#136 - Balancing Screen Time & Play Time with Rachel McFedries

by Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC & Jessica Hill, COTA/L January 20, 2021 1 Comment

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Balancing Screen Time & Play Time with Rachel McFedries

This episode is an incredible conversation with Rachel McFedries - Rachel is passionate about helping parents of children ages birth - 7 years balance screen time and play time. Because parenting these days can feel overwhelming and energy-draining, screens can become the “easy” answer. As a result, some children are experiencing more screen time than ever before.

Rachel’s passion began 4 years ago with the birth of her third child - she was really struggling to limit screen time for her other children. That’s when she realized how little support exists for parents in regards to screen time. 

Since then, she has combined her education and knowledge in Early Childhood Development with her professional experience as a mental health and addictions Occupational Therapist to help her own family balance screen time and play time while also helping other families around the world! 



Balancing Screen Time Play Time With Rachel Mcfedries

Rachel, a devoted mother of four, hails from New Zealand and boasts years of experience as an occupational therapist specializing in mental health and addictions. Her unwavering commitment is to empower parents of preschoolers, equipping them with holistic strategies to strike a harmonious balance between screen time and play.

Research On Screen Time For Children

As per the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, children below 18 months are advised to refrain from screen time except video chatting with family members. For children aged 2-5, limiting their screen time to one hour per day is recommended, ensuring that the content they engage with is high quality.

Research indicates that excessive screen time can contribute to developmental delays, obesity, sleep disturbances, and behavioral issues.  It can also hinder the development of essential social and cognitive skills.  However, screen time can be helpful in moderation and with proper supervision.

Screen Addiction

With the rise of technology, it has become easier for children to access screens, leading to increased screen time and potential addiction. Studies have shown that excessive use of screens can lead to changes in brain chemistry similar to those seen in individuals with substance addictions.

It can also lead to a decrease in dopamine levels, causing children to become reliant on screens for stimulation, leading to addictive behaviors. This is why monitoring and regulating screen time for children is essential.

Some Families Use Screens More Than Others

There can be several factors that contribute to families relying heavily on screens for entertainment and distraction. For some, it can be a matter of convenience or lack of alternative options; for others, it could be due to busy lifestyles or the need for parents to work from home.

Additionally, some children may have underlying issues such as anxiety or attention disorders that make the use of screens more appealing and calming. Regardless of the reasons, it is essential to recognize when screen time becomes excessive and take steps to reduce it.

Teaching Children About Screen Time

One of the most effective ways to reduce screen time is through education and open communication with children. Parents can help their children understand why limiting their screen time is essential by explaining the potential adverse effects of excessive screen use.

Parents can also involve their children in developing alternative activities they can do instead of using screens. This could include outdoor play, creative projects, or physical activities together as a family.

Embracing A Screen-Free Lifestyle

Recognizing that embracing a screen-free lifestyle marks a significant milestone in our journey is paramount. This transition affects the individual and the entire family, requiring us to exercise patience as we acclimate ourselves to this new reality.

It may require a few weeks for everyone, including children, to adjust to this new routine. We can assist parents during this transition by offering guidance on adapting to the environment and providing valuable advice.

Invitations To Play

Understanding your child's unique play schema offers valuable insights into their developmental journey. This can be observed through various activities, such as using containers to transport objects, relocating items, or even participating in throwing exercises. 

Invitations to play can include open-ended materials such as blocks, puzzles, or sensory bins. These activities encourage creativity and imagination and promote cognitive development and problem-solving skills.

Integrating Toy Rotations

According to the "toy cupboard technique," children are likelier to engage effectively in play when their visual environment is free from excessive distractions. When toys are scattered throughout the lounge or playroom, it can overwhelm children, hindering their ability to concentrate and unnecessarily complicating their playtime.

Storing certain toys in containers or designated spaces like a cupboard, garage, or above the wardrobe is advisable to establish a neat and appropriate play area.  By regularly rotating toys, children can focus on the current set of toys, preventing them from becoming bored or overwhelmed.

Strategies To Get You Started

In our modern, technology-driven society, many parents and children face the difficulty of reducing screen time. Fortunately, several practical strategies are available to gradually lessen screen usage and foster a healthier, more balanced relationship with technology.

  • By actively communicating and engaging, we demonstrate the importance of connecting with the world beyond digital interfaces.
  • Show your admiration for their creations, such as the impressive tower they built. This will foster their self-esteem and encourage them to continue creating.
  • Encourage outdoor playtime and offer a variety of intriguing activities to spark curiosity, such as building a fort or going on a nature scavenger hunt.
  • Set boundaries, establish clear rules, and stick to them. Consistency is critical to cultivating healthy habits for both children and parents. 
  • Finally, remember that change takes time and patience. Expect some challenges along the way, but stay committed to reducing screen time for the sake of your child's development.

Although screens can offer advantages, it is vital to acknowledge the potential adverse impact of excessive screen time on children's development. Educating ourselves and our children about the significance of regulating screen time can establish a healthier equilibrium in our lives.





While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC & Jessica Hill, COTA/L
Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC & Jessica Hill, COTA/L

1 Response

Tonya Potter
Tonya Potter

November 23, 2021

Hi, Rachel McFedries mentioned some research on Scheduled screen time being less helpful? Do you have a link to this please?

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