Do you always want to calm a restless child with a screen? Then it doesn’t learn this important skill, says study | Family

Watching a movie on the iPad – often – immediately calms children. Researchers at the University of Michigan looked at the long-term effects of this. Conclusion: children changed their mood less quickly if they were not shown screens. “You are depriving your child of opportunities to learn to manage emotions themselves.”

To keep a child calm in public, parents can use one tool: a screen. A YouTube video on iPad or a game on smartphone. There is nothing wrong with that, say educators, if the use stays within the limits. Parents who often use that distraction tactic may want to reconsider, new research suggests.

Children switched between moods more quickly and reacted more impulsively

Researchers at the University of Michigan decided to observe 422 parents and their 422 children between the ages of 3 and 5 between August 2018 and January 2020. They mapped how often the parents distracted or calmed their children with a screen and looked for possible effects of this on the child. They published the results in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The team found that children who were soothed more often with screens were more emotionally disturbed. They changed moods more quickly and reacted more impulsively. This correlation was particularly evident in boys and children who were naturally a bit hyperactive, impulsive or temperamental.


It is healthier and more satisfying for both parents and child if we learn to handle a child’s difficult emotions differently

Pediatrician Jenny Radesky, University of Michigan

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So it appears that a child who is often soothed by a screen may eventually have difficulty regulating his emotions on his own, the researchers say. “It seems like a harmless tactic, but if you do it regularly as a parent, it can have long-term consequences,” says University of Michigan pediatrician Jenny Radesky.

“There is a chance that you deprive the child – especially when he is still young – of opportunities to learn to deal with emotions independently. And often the habit becomes even stronger because the child naturally consumes more media.”

The researchers emphasize that they do not believe that screens should be completely banned. Not only is it difficult, screens can also be useful if used in moderation. They are simply not always the ultimate rescue tool. “It’s healthier and more fulfilling for both the parent and the child if we learn to handle a child’s difficult emotions differently,” says Radesky.

Better tactics to calm or distract your child

The researchers therefore recommend a number of concrete alternatives to a screen. For example, they recommend soothing a child with sensory experiences: let them listen to music, play with soft clay or jump on a trampoline, for example. Another idea: Teach your child to recognize and name his feelings. For example, enter a color code for each emotion. Or teach it to redirect its frustrations: it’s better to hit a pillow instead of your sister. In addition, it is not a bad idea to limit some screen time with a timer or with clear agreements.

It will take persistence on your part to respond calmly to your child’s tantrums. But you’re helping it develop such important skills around emotional self-regulation, for life.”

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