Screentime coaching

Stuck in a rut of daily screen time? That was us in 2017. By RACHEL MCFEDRIES

As a SAHM with two little boys and a newborn, most afternoons involved Netflix for a couple of hours, while I rested. Before I knew it, screen time was creeping into our morning routine; and into our kindy drop off, as I allowed Mr 2 to watch videos while running in his older brother. 

And I knew this had to change. I was constantly seeing articles about screen time. They seem to pop up everywhere, don’t they?! But I didn’t have the energy to cut down, at that stage. 

Yet our little newborn was becoming more alert and interested in her surroundings. I became aware of the NZ Government screen time guidelines, which specifically state that children under two years old should not be exposed to screens. Yet here I was, with a newborn and two other preschoolers, just trying to survive each day. I had to face facts. The best start in life for my kids meant cutting back their screen time.

So I bit the bullet and cut down, significantly. We went from about two hours a day to about two hours a week, on a Saturday morning watching Red Bull TV with Dad. It was extremely challenging for me as a Mum and for my children. There were tears and tantrums. And there were most certainly moments of wondering, “why on earth am I bothering?”

But there were also really positive results. The children started playing together better, their relationships improved, we saw more creative play and, believe it or not, less fighting. Research shows that children who have lower screen time have better developed social skills, show less aggressive behaviour, and are less likely to bully others.

Detoxing our kids from screen time was a journey, and I felt very alone. I didn’t talk about it much as I didn’t want others to realise what a problem it had been in our household. The stigma of screen time is real and although it’s a problem that most parents face, it can be a difficult conversation to have without evoking guilt and shame. 

When I thought about all of the changes I had put in place to successfully reduce our screen use, I realised that I wanted to share this in a supportive way with other parents. My training as an Occupational Therapist and Play Educator (through Playcentre Aotearoa) equipped me to navigate this difficult change at a time when I was limited in energy and headspace. Occupational therapists enable people to overcome barriers and make change, even when the situation seems complex (such as when parents are tired and children are very attached to their screen time!).

Having succeeded I wanted to empower other parents to make the same change. I learnt firsthand that it was possible, even as a busy mum. I wanted to be able to offer practical, meaningful support to other parents to make this change in their family life. 

It needed to be accessible, so an online format proved most helpful for parents. And so I developed No More Square Eyes: a series of short videos to show the benefits of less screen time, provide support through the process of change, demonstrate ways to engage children in more free play, and ways to look after yourself in this process. 

It is empowering, practical, and most of all – nonjudgmental of each family’s choices. The goal is that you can make informed, intentional choices about screen time for your family, and get out of that screen time rut. 

This is a programme for parents of preschoolers, based on the research that the early years shape the rest of our lives. Parenting preschoolers is a challenging and isolating time for many parents, and we all need more support. 

The No More Square Eyes online course launched in July 2019 and the first parents through it are saying that it’s enabling them to make positive changes in their household. 

“This is a fantastic, user-friendly course. It has highlighted the importance of reducing screen time for my children and has provided practical ideas on how to achieve this. I am now adhering more to the recommended guidelines.”
Rachel Galloway – Mum of Two, Qld, Australia.

Rachel McFedries lives in Christchurch, with her husband and three (soon-to-be four) children. She is a registered Occupational Therapist and a passionate play advocate.
rachmcf.com

Claim your discount!
Family Times readers, use the code FAMILYTIMES at checkout for a $50 discount on the No More Square Eyes course rachmcf.com (valid until 30 September 2019).