technology use before bed can affect how quickly your child falls asleep. If your child avoids phones, tablets, computer screens or TV in the hour before bed, your child is likely to get to sleep more quickly.

7. Keep digital technology out of bedrooms at night

If you keep mobile phones and other devices out of your child’s bedroom at night, your child won’t be able to play games after lights out. This can also stop your child being disturbed in the night by messages and notifications.

When you help your child choose good-quality apps, games, TV and YouTube as well as balancing screen time, your child will learn to make good choices about using free time when they’re older.

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