How to spend half-term with less screen time

Parenting experts tell Lisa Salmon what mums and dads can do to stop children being glued to screens for the whole half-term holiday.

There are easy ways to reduce screen time while children are off school
Family sat in a living room all using devices There are easy ways to reduce screen time while children are off school (Alamy Stock Photo)

School holidays can be challenging for parents, and there won’t be many who don’t let their kids over-indulge in screen time this half-term.

But most mums and dads would rather keep device usage to a minimum. The question is, how can they implement this?

“I find it can be challenging to keep my children off screens at February half-term, particularly when the weather is so unpredictable and outdoor activities are limited,” says parenting influencer, YouTuber and mum-of-three Emily Norris.

“It’s a battle trying to find ways to entertain the children as it’s so easy for them to turn to their devices, yet as parents we naturally want to try and find alternatives to capture their attention.”

But she points out: “This isn’t to say there isn’t a place for screen time – there’s plenty of ways to incorporate it, but it’s crucial to find that healthy balance.”

(Alamy Stock Photo)

And Matt Buttery, chief executive of Triple P UK and Ireland positive parenting program adds: “Heightened screen time has become increasingly normal for young children and teenagers, particularly since the pandemic. But with the spring half-term holiday approaching, there are a number of strategies parents can use to reduce screen time.”

Here, Buttery and Norris suggest a few of those strategies…

Lead by example

Managing screen time is a team game, stresses Buttery, as children will often take their cues from what their parents do or say. “Parents can set a clear example for their children by limiting their own screen time,” he suggests. “Deciding when the whole family will switch off from screens and doing so together should also reduce the potential for conflict and resistance.”

Organise activities that don’t involve screens 

Screens are often the default activity for kids, so unless parents make an effort to suggest other reasonably appealing activities, devices will inevitably be picked up.

“Try to encourage your child to come off their device by setting up something interesting to do together,” advises Buttery, who suggests replacing screen time with creative pursuits, physical activity, or time outside, “so your child can engage their brain in different and new ways. Evenings could also mark a good chance for some quality family time,” he says.

Get younger kids to make play dough or slime

If you’re stuck for creative ideas to entice your kids off their screens, why not get them making play dough or slime?

“If getting messy doesn’t bother you, then making homemade play dough or slime is a great activity – and much easier than you think, “ says Norris, author of Things I Wish I’d Known (Vermilion, March 7, £16.99).

To make play dough, Norris says you simply mix one part hair conditioner with two parts cornflour and you have a gorgeous-smelling, super-smooth dough. Add some food colouring to the conditioner before mixing if you want it to be more colourful. “It’s such a fun activity to make and then even more fun playing with it,” says Norris. Slime is just as easy to make, she says – mix equal amounts of cornflour and washing-up liquid together for “slimy heaven”.

 Make DIY surprise eggs

Children usually love anything that involves a surprise, so use your homemade play dough to conceal little surprises, Norris suggests.

“Use some small objects, like Lego figures, and wrap them inside the play dough in an egg shape,” she says. “Hide them throughout the house – you’d be amazed to see how happy the kids are to reveal something they already own!”

Create an ‘I’m Bored’ jar

Get the kids to write down activities they enjoy on little bits of paper and put them in a jar for them to pull out when they’re bored. “The activities can be simple things like playing a board game, going on a nature hunt or having a drawing competition – all things that are easily achievable and inexpensive, but keep them engaged with each other rather than with a screen,” says Norris. “Somehow, pulling it out of a jar rather than you actually suggesting it to them is far more appealing and all part of the fun.”

Explain why you’re limiting screen time

Screens are now a normal part of the way young people socialise with their friends, Buttery points out, so suddenly removing this method of communication without a clear explanation could lead to confusion and conflict. “This is particularly the case during half-term,” he says, “when young people are less likely to be seeing their friends every day. To reduce conflict, having positive conversations early and often is essential – good communication is key to helping the entire family adjust to change.”

Don’t ban screens completely!

Some screen time can be beneficial for children, as it can be both engaging and educational. Norris says: “We mustn’t be too hard on ourselves, and remember that screen time isn’t all bad – it can be educational too. A healthy balance is key.”

She says drawing tutorials, dance lessons or even yoga sessions on YouTube can be worthwhile, and suggests: “Let YouTube be the parent for a while and you can get a few things done around the house. One hack I use when my children are watching TV is to turn the volume to mute and switch the subtitles on – now they’re reading!”