12 Easy Ways to Help Kids Unplug

I’ve been reading Dr. Laura Markham’s book, “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids” and this week as I read about helping children cooperate, one of her suggestions really stood out. Dr. Laura recommended that if you’re not getting enough connection and cooperation, you might want to try unplugging.

This is not just some thought, idea, or wild theory about how to reconnect with your kids and support their healthy development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 and limited screen time for kids over two. Their website claims that the average amount of screen time for today’s children is a whopping 7 HOURS per DAY. Whoa. That’s more than half of a typical child’s waking hours in a day!

There is an increasing body of research that shows that excessive screen time can lead to attention problems, social delays, and an increase in violent behavior. But I’d argue that even much smaller amounts of screen time deprives kids of what they most need, our attention.

Interaction with a live human being is clearly what human babies and young children need more than anything else. In fact, babies deprived of human contact die, even if they’re provided with adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Freedom to explore their world in a physical and sensory way is also crucial to healthy development. So, how can we help kids avoid media when screens are so prevalent and so unbelievably addictive?

If you don’t think that screen time is addictive, just try to go a whole day with your smart phone turned off. I bet you’ll reach for it at least 20 times. We check Facebook, phone messages, texts, emails, watch videos and that’s even before the television, movies, or cable comes on. Today’s society is deluged with screens and young children are not immune to the draw.

Lately, almost every morning, my daughter asks her Dad in a super sweet voice, “I was wondering if we could watch videos on the iPad?” This is an activity that they enjoy together, recording and then watching themselves on video. But it’s clearly becoming her go-to activity with Daddy.

Is your child in a similar media rut? Perhaps they’re asking for movies or television on a daily basis, or maybe they want to play computer games. I’m not saying that these activities are bad for kids altogether, but I do think that they should be kept in the “occasional” category, rather than as staples of our daily life.

So how can we help our kids break the habit? Often it’s as simple as offering an alternative and helping them engage in something different long enough to forget about their desire for screen time. Here are 12 ideas to get you started:

1) Model what you want—

If you want them to stay off of media, then you have to do it too. Show them how to live a life of personal real-life connections, instead of web connections.

2) Schedule play dates—

Building in person social connections is hugely important for kids of all ages. Establish a “no screens during play-dates” rule and help the kids come up with ideas for how else they can spend their time together.

3) Offer books, games, puzzles, and other diversions—

And participate WITH your kids if they’re not engaging in these right away. Once they’re absorbed, you’re welcome to return to your own activity.

4) Do an art project—

You could go on a nature hike and collect interesting items, then bring them home and create a collage. Or just bring out the paint! Ask the kids to agree to help clean up the mess too, the clean up might be half the fun!

5) Rough and tumble play—

Physical play is a great way to reconnect and to get out the day’s frustrations in the form of laughter. Remember to let your child be the more powerful one for the most giggles.

6) Gardening—

Getting out into nature, even if it’s just the back yard can be rejuvenating for kids and adults alike. Spend some time outdoors every day. And better yet, plant a food producing plant and enjoy the moments of discovery when flower turns to fruit. Harvesting and eating food they’ve grown themselves is a great way for kids to learn about food production and the life cycle of a plant.

7) Make up a silly song—

Stimulate your child’s creativity by using a familiar tune and making up new silly, rhyming lyrics.

8) Play a brain teasing game—

Riddles, mental puzzles, alliteration games and mysteries are really good for brain plasticity and developing problem solving skills.

9) Read aloud—

No matter how old your kids are, reading aloud can be a wonderful family activity. If you start a chapter book today, I guarantee that in a week or so, your kids will be begging for the daily chapter.

10) Exercise—

Riding bikes, canoeing, running, playing sports, swimming, and skiing can be excellent family activities that will get the whole family outside and physically active. Instilling the habit to move while kids are young can translate to a healthier lifestyle for decades to come.

11) Puppetry and theater—

Do you have a child who seems to need endless attention from you? Set him up with some puppets or assign him the task of writing a play to perform for you and you’ll be amazed at the creative results. Provide costumes, or the means to make their own to add even more depth to the performance. This is a fantastic play date activity.

12) Science experiments—

Head over to your local library and check out a book on science experiments for kids. Look through it yourself and copy a few items that you’d be willing to supervise or that don’t need much adult intervention. Help your kids collect the materials and watch their minds expand as they learn about mass, volume, weather, chemistry and more!

So, hopefully after reading through these initial ideas, you’re brimming with even more ideas of your own! Isn’t it amazing how creative we can be when we take screen time off the table? Hopefully you’re already doing a bunch of these, and if not, I hope you’ll try some. Then, leave a comment to let me know how it’s going. If you’re not feeling more free from technology and MUCH more connected with your kids after these, I’ll be shocked. But even if these particular ideas don’t work for you and your family, I bet you can come up with a few activities that will work great and will keep you all connected to each other, instead of to your various devices.

Have a fabulous week! Warm hugs, Shelly


Hi, Shelly, As always, I love your post!  My daughter is almost 8, and almost never asks for screen time. We read a LOT together, and when she has friends over, they will play imaginative games for hours, indoors and out.  When I have had a dayhome, the best way I found to get screen-focused kids off the screen is to go outside, somewhere where there are lots of sticks and rocks. Shovels, buckets, water, and dirt are also good. Any child who spends an hour surrounded by dirt, plants, sticks and rocks will eventually remember how to play. If there are a variety of plants, stumps, logs, or a tree to climb, even better.  They may develop a very healthy form of addiction to outdoor play!