My son is 3.5yo and is very healthy and active. And we do have screentime limits setup on ipad. Right now there is a mealtime association with ipad screentime and it has become a habit. How can i break that habit? I have read Charles Duhiggs book on habit formation and got the idea of cue-routine-reward concept. In this case routine is watching ipad. I am trying to replace that with healthier alternative and haven’t found any success. So far i tried options such as toys, books, and nothing else with food. Even when we all eat as family, he asks for ipad with mealtime. Any suggestions on how i can change the habit?
Habits are hard to break. Unfortunately, there's no easy way aside from creating new habits. Simply stop all screen time. A 3.5 year old needs to learn how the relate to the real world. No screen will help with that.
Just say no, we aren't doing that anymore. He may have a fit. You must be prepared to deal with that fallout. It will be uncomfortable, but it will pass. He will move through all five stages of grief; Denial (No! I want it!), Anger (Screaming?), Bargaining (Maybe just tonight?), Depression (Won't eat. Crying), to Acceptance (Ok Mom/Dad). These stages may all occur in one night, or over the course of days.
Once that's over, he won't ever remember this used to be a thing. Be strong. Be firm. Do not back down, and your son will see leadership. Good luck!
Like Flog said, there is no magic painless way to do it. You just do it. Hopefully, your other parenting habits will lead your kid to conclude that once some genuine sadness and frustration have been expressed and vented, what you say sticks, and mealtime will be for talking and food, but not screens.