We’ve all witnessed the same scene: sitting in a reception room waiting for an appointment, everyone’s head down immersed in their device. It is understandable that parents need some ‘time out’ on occasions and often also need their own screen time to catch up on emails or communications. But has this need for screen time for both parent and child overtaken the need to interact with one another? Undoubtedly ‘screen time’ has reduced the amount of face-to-face interactions we now have with one another but especially with our children. So how can we change this? – let’s face it children love technology and seem to be intrinsically drawn to it and who wants to be the parent stuck in the waiting room with a screaming child because you won’t hand over the phone/ipad/tablet? Perhaps there is a way to have the best of both worlds – use the phone/ipad/tablet as the common interest on which to build an interaction with the child. As long as the child is given some clear guidelines or boundaries about using the device with you e.g., “Yes you can have the phone but today I am going to play with you too so we will take turns”.
Here are some specific suggestions of ways you can have the best of both worlds- using a phone/ipad/tablet as a part of a meaningful face-to-face interaction with a child;
1. Look through photos together – most children love looking at photos (especially of themselves!).
If your child is older start a conversation (e.g. ‘Do you remember when we went to ….? What was your favourite thing we did on that holiday?’). For younger children you can point and ask, ‘Who’s that?’ stop and give your child eye contact, wait for a response then smile and cheer if they answer correctly or simply tell them who it is if they can’t say.
2. Play your child’s favourite game with them.
Does your child have a favourite game they play? Ask them to explain to you how to play and then take turns with the game. (‘Cut the Rope’ is an example of a game which results in fairly quick turns). You could set out a challenge to make it more exciting (e.g., ‘Guess how many points you think I’ll get. Do you think I can beat your score?’). Then try and encourage the child to let you watch the game when it’s their turn and to watch you when it’s your turn.
3. Search “Google” with your child.
Do an image search on ‘Google’ for a specific topic your child is interested in (e.g., ‘Farm animals’, ‘Dinosaurs’, ‘Fairies’). Talk about the pictures you find such as ‘What noise does the ….make?’, ‘what parts can we see on the ……’ ‘What’s the same or different between those two pictures?’ ‘What would you do if you were a …….?’
4. Watch videos on YouTube together and discuss them.
E.g., ‘Cute Animals doing cute things’ or ‘Funny Animals’ and have a conversation about it (e.g., ‘What do you think that bear was wanting?’ or ‘What would you have done if you saw a dog doing that?’). You could pause the video and ask the child ‘What do you think will happen next?’ – This is great for building inferential reasoning and prediction skills. For older children look for funny videos on YouTube (e.g., ‘People falling’) – whilst this may not be totally politically correct, most older children enjoy watching such videos and they can once again be a lead into a conversation (e.g., ‘How do you think he felt after that?’ ‘What would you do if it were you?’). Again, you could even pause the video before the crucial moment and ask your child to predict what might happen next.
** Warning, make you watch any videos from the internet first before showing them to your child to ensure the content is suitable for them.
5. Ask “Siri” (or the android equivalent) funny/silly questions together.
E.g., ‘What is 0-0?’ is a funny one for Siri. Laughing together with your child at shared jokes is a great way to connect with them.
6. Download a ‘drawing app’ and take turns using it.
Play a game where one person draws some scribbles first, then the other person has to turn the scribbles into a picture. You could also just play ‘Guess what I’ve drawn?’ – Again this could lead to conversations such as ‘Do you think it looks like that?’ ‘What do you think it looks like?’
7. Use a weather app together for a guessing game.
Pick cities around the world and guess what the weather might be like there at the present time and then check to see who had the closest guess in terms of temperature or weather conditions.
Try some of the above ideas and who knows!? Perhaps you might even be able to turn that really challenging wait at the Doctor’s surgery into an enjoyable time with your child.