A strategy to help kids transition off of electronics.

Many kids I work with from elementary school through high school can become dysregulated or “loose it” when asked to transition away from screen-based activities such as video games and computers.   Very often this difficulty with transitioning to a non-screen based activity is a result of their executive functioning challenges.  In particular, conceptualizing time and utilizing their working memory to be able to picture themselves shutting off their electronic device and shifting to another task.
I teach my clients a strategy I learned from Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC-SLP of Cognitive Connections in Concord, Massachusetts.   The clock which you see pictured was developed by Cognitive Connections and can be purchased from their website.  The clock does not have a seconds hand and has a glass face which makes it easy to color in with dry erase markers.
This strategy teaches kids how to conceptualize time as a concrete concept and marks the end of the screen time with a “future plan”.  A future plan is defined as what you will be doing next and needs to be presented using visual language.    The steps to utilize this strategy include:

  1. We start with the end in mind which in this case means coming up with our future plan.   At times the future plan may be to start homework, do a chore, etc.  Other times we can offer a choice of future plans so the child feels in control of this process.  Here’s the language I would use in the case of this clock: “At 8:45 it will be time to shut off the computer and switch to your future plan.  What activity (not involving a screen) can you see yourself doing for your future plan.”  In this case, the 15-year old who I was doing this with decided that his future plan was to begin drawing at the end of his screen time.  He wrote his future plan on this stick-on note which we will stick on the clock at the end of his time.
  2.  Define the amount of screen time allotted.  In this case it is 45 minutes total.  We subtract 15 minutes from the end as the last 10 and 5 minutes will be shaded in to mark the upcoming transition.   Your child should be shading in the clock themselves, this is part of the learning process. 
  3.  The child then colors in their first 30 minutes of screen time (best to have them count by 5’s).  Next, in a different color they shade in the 10 minute time zone, followed by their 5 minute time zone in another color.  The reason we use the term “time zone” instead of “warning” is because time zone represents a defined spatial area on the clock and does not have a negative connotation.
  4. The last step is to attach the future plan at the minute where time ends in order to help the child visualize themselves transitioning to their future plan  (in this case drawing).

The clock must be placed next to the computer screen, tv screen, etc. so the child can easily see it during their screen time.
Since the goal is to help the child be able to feel the passage of time and improve their working memory we do not prompt them as to how much time they have left.  Rather, we ask them what their time “looks like” so they can look at the clock themselves and become aware of how much time they have left.
This simple strategy should be used consistently around screen-based activities or any other activity which may cause your child to become dysregulated.
Ryan Wexelblatt is the Director of Center for ADHD in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania  You can learn more by visiting www.centeradhd.com
Screen time transition strategy. Ryan Wexelblatt, Director of Center for Social in Narberth, Pennsylvania.