Birth – Preschool

Ages 0-5

Sections in this Guide


Science Says...

Infants & Toddlers (Birth - 2)

The first years of life are filled with rapid brain development, exploration, and learning as infants and toddlers engage with people and their environment. During their first months, babies begin to smile at their caregivers and imitate their expressions. They advance swiftly from lifting their head to sitting and, around 8-12 months, crawling, exploring their world by touch and taste. By their first year, babies can understand more language and may begin to babble, imitate spoken language, or even say their first words. While the words may not be language we understand, babies are learning to communicate and practicing the give and take of conversation. As they enter their toddler phase, children start to develop more complex social skills and the concept of themselves in relation to others. They begin to enjoy more social play, first playing alongside other children, then engaging in mutual play. Their emotions become more complicated and can swing wildly as their exploration of the world becomes increasingly independent and intellectually complex. At this age, a child’s brain has not yet developed to the point that they can effectively learn from traditional digital media as effectively as they learn from interacting with their caregivers and peers. While video chatting may be beneficial in sustaining social and familial relationships, most babies and toddlers are better served by interaction with their physical world than with the digital environment.

We Recommend…

For children under 18 months, we recommend limiting the use of digital devices and media to video chatting with family and friends. For toddlers, screen time can be expanded to include watching child-centered programming with an engaged parent or caregiver.

In reality, nearly two-thirds of children under age 2 use screen-based media on a daily basis. Parents and other caregivers use media and devices much of the day for a number of reasons, many of which can be categorized as the demands of daily life. Screens can occupy infants when we need to be doing something else. While we recommend limiting screens at this age, we recognize that they can serve a purpose in our busy lives and we want to help you to use them well and in ways that can most benefit you and your developing  child.

Preschoolers (3-5)

Preschool children are becoming ever more independent, forming their own opinions, developing friendships outside of their family, and exploring the world around them. Children this age like to know what to expect and why. They are developing routines, learning rules, and displaying complex emotional reactions to situations. Preschoolers are self-oriented and can engage in extensive make-believe situations, including imaginary friends and multiple self identities (even within short periods of time!). Preschoolers begin to form relationships with others, navigating friendships, learning to regulate their emotions, and testing limits. They are rapidly developing their language skills alongside their social skills, with story-telling becoming increasingly important. At this age, children continue to learn best from interactions with others, physical play, and self-directed curiosity. It is best to limit their screen time, preferably to less than 2 hours total per day, with an adult caregiver present, on prosocial media that encourage interaction such as answering questions.

We Recommend…

Children 3-5 years old can engage productively with interactive media for short periods of time and in video chats with friends and loved ones. We recommend that receptive screen time (such as watching videos) is limited to their attention span for each viewing, and no more than 2 hours total per day.

Preschool-aged children spend an average of 2 hours per day using screens. While we continue to recommend limiting receptive screen use at this age, we recognize that screen media serve a purpose in our busy lives and we want to help you to use them well and in ways that can most benefit you and your preschooler. As with infants and toddlers, always consider what your preschooler will be watching and learning from and what they will not be doing because they are on a screen.

Best Practices for
Digital Wellness


When watching a tv show, movie, or other screen, interact with your child by pointing things out, asking questions, and modeling prosocial reactions. 

    • Even babies who aren’t yet talking can understand and learn from many of the words you’re using and your tone of voice. 
    • Preschoolers can hold a conversation and talk with you about what they’re seeing. Ask questions about what they think the characters are feeling or how they might react if they were in the story.

Whenever possible, when watching a video or video chatting, sit with your child physically next to you or on your lap. Use the opportunity to cuddle and to look at one another while engaged with screens.

Preschoolers especially need interaction with their primary caregivers to learn and develop their social, emotional, and cognitive skills. When you are able to focus on your child, your time is best spent interacting directly with one another without the distraction of screens and other devices.

Encourage their chat partner to talk directly to your child, sing songs, play games, or repeat movements (such as hand clapping) to get your child to imitate these actions. If they point out something about the child (such as “look at those strong legs!”), you can tickle or touch them, to further the interaction. Preschool-aged children can show schoolwork, demonstrate new skills (“look what I can do!”), or tell stories.

Many television shows, movies, and apps invite even the youngest children to participate in the story. They may be asked to repeat after the character, answer a question, do an active movement (such as “hop like a bunny” or “dance like me”), or sing along. These media are more engaging and better support a child’s development and healthy media use.

Try to gauge how they are responding to different kinds of content and assess their attention span. Young children’s attention spans are roughly 2-3 minutes per year of age – so 2-year-olds have a 4-6 minute attention span, 3-year-olds 6-9 minutes, 4-year-olds 8-12 minutes. This tends to be much shorter than most television programs or videos. Watch for when your child breaks their gaze and looks elsewhere. Use that as a guide for how long for them to view a screen before moving on to other activities.

Screen use before bedtime can affect both the quantity and quality of children’s sleep. By turning off screens well ahead of sleep times, you can give your child a chance to slow down and get naturally drowsy before naps or bedtime.

Research indicates that children as young as 3 months old show gender and race preferences; by preschool, children have internalized racial messages of society. Young children will notice differences and can hold conversations about them. Select tv shows, movies, and books that show a variety of differences – including gender, race, and ability – and ask questions or make observations:

    • “Your hair is very dark and Elsa’s is very light. You both have such beautiful hair!”
    • “Molly loves to go exploring in the woods just like you do!”
    • “Daniel Tiger calls his Grampy ‘Grandpere’. Isn’t that a cool name?”
Tantrums are challenging for parents to manage, but using screens to calm your young child is likely to make it even more difficult in the long run because they will not learn to self-calm. Staying calm yourself, praising self-regulation, and distracting your child (such as with a dance, a question, or a toy), can help to calm the tantrum without using screens or media – or you can patiently let the tantrum burn itself out. When you do not react, your child will discover that tantrums will not let them get their way.

When parents use their devices during mealtime, families lose out on important bonding time with their children and can support the development of less healthy eating practices. During meals, turn off the television and make sure tablets and smartphones are turned off and not in the room.

Most applications and devices offer parents opportunities to disable ads, turn on safe-search mode, and block content. They offer password protection as well as bookmarking services to make preferred games and websites easy to access. If you’re not sure how to engage these protections, search for the Trust, Safety, or Parent sections of an app’s or device’s website.

Additional Resources