(ORDO NEWS) — Putting a screen in front of your child is a tried and true way to keep them entertained and calm. It works well with adults too. new research.
Researchers have studied how digital devices are used to calm upset children between the ages of 3 and 5.
The study involved 422 parents and the same number of children and was conducted between August 2018 and January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic upended schools and home life.
The team found that increased use of the devices as calming mechanisms was associated with greater emotional reactivity or dysregulation in children over several months: think of rapid mood swings and increased impulsivity, for example.
The connection was especially strong in young boys and in children who already showed signs of hyperactivity, impulsivity, strong temperament.
It seems that these gadgets may prevent children from developing their own ways of regulating emotions.
“Using mobile devices to calm a young child may seem like a harmless temporary remedy to reduce family stress, but there can be long-term consequences if it is a regular calming strategy,” says University of Michigan pediatrician Jenny Radesky.
“In particular, in early childhood, devices can crowd out opportunities for developing independent and alternative methods of self-regulation.”
Of course, as any parent or caregiver knows, the age group considered in the study includes children who are especially prone to tantrums, strong emotions, and fighting the world, which makes the possibility of using a tablet or phone to calm them all the more appealing.
And that works too, but the researchers suggest that short-term relief from an upset child can lead to long-term ems problems with their emotional development. Other ways to handle the situation may be ruled out.
The authors of the study are keen to emphasize that the use of devices in moderation can be beneficial and cannot be easily eliminated completely, and warn that they should not be used as a primary or frequent way to calm children.
This topic is not new, and in the past, parents have worried about spending too much time watching TV or playing video games with their kids.
However, the contemporary media experience is much more fragmented, interactive and accessible.
“Caregivers can feel immediate relief from using devices if they quickly and effectively reduce children’s negative and challenging behavior,” Radesky says. “It benefits both parents and children, and can motivate both of them to keep the cycle going.”
“The habit of using devices to manage difficult behavior gets stronger over time as the demands of children’s media also intensify.
The more often devices are used, the less practice children and their parents have in using other coping strategies.”
Researchers have suggested several other ways to soothe children, including sensory experiences (from listening to music to squishing plasticine in your hands or jumping on a trampoline), as well as intentionally naming emotions to help understand them.
Emotion color coding can also help children learn, identify and understand their moods, and easily communicate how they feel.
Suggesting behavioral substitutions, including hitting a pillow instead of hitting a sibling or friend, can also help.
These options can be discussed and explained while children are calm, the researchers suggest, before tantrums begin. Meanwhile, screen timers and strict app usage restrictions can also help keep device usage under control.
“All of these solutions help children understand themselves better and feel more competent in managing their feelings,” Radesky says.
“This requires repetition on the part of the caregiver, who should also try to remain calm and not overreact to the child’s emotions, but it helps develop emotion regulation skills that last a lifetime.”
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