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5 Tips For Managing Screen Time With Your PANS Child

parenting screen time Sep 07, 2020

One of the most common questions I am asked is how can I manage screen time with my PANS child? This is a parenting challenge with most children, but can be intensified with our PANS kids because it often leads to extreme meltdowns when taken away. 


Adding COVID into the mix presents a whole new layer of problems, as screen time is probably being used more now than ever. Parents are working from home with their children in the home. It can be very stressful. Without school, friends, and a normal routine, screens can be a source of joy in times of uncertainty.  Rather than taking them away all together, we need to learn to work with them.


Why does my child love screen time so much?

In short, screen time delivers a "dopamine hit". Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the "reward" center" of the brain.  Since screen time is so pleasurable in terms of brain chemistry, some consider them "addictive".  If something is this rewarding, it's going to be difficult to get your child to transition off of screen time.  Therefore, you need a plan!  


5 Ways to Manage Screen Time: 

1. Make screen time predictable and limited.

This may seem obvious, however it takes some effort.  Take the time to create a daily routine with consistent time for screens.  Doing so will help both you and your child lay the foundation for a system that will work.  See tip #3 about limiting screen time.


2. Have a pleasurable activity ready to transition to when screen time is over.

If there is a meltdown when you discontinue screen time, your child may be having a "dopamine withdrawal".  To alleviate this painful withdrawal feeling, you need to be prepared to transition to something pleasurable after screen time is over.  Some examples might be playing outside, riding a bike, or having one on one time with you.  Determine what would be most appealing for your child and have that ready to implement.  If you're consistent with this type of pleasurable transition from screen time, a smoother transition will become a learned experience for your child and therefore much easier to manage.


3. Don't make the amount on the screen time too short.

Finding a sweet spot in regard to the length of time that your child has access to screens at one sitting is a great idea.  5-10 minutes isn't enough and will make it difficult for them to transition away from the screen,  30-45 minutes per sitting usually works well for most PANS kids.


4. Don't allow for the "can I have 5 more minutes?"

We've all been there!  When you tell your PANS child it's time to turn off the TV or iPad, they begin negotiating. Don't give into this! I know it's difficult, but when you do that, you are creating intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement creates habits that much harder to break!  


5. Preview how the transition off of screen time will work.

Before screen time starts, let your child know that if they are off without difficulty, they can have an appealing activity afterwards (tip #2). This prepares them for the transition before screen time even begins.  If they are not able to transition off without a conflict, remind them that screen time is a privilege and dependent on their ability end on time

If after several attempts at implementing the above strategies your PANS child is still not able to end screen time appropriately, you can let them know that they will need a break from screens for a few days.  Explain that after those few days have passed, they can attempt to follow the rules above on a trial basis.  Make it clear that they must show you that they are able to successfully transition to the pleasurable activity before the trial period ends.


I hope these tips are helpful for you and your family.   If you are interested in more resources and a community that you can come to for advice, I have a private free Facebook group. You can join here