How to end screen-time battles with a Balanced Play Diet

January 11, 2019 Published by

Edited by Dr Amanda Gummer

Many parents complain to us that it’s a real battle to get children interested in anything other than their tablets or mobile phones and we know how hard it can be at times, but screen time does have its place in a balanced play diet – it’s more about what you do on screen and how that fits into a wider profile of leisure time. Children don’t separate playing on a screen from playing in the real world; for them, it’s all just play. It’s our job as parents to ensure they’re playing in a way that supports healthy development.

The Play Diet model is a useful framework for parents to use to ensure children are getting a healthy balance of activities in much the same way as they get a healthy balance of different food groups – if children fill up on food high in fat, salt and sugar, they won’t have room for fruit and veg. As a result, children miss out on the good stuff in healthy foods.

Active, imaginative, social, child-led play is the ‘fruit and veg’ of the Play Diet pyramid and is difficult to get too much of. It helps children develop important skills including problem-solving, creativity, and making friends.

At the other end of the pyramid is solitary, sedentary, passive time, which is absolutely fine as a treat when balanced with the rest of the activities in the pyramid, but isn’t something you’d want your child to be spending the majority of his/her leisure time doing. Lots of parents worry about screen time being the ‘bad ingredient’ of the play diet but not all screen time is sedentary, solitary or passive.

The balanced play diet approach encourages you to focus on getting the right types of play, rather than simply forbidding or limiting screen time. A lot of digital content can actually support your child’s learning in a way that is engaging for them and by doing your research you can find lots of apps and games with good play value.

For older children, I recommend The Famous Five Adventure Game from Kuato Studios, which brings the classic story to life with mini-games. It creates a personalised storybook at the end as well, so it’s ideal for reluctant readers.


TV shows can also be a good way of teaching children valuable lessons through stories. For example in Oddbods, a non-dialogue animated show for children aged 2 to 6 years, we follow the adventures of seven loveable, very different and quirky friends. Together despite their differences, they survive the perils of everyday life, unintentionally turning ordinary situations into unexpected, extraordinary events. As they don’t speak, children can practice understanding emotions through facial expressions, body language and tone and this can be carried on in their play time after the show has finished. Oddbods also celebrates differences and encourages kids to express and be themselves. It’s always a good idea to watch these shows with your child to help you engage with them in the play that follows and make the most of the learning opportunities.



Instead of forbidding screen time, the Play Diet approach encourages you to focus on balancing it with other activities. This can help to end screen-time battles and means your child doesn’t miss out on the many benefits of play.

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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