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All Posts Tagged: Discipline

Earning Screen Time

Guest Author – Jeanne Williams MA, Registered Psychologist

“As you turn off the TV, turn on the interaction.
Social connection bolsters the skills that minimize ADD’s impact.
So have family meals often, read aloud together, play board games,
go outside and shoot hoops or throw a Frisbee
play, play, play.”

Ned Hallowell, MD – Author, Driven to Distraction

TV’s, video games, computers – what did our kids do before those were around? And more to the point, what did parents do without those great babysitting devices? When a child is playing make-believe (remember cops and robbers?), climbing a tree, or drawing a picture, their brain is having to figure things out, plan ahead, and solve problems. When the same child is watching TV, very little problem solving is going on, other than should I get up for more chips at this commercial, or can I wait until the show’s over. The activities of childhood (games, make-believe, physical activity, and more) all contribute to a large and healthy growth of brain cells that in turn contribute to important adult skills and abilities, like problem solving, planning for the future, empathizing with others, and much more. But we seem to be raising a whole generation of children whose brains are not developing to their fullest potential, all because of the lure of the screen.

It is hard to limit screen time, though, when “all the other kids” are spending so much of their free time in front of one screen or another. The simplest thing to do is just to set a time limit. Half an hour on weekdays, and two hours a day on weekends (for example – you come up with your own numbers). A lot of kids honestly don’t know what to do with the leftover time, however. One creative way to limit your child’s screen time, and encourage healthy activities when they are “off-screen,” is to have them earn their screen time. This is how it worked with my own boys (two sons and a foster son).

First, a few definitions: I explained to my boys that certain activities have the same affect on your brain as healthy food has on your body – these activities will help your brain grow strong and healthy. These would include sports or other physical activity, playing outside, drawing, reading, playing a musical instrument, making a craft … anything that is creative. On the other hand, screen time is more like “dessert” – it really doesn’t help your brain, and could be bad for it if it’s all you do. So just like we do have dessert, but only after we’ve had plenty of healthy food first, they can also have screen time, but only after they have had enough healthy activities.

Now for the deal – How to Earn Screen Time

The boys can earn their screen time by doing certain approved activities. I made it a 2 for 1 exchange (1 hour of an approved activity gets you 1/2 hr. of screen time, etc.) You could make whatever exchange you want – 1-1 may be less overwhelming, more acceptable, and easier for some kids to understand. And I made a list of approved activities (even though the possibilities are really endless), so it was easy to choose from. With our foster son especially, I found that the choice was helpful – instead of my imposing one particular thing, the fact that he had to freedom to choose from the list gave him a sense of control, and more buy-in to the idea. He still complained loudly and bitterly, and often chose to do absolutely nothing rather than earn any screen time – but we left that choice to him. And over time, we found that he would get involved in his “healthy” activity and discover that some of these things were actually fun. I think eventually he developed to where he felt like he was getting away with something – by having fun (riding his bike, or playing ball hockey outside, or playing a board game) he could also be earning screen time. But we could never have told him that – he had to discover it for himself.

There are several ways to keep track of the time – you can just keep track of it yourself – or you can use something like pennies or bingo chips and 2 jars per child – put all the chips in one jar, and each one represents 1 unit of healthy activity (let’s say an hour). When the child completes an hour of healthy activity, you or the child moves it to the other jar, and that way you both know how much time is saved up. (in the second jar, the same chip would represent 1/2 hour of screen time, if you are using the 2-1 ratio). When the child watches a half hour of TV, the chip goes back into the first jar. Nothing that the kids do in school counts, by the way, and neither does homework. You can decide whether time earned is transferable to another day, or has to be re-earned each day. You want to find a balance between helping your child to discover the joys of off-screen activities, and allowing them to actually enjoy a little “dessert” for the brain.

By Jeanne Williams, MA, Registered Psychologist

Jeanne is a guest author of this blog and is in private practice in Edmonton Canada where she works with traumatized children and their caregivers.

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Effective Parenting Techniques

Before children can resist their first impulses, they must have an awareness of their behavior, a feeling of responsibility, and the experience of self-control. Dr. Garry Landreth, founder of the Center for Play Therapy, developed the A • C • T method to setting limits that provides children with an opportunity to learn self-control, the knowledge that they have choices, what making choices feels like, and how responsibility feels. According to Dr. Landreth, “when limits should be set but they are not, children are deprived of the opportunity to learn something important about themselves. †”

Your love and approval is the most important thing to your child. Because of this need for your love, your child will want to respond and meet your expectations. It is important that limit setting is a carefully thought-out procedure, one that is designed to convey understanding, acceptance and responsibility to your child.

Effective Discipline with A•C•T Limit Setting

A = Acknowledge the Feeling

C = Communicate the Limit

T = Target the Choice

“Looks like you [feel, want, wish],

but [first object] is not for [action]-ing.

[Second object] is. You can. . .”

Examples of a Limit Setting Sequence

“Looks like you want to draw,

but the wall is not for drawing.”

[point]“You can draw on the paper or

[point] you can draw on the chalk board.”


“I can see you feel frustrated,

but the doll clothes are not for tearing.”

[point] “You can tear the shoe box or

[point] you can tear egg carton.”


“Jim, I know you feel like hitting me,

but I’m not for hitting!”

[point] “You can hit the stuffed bear, or

[point] you can hit the pillow.”

Rational for Limit Setting

As a result of setting limits, children become responsible for themselves and their own behavior.

  • Limit setting is for the growth of the child
  • Limits are not punishment
  • Limits promote healthy boundaries
  • Limits help the child develop decision-making skills
  • Limits help the child develop self-control
  • Limits help the child develop personal responsibility
  • Limits promote consistency
  • Limits free the child, and with freedom comes responsibility
  • Set limits that fit within your household rules, but allow more freedom for exploration and expression
  • Determine your own limits ahead of time (e.g. toy • damage, throwing toys, pouring water on the floor, hitting another person or pet, etc.)
  • Be consistent
  • Before setting a limit, ask yourself: “Is this limit necessary?”
  • Before allowing a behavior, ask yourself: “Can I consistently allow this?”

Responsibility accompanies decision-making. Before children can resist their first impulses, they must have an awareness of their behavior, a feeling of responsibility and the experience of

Here are some real time examples of How to Effectively Set Limits:


Acknowledge the child’s feelings to diffuse the child’s emotions.

  • By acknowledging the child’s feelings, you support • the child’s intent, even if you can’t support the child’s behavior.
  • Reflect feelings, intentions, wants, and wishes FIRST, with • phrases like:

“Looks like. . .”

“I know you’d really like to. . .”

“I can tell you’re feeling. . .”

When the child’s message is clearly understood the child no longer needs to act out.


Communicate the Limit Clearly

  • Use no fault statements, but common sense statements instead.
  • Use “BUT” to emphasize the limit.


Target Appropriate Choices

Understanding the child’s intention helps in selecting alternatives.

  • Direct action away from the original object by looking, pointing, and stating alternative choices.
  • Avoid the use of “OK?”
  • Be creative in offering alternatives.
  • After saying: [second object] is.“ you can add phrases like:

“You can. . .”

“You can choose to. . . if you’d like.”

“You can pretend. . .” etc.

Point using eyes, hands or your entire arm to help interrupt the child’s focus on the object.

†Source: Landreth (2002). Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship. Burnner-Routledge, NY:NY.

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 Effective Limit Setting @ http://www.kaytrotter.com/forms-2/


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