The incredibly insightful Dr Kristy Goodwin is writing for us again today. She’s giving us tips on how we can tame those ‘techno tantrums’. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there before and it’s exhausting. So, how can we combat it? Over to Kristy…
A modern parenting rite of passage is dealing with the dreaded ‘techno-tantrum’. These tantrums (emotional explosions) typically occur when we ask for our smartphone to be passed back, or ask toddlers to turn off the TV.
Why do our toddlers throw techno-tantrums?
It’s important to note that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with your toddler if they’re experiencing a techno-tantrum. In fact, a techno-tantrum is considered a ‘typical’ neurobiological response.
You see, when our toddlers use a screen, their brains and bodies have an intense response. As adults, technology also causes similar changes in our brains and also physiological changes too. However, we’ve acquired the self-regulation skills to cope with these changes, whereas our toddlers are still developing these skills.
Understanding why your toddler is having a techno-tantrum will help to reassure you that their intense emotional response and agitated state is actually normal and that you don’t have to ban screens altogether. Implement some simple tips and you can reduce the chances of a techno-tantrum ensuing.
Why toddlers have techno-tantrums and tips to prevent them
When toddlers use a screen, whether it’s watching a TV program, or playing on the iPad, it’s usually a pleasurable experience. So their brains release the neurotransmitter ‘dopamine’.
“This means, when they switch off the device off, their dopamine (pleasure) response is being terminated”
Toddlers are naturally still learning how to self-regulate so these feelings can be quite intense for them to manage and the techno-tantrum can unfold.
- Give your little one ample warning before their screen time is about to end. Priming helps them to better cope when devices are switched off. For example, you could say, “This is the last episode of Peter Rabbit and then you’re going to turn it off.”
- Also, have an appealing transition activity after the screen is turned off can help to tame the techno-tantrum. “When you turn off the iPad, would you like to jump on the trampoline or wake the dog for a walk?”
- Physical activity can also be a great way to boost the positive, happy neurotransmitters too. Finally, allowing them to switch off the device sounds very trivial but it’s powerful for your child, as they feel like they’re in control of the situation and they’re much more likely to co-operate.
State of insufficiency
The online world has no precise finish point. There’s always another TV episode kids can watch, a new game to play or level to reach, or another You Tube clip to view.
This means that toddlers often don’t get that sense of being ‘done’ or ‘complete’ when they’re using technology.
This is unlike the sense of completion they might experience when they’ve finished reading a book, or completing a jigsaw puzzle. A techno-tantrum can sometimes result due to the feelings of frustration or anger because toddlers lack a sense of completion.
- Give your toddler quantities not an amount of time.
Most toddlers don’t have a conceptual understanding of time so telling your child they can watch TV or use the iPad for ‘half an hour’ is a redundant activity. Instead, give them quantities. For example, say to them, “You can watch two episodes of Play School” is a much more tangible expectation.
Our brains are wired for novelty
Neuroscientists know that human brains are wired for novelty. This is why toddlers love anything new and exciting and resist boredom. The online world caters for this need perfectly. It’s like a sensory smorgasbord that appeals to our toddlers and there’s always something new, exciting and interesting to access. The real (offline) world doesn’t always offer novelty and is boring at times.
- Allow your toddler to regularly experience boredom. It’s essential that toddlers experience boredom so they learn to self-regulate and have opportunities for creative ideas and play.
Overloaded nervous systems
When a toddler uses technology, their sensory and nervous systems can become overloaded. There’s so much sensory information for their brain to process. This can cause their brain to become hyper-aroused, which often results in the meltdown when they stop using it (especially our boys who appear to be more prone to intense techno-tantrums than girls).
- If your kids watch TV or use a screen before dinner time, ensure that they empty their sensory cup before they eat (as eating requires intense sensory input).
- Encourage toddlers to do something physically active after using technology, such as riding their bike, jumping on the trampoline, engaging in rough and tumble play. This helps to boost their dopamine and serotonin levels and helps to calm down their sensory and nervous systems.
- Touch your child (firm strokes on the arm, or a cuddle) when they’re throwing a techno-tantrum can help to calm them down as physical touch releases oxytocin (love hormone) so it can quickly diffuse a tantrum.
Next time your toddler’s throwing a techno-tantrum, pause (draw a deep breath because you’ll probably need it) and rest assured that it’s normal. Like most toddler behaviours, this too shall pass.
See other articles Dr Kristy Goodwin has written for us:
- How screen time can sabotage your toddler’s sleep – view here.
About Dr Kristy Goodwin
Dr Kristy Goodwin is a digital health and wellbeing educator, speaker, author and mum to two energetic boys plus one on the way (and yes, she’s experienced her kids’ techno-tantrums). Kristy helps parents and professionals navigate the digital world with kids and teens, without the guilt, grief and guesswork. Kristy translates the science and research about how technology is impacting children, teens and adults into practical advice and realistic tips. It help us tame our tech habits, so we’re not a slave to the screen. You can find more here at www.drkristygoodwin.com
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Want more practical ideas about fostering healthy and helpful digital habits with your toddler or pre-schooler? Check out my eBook I’ve written to help parents, or watch a video of my signature parent seminar for 2-5 year olds here. I’m launching a Switched on Parents’ Portal in January 2019 (register your details if you want to know more, or get an early bird discount).
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