Following the birth of my second child, I had trouble giving my oldest son the same level of attention that he was accustomed to. I fell into the habit of letting him use the iPad when I would feed the baby, or put him down to rest – simply as a tool to keep the house calm during these sensitive times of the day. Before this, the iPad was reserved for long car trips or as a special weekend treat, but its use began to grow, becoming an occurrence multiple times daily. Because of this I started to notice some worrisome behaviors.
First, his appetite for the iPad began to increase dramatically. Instead of a treat during baby’s nap time, he wanted it at all times of the day. At the same time, he had lost interest in playing imaginatively by himself with his other toys –as if nothing else could satisfy him in the same way as the iPad.
His behavior also began to change drastically. At first, I attributed this to the new baby, but I began to see that he was more aggressive and hyperactive after watching (often even very relaxed) shows on the iPad. When he watched it he was completely tuned-out, but after we turned off the iPad it was if he had eaten two chocolate sundaes: completely over-stimulated.
While I’d initially used the iPad to calm him while feeding my newborn, it had quickly back-fired. I felt the iPad was doing much more harm than good and decided to take drastic measures: no more devices.
Here’s how this has gone:
Day 1 – So this is what hell is like
I must have heard the words “I want the iPad” a thousand times that day, followed by huge melt downs. I expected that I would need to distract and entertain, and was prepared for a full day, finger painting, playing outside with the hose, and visiting the park. It was an exhausting day, primarily because he couldn’t play by himself and needed constant interaction. When I did not give him the attention he sought, he acted out: pulling a dog’s tail, or things he knew would grab my attention. There were tears from both of us that day, but I stayed strong with my mission.
Day 2 –He didn’t say the word “iPad” the entire day.
It was amazing how quickly he had forgotten about it. Still had to be 100% entertained but seemed content with just playing.
I also assigned him creative projects when I needed to tend to the baby: sorting coins and putting them in his piggy bank was a favorite. He used the outdoors more and began to play more independently.
What I did differently - At this point I decided to make a more engaging environment for him. A place where he would have complete access to options of play in a safe environment. I quickly realized there was a fine line here — don’t give them too many options because it would cause over-stimulation again. I then circulated toys and saw an improvement. This led to fewer tantrums and I was able to read my work emails and make a phone call while he was entertaining himself.
Day 14 – I have a different child.
He can now eat an entire meal without seeking entertainment. He has rediscovered his imagination and his toys. His new activities are playing grocery store, “going to work” and playing school. He still wants my attention but not ALL the time. This experiment has made for a much happier Mommy and a more relaxed child.
While he still gets the iPad as a special treat or on a long car trip, I’ve stopped using the iPad as a crutch. My iPad Experiment taught me life without it is actually easier.
If you’re looking to wean your child off of electronic devices, here’s a few tips to have an easier transition:
1) Use Child self-directed play.
2) De-cluttering their room.
3) Make toys accessible.
4) Choose toys wisely.
5) Be creative with projects
6) Trust your child’s instincts and not interrupting them to help…independence is key!