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We have a moderately strict rule about electronics time at the house -- as long as their homework, chores, or other responsibilities are finished, each kid gets to play a computer or video game for an hour plus watch TV/movies for an hour. We also have an "electronic-free" day every week, where nobody (not even parents) uses the TV or computer. This has so far worked quite well for the nine-year-old. However, we're running into trouble with the five-year-old.

When he's told his time is up and the game needs to turn off, or the TV show is over and it's time to do something else, he gets angry and throws a tantrum. Generally this includes denying that the right amount of time has passed (even though we use a timer), claiming that he wasn't paying attention, insisting that he didn't have a good time and so he should get to start over -- the excuses are often fairly creative, come to think of it. He's not picky about games -- whether it's the computer, my phone, even a random stranger's iPad, he will ask to play with it and get angry if he can't.

He can play happily with blocks, cars, legos, dirt and sticks, and other things, but when he's focused on getting back to a computer game, he insists there's nothing enjoyable besides the computer game. He doesn't perceive it as fun unless there's a battery or power cord. Should I worry about this, and/or try to channel his enthusiasm in a different direction?

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We addressed the "addiction" part of your question previously, but I wanted to talk about the behavior part. First, you shouldn't expect it to be as easy for your five year-old as it is for your nine year-old. Nine year-olds live a lot less "in the moment" compared to five year-olds, have developed more interests, and have learned more coping strategies for not getting what they want. Different kids also have different interest levels in any given activity. Giving them the same limits isn't necessarily fair.

As for the behavior, I would start by setting the timer for 5 or 10 minutes early, to give him some warning and time to prepare, instead of an abrupt end when he's "in the zone."

It also gives you an opportunity to tie his behavior to his desired reward. If he reacts badly to the warning, he doesn't get the last 10 minutes. If he reacts properly, you can reward him with more time in an hour, provided he doesn't mope around during that hour. That gives him a clear path to get what he wants, which is more game time, and if he doesn't, it's his fault instead of yours.

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Great idea to set the timer for a reminder instead of for the hard deadline! And you even built in a meaningful reward system. Brilliant. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 3 '13 at 7:56
    
+1 for the reminder. Having that built-in prep makes things so much easier for a 5-year-old. You can even take that 5-10 minutes and say, "Can I help you get to a stopping place?" –  Meg Coates Apr 4 '13 at 14:28
    
I like the approach -- hopefully he will, too! :) Thanks! –  Erica Apr 5 '13 at 17:39
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Generally this includes denying that the right amount of time has passed (even though we use a timer), claiming that he wasn't paying attention, insisting that he didn't have a good time and so he should get to start over --

Have you tried to get a timer which "speaks"? I mean, for example, the total time is 60 minutes, so the clock should shout after EVERY 10 minutes, "X amount of time is left, be quick"!

I think it is possible that the child gets too immersed in the games that he actually forgets to look at the timer. Often when we are doing our favorite activities the time flies fast.

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I love this idea, I will be looking for an app that can give him reminders! :) –  Erica Apr 5 '13 at 17:39
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