8 important rules to follow before giving iPad to babies and toddlers

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Most experts agree that screen time on any device is not good for young children, especially those under two years of age.

The most logical solution, then, is to ban him from using these devices altogether until he is at least four or five years old.

But who are you kidding?

Sometimes there’s nothing like your smartphone or tablet to keep him amused and educated while Mummy and Daddy are busy.

So if you’re comfortable with letting your tot use these gadgets occasionally, here are eight ways to make the best of the situation.

1. Lights on

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Make sure the device is used in a room that is well lit, says Dr Lee Sao Bing, medical director at Shinagawa Eye Centre.

If the room is dark, your child will have to strain his eyes in order to see, and this may lead to eye fatigue.

At the same time, make sure the gadget’s screen is not very bright because this can strain his eyes as well, adds Dr Linda Ho, a specialist in paediatrics at Matilda International Hospital in Hong Kong.

2. Make him sit up

It’s not easy getting your tot to sit at the table with the device propped up in front of him, but you have to for the sake of his eyesight.

Dr Lee says that if your child holds the gadget close to his face or uses it lying down, he risks developing myopia because the device would simply be too close to his eyes.

Ideally, it should be placed at least 30cm from him.

3. Not before bedtime

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Children of all ages need time to relax after a long day, so turn off their devices at least two hours before putting them to bed, says Dr Ho.

The use of digital devices too close to bedtime stimulates the brain, and this may interfere with his slumber.

You don’t want him using these gadgets or watching TV in the bedroom, either.

Once your child’s brain starts associating it as a place for activity and alertness, he will have difficulty falling asleep there.

4. Keep it short

Limit your baby’s use of these devices to about half an hour a day, and make sure your child takes a break every 10 minutes or so to relax his eyes, Dr Ho advises.

5. Watch out for addiction

Another reason to cap the amount of time your child spends on these gadgets: You don’t want him to get hooked on them.

“Babies and toddlers need a lot of physical activity for their growth. They should be crawling, walking, climbing and exploring their environment,” says Audrey Tan, principal of Learning Vision @ Raffles Place.

Plus, it’s important to remember that the more time he spends in front of the screen, the greater his chances of developing childhood obesity.

“An active child is also less likely to be overweight,” she adds.

6. Choose educational programmes

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If your tot is going to be using digital devices, you might as well make sure he gets something out of them.

Select age-appropriate and educational programmes, games and activities, such as those that teach animal sounds, nursery rhymes and identification of body parts, says Dr Phuah Huan Kee, a paediatrician with a special interest in child neurology from SBCC Baby and Child Neurology Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.

7. Sit with him

Rather than leaving him alone with the device, Dr Phuah recommends watching these programmes or playing these games with him.

“Applaud when he associates the right sounds with the right animals, and sing his favourite nursery rhymes with him. Better still, act out the songs together using hand gestures and body movements,” he says.

It’s a great way to bond. Plus, your baby will love that you’re just as involved in the activity as he is.

8. No devices during mealtimes

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Your child should be savouring his food during mealtimes instead of focusing on a smartphone or tablet.

Be sure to extend this rule when the family dines out, too. It’s all part and parcel of teaching him what is and isn’t socially acceptable.

Once his eyes are off the screen, he’s more likely to look around the room and interact with others at the table, says Dr Lee.

This article was first published in Young Parents.