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Preschooler screen time: tips for balance

Balance screen time with other activities that are good for your preschooler’s development. Suitable for children aged 2-5 years.

Screen time for preschoolers: part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle

Screen time can be part of a healthy lifestyle for preschoolers when it’s balanced with other activities that are good for your child’s development, like physical play, reading and socialising. Getting the right balance also includes making sure screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep.

Our tips can help you encourage your child to use screens in a balanced and healthy way.


1. Make rules about screen use

You can help your child find the balance between screen use and other activities by working with your child on some family rules or a family media plan.

Your family’s rules might cover:

  • where your child can use screens – for example, only in family rooms and not in bedrooms or the car
  • when your child can use screens – for example, mealtimes are free of TV, computers and phones, or no screen time before preschool or until chores are finished
  • how your child can use screens – for example, to play a dance competition game or a puzzle app, but not to watch YouTube.

It’s OK if your rules include time limits to help your child balance screen time with other things like physical activity. For example, it might help to know that the New Zealand Active play guidelines for 0-5 year olds say preschoolers should be active for at least three hours a day.


2. Aim for short screen time sessions

Getting up and moving around is important for your child’s energy levels, development, sleep, and overall health and wellbeing. If your child is having screen time, it’s good to encourage her to take a break every 30 minutes and use screens in short bursts.

You can do this by encouraging your child to:

  • use a timer to set breaks from screen time
  • do something active when the timer ends, like play outside
  • make use of natural breaks in screen time – for example, challenge your child to see who can do the most star jumps before the ads end.


3. Get your child moving, especially outside

It’s a good idea to encourage your child to play outside several times a day.

Outdoor play doesn’t have to be a big deal. For example, at this age, children enjoy:

  • playing games of chase, hide-and-seek or kick
  • crawling through tunnels or climbing over fallen trees
  • building a castle out of boxes, clothes baskets, outdoor play equipment or furniture.

Physical activity for young children and active play for preschoolers can happen indoors as well as outdoors. It can be simple things like dancing, catching and throwing soft balls, or rolling along the floor or ground.


4. Imagine and create

Creative play like telling stories, dressing up or drawing is good for your child’s creative development. It helps him learn how to experiment, think, learn and solve problems.

Reading and storytelling with your preschooler promotes brain development and imagination, teaches your child about language and emotions, and strengthens your relationship.


5. Encourage play and friendship with others

When children play face to face with others rather than by themselves on a screen, they develop important life skills. These include getting along with other people, being independent and learning how to sort out conflicts and problems.

You can encourage preschooler friendships by arranging playdates with other children. Playgroups can also give your child the opportunity to learn how to play with other children.


6. Avoid screen time before bed

Preschoolers need 10-13 hours sleep a night.

Using screens before bed can affect how quickly your child falls asleep. If your child avoids phones, tablets, computer screens or TV in the hour before bed, she’s likely to get to sleep more quickly.


7. Keep screens out of bedrooms at night

If you keep mobile phones and other devices out of your child’s bedroom at night, he won’t be able to play games after lights out. This can also stop your child being disturbed in the night by messages and notifications.


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