My 18-month-old son, who is very active and social, likes to eat only when we allow him to watch rhymes. Even though he is super hungry, he refuses to eat (even his favorite food) without watching rhymes.
How can I make him eat without screen time?
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It sounds like your son has developed quite a bad habit there. Eating in front of the television is not good, so I think you'll want to nip this habit in the bud straight away. It might seem harsh, but I really think you should simply wait it out. Don't turn on the TV, no matter what. He'll eat when he gets hungry enough.
Don't make a big fuss, and don't engage the child in an argument. Simply tell the child that the television is not going on. The rest is up to him.
Also you may want to generally look at how much screen time the child has, and gradually try to reduce it. Less is definitely more in regards to screen time.
We simply do not look at screens during meals with children. We do not open cell phones, tablets and laptops, and do not turn on the TV for meal time entertainment with kids. We may occasionally do a video call (FaceTime, Skype, etc) during meals, but this feels more like another form of communication than a passive use of screens. Interestingly, we found that even video calls are distracting for the kids, so we do not do them during meals too often.
From my experience, at this age it is possible to discontinue screen time associations cold turkey, without any gradual phasing out. Even if it is associated with a meal, it should be possible to withdraw screen time, kindly, politely but also firmly. Eating is an instinct more powerful than screen time addiction in a situation like you described. :)
Limit the exposure to screens to few hours per week. explain to him that, for his good, you want him to explore other things (reading, music, playing without screen ). Model healthy electronic usage, kids will learn from elders at home. Keeping tv on for background noise all the time or scrolling through your mobile any time teaches your kid bad habits. Set aside times to unplug from technology.(dinner times). Encourage other activities as far as possible.