On the hunt for strategies to detox your toddler from screens? You’re not alone. 

According to this Pew Research study, 71% of parents of young children are “at least somewhat concerned” that their child may spend too much time in front of a screen.

We get it — when used thoughtfully, screens can help our toddlers learn and grow. But too much and it can cause all sorts of detrimental effects, like:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Inattention problems 
  • Stunted physical, social, and emotional development
  • Mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety

In this article, we’ll give 8 science-backed strategies to effectively detox your toddler from screens without eliminating them entirely.

You can skip ahead to the first strategy or stick around for more on the side effects of screen time and expert guidelines on appropriate screen time limits.

💡Quick note: Screen time reduction is just one part of helping your child’s mental health. We’ve also written these articles to help parents like you:

The Scary Side Effects of Screen Time (And What Experts Recommend)

One of the scariest effects of excessive screen time is that it can quite literally stunt toddlers’ cognitive and language development.

For instance, this recent study showed that excess screen time in the early years of our children’s lives is linked to less parent-child talk.

For every extra minute of screen time, children heard fewer adult words, produced fewer sounds, and had fewer back-and-forth interactions.

This lack of verbal engagement can delay language development and reduce the quality of social interactions, essential for emotional and social growth.

Excessive screen time can also impact their psychological well-being, leading to inattention problems, aggressive behavior, and difficulty reading the emotions of others.

This study points out:

Children who spend more than 2 hours a day in front of screens are six times more likely to suffer from inattention problems compared to those with less than 30 minutes of screen time.

Excessive screen time is also linked to an increased risk of obesity. Research found that children who had too much screen time at age 2 were more likely to be obese by age 4.5. 

The sedentary nature of screen time, coupled with poor dietary habits often associated with prolonged viewing, contributes to this alarming trend.

So, how can we protect our children from these negative side effects of too much screen time?

First, we should understand how much screen time is too much. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for kids under the age of 18 months, we should minimize or eliminate screen time, other than video chats. 

For preschool-age kids, they say that screen time limits are vital. Their partner organization, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, recommends the following:

  • Between 18 and 24 months, screen time should be limited to watching educational content with a caregiver.
  • Between 2 and 5 years, non-educational screentime should be limited to 1 hour a day on weekdays and 3 hours a day on weekends. 

The World Health Organization is even firmer. They recommend: 

  • No screen time at all for kids younger than 2 years old
  • No more than an hour for kids between 2 and 5 years old, with less time preferred.

While all this may sound scary, there is hope.

As we learn about the detrimental effects of excessive screen time on our toddlers, we also learn how best to move forward.

Screen Time Detox for Toddlers: 8 Science-Backed Strategies

The reality is that, in our digital world, eliminating screens completely is just not always feasible.

Plus, as we’ve learned, screens can benefit your child’s development when used in moderation and in particular ways.

We’re going to take you through 8 strategies that don’t advise you to completely eliminate screens, but use them in moderation according to screen time guidelines by the AACAP and WHO. 

These strategies are all backed by science and also easy to put into action.

Strategy #1. Replace Screen Time with Physical Activity

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), toddlers should get at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity.

These should involve activities they initiate but that include some adult participation to help them stay physically active.

Research shows that 60 minutes of active play three days a week helps with social maturity and motor proficiency (how they use their bodies).

Active play is also great for their brains!

In this study, it was clear that limited screen time was linked to better executive function (the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember, and juggle multiple tasks).

Your role is important here too. This study shows that physical activity is especially valuable when caregivers are involved, benefiting their ability to understand and control their emotions and adapt socially. 

Here are ideas for physical activities that you can do with your toddlers:

  • Play active games. Ring-A-Ring O’Roses is a great one to start with.
  • Pretend to be animals. Slither like a snake. Fly like a bird. Jump like a kangaroo.
  • Try toddler yoga. Yep, they can get started young! There are multiple free toddler yoga videos online — a positive way to use your screen time.
  • Have a dance party. Just add their favorite playlist and you’re good to go!
  • Chase the bubbles. This simple activity never goes out of style.
  • Set up a simple obstacle course. For toddlers, you can use yourself as an obstacle. Lie on your back and get them to climb over you and run around your head.

Strategy #2. Schedule Screen and Internet Free Times

In 2022, a group of researchers analyzed 6 different studies to determine which parental intervention strategies are effective in reducing screen time among preschool-aged children. 

A really effective strategy according to this analysis was to:

  1. implement rules like a “TV off” week or keeping the screens off during mealtimes
  2. engaging in alternative activities that don’t involve screens 

Scheduling screen-free times creates a structured environment where children can engage in other activities.

This not only limits screen exposure but also promotes healthier habits and routines. 

No two families are alike so don’t think that you have to fit into a cookie-cutter screentime schedule for your household. 

Decide when you want to go screen-free. 

Is it during mealtimes? Do you want to create an evening window when you turn the screen off? Or perhaps you want to put a morning routine in place that doesn’t involve screens and wait to turn them on every day. 

You know your family best. Your family, your rules.

And you don’t have to do it alone. Using a screen time app can help you put restrictions in place. That way, you get to schedule when you want your phone to access the internet. 

And it works. Recent research shows that purposeful app usage can help reduce mobile phone usage. 

For instance, you can use our parental control app, Canopy, to temporarily limit internet access on your or your child’s device during specific times, such as homework time or mealtime. This ensures that both you and your child are spending quality time together without any digital distractions.

You can fully customize when you want these screen downtimes to kick in and for how long. You can also create daily or weekly screen downtime rules that repeat, ensuring a predictable and consistent routine. 

Try Canopy for 7 days free today.

Strategy #3. Practice Social and Emotional Learning

Do you wish someone had taught you the important skills of how to identify feelings, navigate interpersonal relationships, and make responsible decisions when you were a kid? 

Well, that’s exactly what social and emotional learning (SEL) is. 

Experts are understanding just how important it is that children learn these vital skills. Studies show that SEL has positive effects on the success of children, both academically and in life in general. 

So important is this type of learning that it is now being incorporated into school curriculums. 

So what can we do to foster this kind of learning at home? And what does it have to do with screen time?

First up, as this study shows, our homes are our first classrooms when it comes to social-emotional learning. 

Because excessive screen usage is linked to problems in SEL, putting restrictions in place at home can be a first step in helping kids interact socially and manage difficult emotions. 

Time away from the screen can also help you explore other activities that help with SEL.

Activities to Promote Socio-Emotional Learning

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers these suggestions to promote SEL:

  • Use puppets: Puppets help you to introduce children to big feelings like happy, sad and angry and can be a great way for them to express their feelings. Puppets may even help you have a conversation about why you’re taking a screen away.
  • Think out loud: Solve your problems verbally. “Oops! I dropped the cup on the floor. That means I’ll have to pick it up so nobody trips.”
  • Read stories: Stories are the perfect inroad for discussing feelings. Talk about what the characters are feeling and what they might do in the situation.
  • Do chores together: Sweeping, folding laundry, and setting the table just got a whole lot more fun!
  • Play games: Play is the first place we learn to cooperate with others, wait our turn, and handle frustration.

And here are some more unconventional activities:

Let your toddler paint faces and emotions on smooth pebbles. This activity helps them express and recognize different emotions through art. You can then use these pebbles to create stories, teaching empathy and understanding.

Make masks with different facial expressions using paper plates and craft supplies. Use these masks to discuss and act out various emotions, helping toddlers identify and understand their own feelings.

Create a “mindfulness jar” with glitter and water. When shaken, the glitter swirls around and then slowly settles, teaching toddlers about calming down and mindfulness.

 Use a mirror to make different facial expressions and have your toddler mimic them. Discuss what each expression means and when they might feel that way, helping them recognize and express emotions.

Pretend to be different animals and act out their behaviors and emotions. Discuss how animals might feel and why, linking animal behavior to human emotions and social interactions.

Strategy #4. Block Non-Child Directed Programs From Your Devices

This study of over 15,000 kindergarteners between the ages of 3 and 6 revealed two very important findings:

  1. Screen exposure is consistently associated with mental health issues. 
  2. The type of content kids see on screen matters. 

When children are viewing content that is not meant for them, they are so much more at risk for developing mental health issues.

There are two primary ways you can help ensure that they get content that is beneficial for them rather than content that is going to do harm:

Find age-appropriate educational content, like YouTube videos aimed at toddlers. Choose them together purposefully. For example, decide to watch a particular program or play one round of an interactive game together.

Research on child development reveals that educational programs that are well-designed and age-appropriate can help children learn social skills and foster empathy, tolerance, and respect. 

In special situations, like during a medical procedure, toddlers can also be calmed by the right kind of screen usage. 

But in order to reap the benefits, it’s vital that the screen time be intentional.

Here, our parental app, Canopy can help. You can:

Block websites that could be harmful. No matter how hard you try, little fingers can be very good at opening up things they shouldn’t. Canopy can prevent this with a simple setting switch.

Filter out adult content that can be damaging. If you don’t want to block an website completely but do want to limit its contents, Canopy can help you with that, too. 

Canopy uses AI to scan and understand harmful and inappropriate content in real-time, and filters it out before it even reaches your child’s device. 

You can choose whether you can choose whether a website is:

  • Allowed
  • Blocked
  • Filtered to prevent harmful content

Strategy #5. Remove Screens from Children’s Bedrooms

Bedrooms should be a device-free zone for kids.

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital at any age, and especially important when you’re growing and developing at the rate of a toddler. 

Unfortunately, screen time before bed can have disastrous effects on your child’s sleep patterns. 

Screens emit blue light, which interferes with the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. By removing screens from bedrooms, you can help your child establish healthier sleep patterns, resulting in better overall rest and improved mood and behavior.

Instead, we recommend these alternative activities to replace screens in the bedroom:

Encourage bedtime stories or let your child pick out books to read before bed. This promotes literacy and provides a calming bedtime routine.


Offer puzzles or board games that can be played before bedtime. These activities stimulate the mind and provide quality family bonding time.

Provide art supplies like crayons, coloring books, or building blocks for creative play. This encourages imagination and fine motor skills development.

Introduce activities like drawing, coloring, or doing simple crafts. These can be soothing and help your child wind down before sleep.

Play soft, calming music or audiobooks at bedtime. This can help create a relaxing atmosphere and promote better sleep.

Strategy #6. Engage in Sensory Activities

We experience the world through our senses — sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. 

To get your toddler away from the screen, opt for sensory play — basically, activities that engage their senses. Not only will this kind of activity decrease the negative impacts of too much screen time, but it will also help them develop vital skills.

We have two sensory systems in  our bodies:

  • Our proprioception sense helps us know how our body parts fit together and how much pressure is needed to do activities like push, pull, hold, or lift objects.
  • Our vestibular sense allows us to maintain balance while doing activities. 

Sensory play helps to develop these systems. As a result, it can help with:

  • Language skills
  • Motor skills
  • Brain development
  • Social interaction
  • Curiosity and the desire to experiment

It’s no wonder then that sensory play has proven to be an effective strategy in early childhood education. 

Sensory play activities are broad in scope. Here are some of them:`

  1. Sensory Bins: Fill a bin with various materials like rice, beans, pasta, or sand. Add scoops, cups, and small toys for your toddler to explore. This activity stimulates tactile senses and encourages fine motor skills.
  2. Water Play: Set up a water table with cups, funnels, and sponges. Toddlers love pouring and splashing water, which helps develop hand-eye coordination and sensory exploration.
  3. Bubble Wrap Stomp: Lay out bubble wrap on the floor and let your toddler stomp on it. The popping sounds and the texture underfoot offer a fun sensory experience.
  4. Painting with Ice Cubes: Freeze water mixed with food coloring in ice cube trays with popsicle sticks as handles. Let your toddler paint with the melting ice cubes on paper. This activity combines art and sensory play.
  5. Texture Walk: Create a path with different textures like carpet squares, bubble wrap, foam mats, and sandpaper. Let your toddler walk barefoot over the path to experience various tactile sensations.
  6. Shaving Cream Play: Spread shaving cream on a tray and let your toddler squish, smear, and draw in it. Adding drops of food coloring can make it even more fun. This activity is great for tactile exploration and creativity.
  7. Nature Sensory Bags: Fill sealable plastic bags with items from nature like leaves, flowers, small sticks, and pebbles. Toddlers can squish and manipulate the bags, exploring the textures and visual elements safely.
  8. Cornmeal or Flour Play: Spread cornmeal or flour on a baking tray and let your toddler draw, scoop, and play. Adding small toys or cars can make it even more engaging.
  9. Gelatin Sensory Play: Prepare gelatin and let it set with small toys or objects inside. Toddlers can dig and squish the gelatin to find the hidden items, enjoying the squishy texture.
  10. Sensory Bottles: Fill clear plastic bottles with different materials like glitter, beads, water, and food coloring. Seal them tightly and let your toddler shake and observe the contents. These bottles are great for visual and auditory stimulation.

Strategy #7. Get Your Kids Into the Let Grow Movement

For toddlers, unstructured (supervised!) play helps them discover the world they’re living in. There’s so much worth in picking up that interesting-looking stone or deciding what game to play.

The Let Grow Movement has recognized the importance of letting kids play outside and interact with the world around them. 

One of their key strategies is Independence Therapy — essentially, as they put it, “treating anxious kids with a “mega dose” of independence.” 

Get them to run errands, walk to school, and interact with a world that is maybe not as scary as they have come to believe. 

The first pilot project showed very promising results, working better than medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

Of course, you’re not going to get your toddler to run errands quite yet. But getting involved with the movement early on in your child’s life will impact them down the line. 

Let Grow offers a combination of free resources (like this list of phone-free camps for older kids), and programs designed for kids 5+. Their programs include play clubs, the Think for Yourself essay contest, and the Let It Grow project which offers the simple assignment of “Go home and do something NEW on your own.”

Here’s how you can start to get involved:


Source: Let Grow

Strategy #8. Read Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

The reality is, it’s not just our toddlers who may be in need of a screen time detox. We live in a culture where paying attention is becoming more and more impossible. 

Johann Hari argues that, rather than blame ourselves, we should recognize that we live in a culture that has “stolen our focus”. 

But rather than this being a cause to feel completely hopeless, Hari argues that recognizing it can be the first step in getting our focus back — and that control over our devices is crucial in this quest.

Actively working to rediscover our attention can have enormous implications for parenting. We know, for example, that screen usage at a young age is linked to a greater risk of developing ADHD symptoms.

Putting restrictions in place so that we are in control of our devices, rather than them being in control of us, should start as young as possible. There’s so much that is trying to grab the attention of our toddlers. We should have a say in what is allowed to.

Screen Time Detox for Toddlers – FAQs

According to this study, it can take 6 to 8 weeks to detox a toddler from screen time. Consistency is key!

Symptoms of excessive screen time in toddlers include:

  • Short Attention Span: Difficulty focusing on tasks or playing with toys for an extended period.
  • Language Delays: Limited vocabulary and slower language development compared to peers.
  • Memory Issues: Trouble remembering simple instructions or familiar routines.
  • Poor Motor Skills: Delays in physical milestones such as crawling, walking, or fine motor skills like holding a crayon.
  • Weight Gain: Increased weight or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Sleep Problems: Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep.
  • Social Withdrawal: Less interest in interacting with others, preferring screens over playing with peers or caregivers.
  • Emotional Outbursts: More frequent tantrums, irritability, and mood swings.
  • Decreased Physical Activity: Reluctance to engage in active play or outdoor activities.
  • Difficulty Following Directions: Struggling to understand or follow simple instructions.

To effectively limit your toddler’s screen time, consider the following strategies:

Set Clear Limits: Establish and enforce daily screen time limits based on age-appropriate guidelines. The World Health Organization recommends no screen time for children under 2 and no more than one hour per day for those aged 2 to 5.

Create a Family Media Plan: Develop a comprehensive family media plan that outlines when, where, and how screens can be used. This helps set clear expectations and ensures consistency across all family members. You can use this free online tool.

Be a Role Model: Demonstrate healthy screen habits by limiting your own screen time and engaging in other activities. Children often mimic the behavior of their parents.

Designate Screen-Free Zones: Establish certain areas of your home, like the dining room and bedrooms, as screen-free zones to encourage more interaction and focus on other activities.

Use Educational Content: When screen time is allowed, choose high-quality, educational content designed for young children to ensure they get the most benefit from their screen time.

Encourage Social Interaction: Facilitate playdates and family activities that promote social interaction and communication skills, reducing reliance on screens for entertainment.

Monitor and Discuss Content: Watch screen content with your toddler when possible and discuss what they see. This helps them understand and process the information while fostering critical thinking and communication.

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We built Canopy to empower families to enjoy a safer digital experience.

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