As the founder of a startup developing mobile learning games for toddlers, I firmly believe in the power of good quality mobile learning games to stimulate little ones' minds. However, as a parent of two children aged 4 and 7 years, I encounter the same problems as parents of young children with mobile devices; playing games inevitably leads to tantrums!
Even though we're diligent about the types of games we download on our mobiles and we limit the amount of playtime our kids are allowed, it's not enough. Sometimes when my 4-year-old son's allowable 20 minutes are over and he's in the middle of a game, if we take the device off him he screams "I wanna play MyPad" 1,000 times. If he steals my mobile and starts playing while I'm busy cooking dinner and I scold him and take the device away, he has a meltdown.
Last year, my 7-year-olds' primary school teacher wrote in his diary that he was particularly tired in class one week. When we asked him he admitted he'd started waking up at 6:00 a.m. to play Minecraft on the tablet. At this point we felt his love of this game had become unhealthy and we banned him from playing before school.
But games such as Minecraft are also educational and stimulate the imagination -- and my kids love them! So I wanted to resolve these problems without entirely banning devices. I talked to friends who had similar problems and we came up with a list of the most effective anti-tantrum strategies:
1. Apply the "out of sight, out of mind" principle. When kids can't see mobile devices, they get distracted with other activities and don't think about them. We now hide our tablets before going to bed so the kids won't wake up early to look for them.
2. Agree on a fixed time when your kids are allowed to play on the mobile and let them play at the same time each day so that start and finish times become habitual, for example, 20 minutes before dinner.
3. Set a 20 minute alarm on the mobile device your kid's playing on so that when it rings, there are no arguments about how long they've been playing.
4. Give your kids a five minute and/or one minute warning that their time is about to end so they can finish their game and not be taken by surprise when you take the device away.
5. Use other activities you know your kids love to distract them from the mobile. For example my children love cooking so after their time on the iPad we often ask them to cook with us.
6. Set the rules and be consistent about sticking to them. This comes from the "give an inch and they'll take a mile" concept eg. If you set a 20 minute limit then leave them playing for an hour, next time you take the device off them after 20 mins they'll go crazy.
These strategies have helped us set clear rules with our kids around playing mobile games at home which makes us feel more in control as parents (well most of the time!). I've found I can even benefit from these games by rewarding good behaviour and finished homework with 20 minutes playing time.