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Kids & Screen Time: 5 C's Questions for Toddlers & Preschoolers

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From ages 2 to 4 years, young children are learning A LOT. They are also becoming more talkative, wanting to master new things by themselves and can finally understand some educational content on media. This is also a time of big emotions and learning how to manage them. These are the important developmental tasks that media shouldn't crowd out.

What are the 5 C's?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health developed the 5 C's as an age-by-age guide to parenting around media and building healthy digital habits as your child grows. See "Kids & Screens: How to Use the 5 C's of Media Guidance."

5 C's questions for parents of toddlers & preschool-age children

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Child

Who is your child, how do they react to media, and what are their motivations for using it?

At this age, you start to see differences in toddlers' personalities. Some will be very impulsive and curious. Others will be shy and slow to warm up. Some toddlers are obsessed with media and demand it frequently, others have an easier time letting it go. Knowing how your child reacts to media helps you develop healthy boundaries around it.

2. Content

What is worth their attention?

Research shows that educational programs like PBS KIDS shows, Sesame Street, Blue's Clues or Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood can teach toddlers facts, healthy behaviors and how to manage emotions. Try to work these high-quality shows into your child's viewing.

Although your toddler may like media such as YouTube with cartoons or influencers, try to keep that to a minimum–it may have a lot of marketing or poor role modeling. If your child watches YouTube, make a playlist of high-quality videos for them. Remember to turn off autoplay (so the algorithm doesn't decide what they watch next!)

3. Calm

How do they calm their emotions or go to sleep?

Hello, big tantrums! This is a crucial age for helping young children know their emotions and figure out how to manage them! The best way to do this is to:

  • try to stay calm yourself

  • label what emotion you think they're feeling ("It's okay to feel sad/angry/frustrated")

  • help them calm down.

It can be hard, but these are great opportunities for learning. So, try not to distract them with a device any time they're upset or bored.

Keep screens for regular times of day or when you're on a long car/bus/plane ride. Set calming bedtime routines that involve reading and snuggling. Point out to your child when you are doing "calm" activities- role modeling really matters.

Find other ways to help toddlers and preschoolers calm down. Every caregiver questions their abilities during tough times, but these can be great opportunities to build confidence in your parenting!

4. Crowding Out

What does media get in the way of?

At this age, screens may crowd out playing, moving their body, running around outside, exploring nature, looking at books and chatting with siblings and parents.

All of these activities teach social and brain skills that help set toddlers up for success in preschool and kindergarten. Set aside a little time each day to play, read, or get outside with your young child.

AVOID letting your child have open-access to a tablet or phone.

5. Communication

How can you talk about media to raise a smart and responsible child?

Toddlers and preschoolers understand a lot more of our language. This is a good time to talk to them about what they see in videos, "good" and "bad" behavior in characters or advertisements. If your child is watching something interesting, talk about it. Do something related to the show or movie with your child.

To download a PDF version of these tips, tap here.

Make a media plan for the whole family (parents too!)

For parents of toddlers and preschoolers, the AAP family media plan serves as a valuable resource. It helps you consider the quality of content consumed by your child, for example. Key goals at this stage include building diverse interests beyond media, finding calming techniques without relying on media, and making sure content stays positive and educational for your children.

More information

Editor's note: The 5 C's were inspired and built upon the "'3 C's advice about kids and screens" developed years ago by education expert and author Lisa Guernsey.

Funding for the AAP Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health was made possible by Grant No. SM087180 from SAMHSA of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, SAMHSA/HHS or the U.S. Government.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health (Copyright © 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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