By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

Screen time discussions are unavoidable as an OT, and as a mom. I also find myself battling an inner dialogue between my OT brain and Mom brain.

On one hand, I’m a work from home mom, with an extremely needy toddler and a never ending to do list…(currently writing this in the middle of an endless pandemic quarantine) so screen time wins.

On the other hand, I’m a pediatric Occupational Therapist who constantly preaches about the potential negative effects of too much screen time, and how many beautiful, hands on developmental play and sensory rich experiences our children miss out on when they’re sitting in front of a screen. 

Mostly, my Mom hat wins and my OT brain kind of quietly whispers some nagging narratives over my shoulder. 

Maybe you’re a cool as a cucumber mom who has no screen time guilt, but your neurodivergent child is having constant meltdowns over screen time and you want to put an end to it.

WAIT. You don’t have to get rid of screen time. I have some tips for you.

I started using this strategy with my 2.5 year old, and you can do it too. Let me break it down for you.

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First decide how much screen time your child will get, and stick to it

My toddler gets two 30 minute shows on week days. 99% of the time she picks Daniel Tiger, which I feel way less guilty about (seriously if you haven’t heard of Daniel Tiger yet- go check it out, they have super relatable and applicable daily lessons).

On the weekends (which I include Fridays, because #MomNeeds3dayWeekends), she gets to watch 1 movie each day.

In your house, you may have a completely different set of rules for how much iPad or tv time each child gets. Whatever that number is, write it down, say it 3 times in the mirror, whatever you gotta do to remember it and STICK TO IT.

The thing with kids and screen time is, you can’t be wishy-washy. Be consistent.

Let your child in on the screen time schedule

“Mommy, is it movie day?” used to be repeated to me everyday, 5 times a day. I realized I needed to provide some kind of tangible, visual support to help her understand days of the week (I mean, I’m no better than her, especially during the pandemic!)

I was also noticing that she would sometimes have melt downs and a hard time when it was time for her screen time to be over. 

In my head I wanted something like an advent calendar…something she opens everyday and understands that once she’s “redeemed” something, that she has to wait until the next day. But I didn’t need a full month. 

So, I used one of those weekly pill organizers and put together some tickets with her favorite shows/movie icons on it.

There’s a ticket with Daniel Tiger on a TV, and a ticket with the Disney, Pixar and Dream Works Logos on it.

Everyday, I show her what day it is, she opens the little compartment and pulls out her “ticket”. She turns in the ticket to me and I put on her show (or movie). 

Here’s the important part:

At the end of her screen time, she is in charge of turning off the tv. When she does this, I give her back the ticket and she keeps it in a designated spot until it’s time to refill the box. 

If she doesn’t turn off the TV or argues with me about it, she does not receive the ticket back.

So far, it’s worked like a charm!

When your child has constant meltdowns after screen time

Repeat after me: “its OK for my child to be unhappy when it’s time to turn off the screen”.

Dr. Becky always says as parents, it’s our job to set the boundaries and it’s our kids’ jobs to feel the feelings.

This is important for you to understand and truly process. No matter what strategy or trick you learn from here, Pinterest or any other internet account, your kid may still try to throw the iPad at your head when it’s time to turn it off.

First, remember that it’s okay and it’s expected for your child to be upset about it. Second, if it’s becoming a consistent issue (e.g. even after 2+ weeks of trying a more structured routine/boundary) after screen time, it may be time to re-evaluate.

There are a couple factors you could consider changing in your screen time routine before completely swearing off them completely.

  1. The kind of screen time you’re offering. Some screen time activities are more addictive than others and more overstimulating, which could be directly causing the sensory meltdown afterward. (check out this helpful post from curious neuron). If the iPad is too addictive and overstimulating, try switching to a tv-show like Daniel Tiger.
  2. The time of day you’re offering screen time. I try really hard to discourage parents from using screen time in the morning. It can be such a hard thing to pull away from to get your child to then transition to school or daycare if they had screen time right before. If screen time is a consistent issue, consider the time of day you’re offering it and if there is another time of day you can try.

My point is, you don’t have to cut out screen time completely, see if you can make some tweaks to make the content less stimulating so that it’s not so hard to pull away from it.

I’d love to know how you handle screen time in your house! Leave a comment below, or find me on instagram and let’s chat about it!


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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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