From a parent of a toddler: a reflection on screen time during lockdown and some advice I need to follow myself

by Hackney Speech and Language Therapist Holly Strickland

As speech and language therapists, we’re often asked by families we work with about recommended ‘limits’ for screen time (TV, computers, tablets, phones). The truth is, there isn’t enough good evidence around for us to be able to say exactly how much is too much. And even as the lockdown eases childcare options

are limited or non-existent and playdates and ‘adventures’ outside the home are limited. You may also haveto add working from home to the mix, and having to divide your attention between parenting and working can mean you feel like you’re not doing a good job at either. And sadly, there may well be ill health (mental or physical) or bereavement in our families on top of all this.

It’s no wonder we are perhaps finding that we need to turn to the virtual babysitter now more than ever, and you may have noticed the screen time in your home increasing dramatically, as I have in mine.  

It’s a time to be kind to ourselves, though, and so while guilty feelings are understandable, they are probably not helpful. But if it is something you’re worried about, here are some general questions (taken from guidance released by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in January 2019) that you can ask yourself that might help you identify if something needs to change:

  1. Is screen time in your household controlled?
  2. Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
  3. Does screen use interfere with sleep?*
  4. Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

(* this is an area where there is some good evidence, and so the RCPCH recommends that ‘screens are avoided for an hour before the planned bedtime’.)

And, more specifically, here are some further questions and suggestions to help reflect on how to prevent screen time from having a negative impact on communication development, as well as how to use it to create communication opportunities.

– Think about the balance of screen time with time spent doing other activities: (e.g. playing with toys/you/siblings; going outside (for permitted exercise); drawing/painting/messy play; sharing books). Look at it over a week rather than a day and decide if you need to shift the balance towards other activities.

– Avoid having screens on in the background: turn the TV off if you’re not actually watching it (we can all benefit from a break in rolling news coverage!) Background noise makes it more difficult to focus on playing and interacting.

– Decide on some boundaries and try to be consistent with them, as well as thinking about how you communicate them to your child. ‘You can watch for half an hour’ might not mean much to a young child. A five minute warning might help some children, but you could also try to make the limit clearer by specifying which episodes or how many, or the moment in the film they can watch until.

– Think about what comes before or after screen time: be clear about what has to happen first (breakfast/tidying up/star jumps) and also what is going to happen next when screen time finishes: bonus points if it can be something fun!

– Consider your own use of screens and the behaviour you are modelling: are you being fully present or distracted by pings on your phone? Try to find times (even just 5 minute bursts) where you can give your child your undivided attention.

– What is your little one watching? There is a vast spectrum when it comes to the quality of different content. By watching along with your child, you can immediately boost that quality by turning it into an interactive experience. That might mean simply laughing along together and sharing enjoyment, or being able to act out, retell or just talk about different stories after you’ve finished watching. Could you pretend their favourite character is coming to tea? Is there a favourite song you can sing or dance along to with just the music?

– Identify some times that you want to be screen free (including adults’ phones!) – e.g. mealtimes, which offer lots of opportunities for communication, especially if you are able to eat together. If making all mealtimes screen free seems daunting, try choosing one to start with and go from there.

– Embrace video calls! Although technically happening on a screen, video chats with friends and family are a two way interaction and so will be helping children learn about communication much more than any educational app teaching shapes/colours/numbers/letters.

Countdown clock image created using InPrint 3 software

Supporting families with English as an additional language

With the schools closed due to the Coronavirus, many families are accessing home learning online via laptops and tablets. This is challenging for all families, but especially for families with English as an Additional Language (EAL).

The Bell Foundation is a charity that works to support people with EAL to access education. Katherine Solomon from the Bell Foundation wrote this piece about:

  1. The challenges faced by families with EAL
  2. How teachers and other professionals can support families with EAL to access home learning.

Some ideas to support families with EAL:

1) Provide written information with translations if possible. If this is not possible, use clear, simple English with visual supports such as photos or symbols.
2) Try to use audio or video messages so that families who have difficulty reading English can access the information.
3) Highlight the value of multilingualism and encourage parents to support children to complete school activities in their home language.

You can read Katherine Solomon’s blog post here:

Get Hackney Talking Facebook page

We are really excited to share with you that our “Get Hackney Talking” Facebook page is Re-launching today, Friday 12th June. Our aim is to provide information, ideas, training and support so that every child in Hackney develops to their amazing potential.

We will be posting new information, ideas and videos weekly covering a broad range of Speech & Language Therapy topics to support you and your child with their communication at home. We also hope to use the Facebook page to invite you to celebrate the wonderful awareness days that run throughout the year and help our Hackney families and beyond grow in their understanding about different communication needs. Follow our Facebook page to keep up to date and engage with all of our news

Thank you!

Social story about kindness and coronavirus

This week (18-24 May 2020) is Mental Health Awareness week and the theme of the week is kindness. We would like to share a social story about kindness and coronavirus. Social stories are written to support children with their understanding of particular situations. We hope you will enjoying reading this story with your child.

Videos to help attention and listening – Attention Autism

Does your child struggle to pay attention to others? If so, Gina Davies’ ‘Attention Autism’ programme may be for you. This programme uses household items to create engaging activities, and is widely used throughout schools and speech therapy clinics in Hackney. First, children watch the activity. Afterwards, they can take turns at having a go themselves. Occasionally messy, always fun! Tip – use an old shower curtain or binbag for easy clean up More ideas are available on the link below…

10 Ways to support your neurodiverse child during isolation

We are all getting to grips with the idea of being stuck inside for the forseeable future, without our usual comforting routines to rely on. For some parents of neurodiverse children, such as those with Autism, this can be a particularly daunting prospect. To help, the CAMHS teams at Hackney Ark and East London Trust have got together to share some simple tips for parenting during self isolation.

Explaining Covid-19 (Coronavirus) to children and young people

Current global concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic are anxiety-provoking for us all. Children and young people with Speech, Language and Communication Needs will also be anxious and fearful about the situation. Changes in routine and the behaviour of others can be confusing, and it may be difficult for children and young people to understand what is expected of them and why.

Here is a collection of resources designed to support children and young people to understand the current situation and the changes in their own actions and behaviours that may be necessary to keep themselves and others safe.

If you come across any resources or ideas, please do share them with us on Twitter @hackneytalk or via email so we can add them to this post.

A page of curated resources for managing Covid-19:

Social Story about Pandemics and Coronavirus / Covid-19

Visual images / symbols about Coronavirus / Covid-19

Simple social story:

Books to support worry and anxiety in children

Social Story about social distancing and Coronavirus

Film about handwashing:

Info in other languages (aimed at adults)

Short story about Coronavirus

Engaging Young People through Animation

Speech and Language Therapists recently used animation and anime to improve attendance and engagement at a Hackney Ark Therapy Community group. Twelve local teenagers with social communication difficulties attended a 6 week programme where they learnt to share and respect opinions, work together as a group and give and receive constructive feedback. The teenagers also learnt how to use animation software and make a short stop-motion animation clip each week. This group of young people are often difficult to engage in therapeutic support but the animation provided a motivation as well as a real-life scenario in which to practice their social skills and teamwork. Parents were invited to the film premiere at the end of the group and therapists, parents and young people were immensely proud of the animations they had made and all the skills they had learnt. We hope you enjoy them too!
[The therapists most involved were Emma Whittingham and Clare Minton].

Communicating with deaf children

Hi! My name is Martina Curtin and I am the lead for deafness in the trust. I started in November 2018 and have been working with babies and young deaf children in the borough as well as supporting other therapists who have deaf children and young adults on their caseload. I use spoken English or British Sign Language (BSL) in my therapy sessions, whichever language works best for the child. I have BSL level 3 and hope to do level 6 very soon!


‘In May we have seen two very important weeks: deaf awareness week (6th – 12th May) and mental health awareness (13th – 19th May)’.These are two very important initiatives and probably more closely linked than you think. There is a higher prevalence of mental health difficulties in the deaf population (Pertz et al., 2018), with 40% of deaf children experiencing mental health problems compared to 25% of hearing children (DH, 2005).  


As a speech and language therapist I am incredibly passionate about communication. Like many of my colleagues in Hackney, I support parents and carers to boost the quality and quantity of their interactions with their children, helping them to expose their children to lots of language throughout the day. If not addressed, poor interaction between parent and child, and reduced exposure to language in general, can lead to lifelong difficulties in communication and cognition (Morgan, 2015; Hall et al., 2017). We want our deaf children in Hackney to be confident and competent communicators and we understand the value of working with parents to achieve this. In Hackney, we are very lucky to work alongside a fabulous Teacher of the Deaf team who also value the importance of empowering parents to be skilled communicators, whether that be in Spoken English and/or BSL.


So what can you do? Well, negative experiences of communicating with people who are unfamiliar with deafness can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and frustration in deaf children and young people (NDCS, 2015; Theunissen et al., 2014). So why not check out this video I was involved in making with BBC journalist Hannah Gelbart for some helpful tips on how to communicate with deaf children: Information on where to learn BSL can be found here:


See you around!





Developmental Language Disorder

On 19th October it is Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) Awareness Day. This week the Speech and Language Therapy Team are holding stalls with information, stickers and enticing sweet treats around the borough to raise awareness of DLD. We are at Hackney Learning Trust on 16th October, Hackney Ark on 18th October, and we are holding stalls in a number of schools and children centres all week, look out for us!


DLD is the diagnosis given when a child has problems with language development that continue into school age and beyond. The language difficulties impact on everyday functioning such as learning and social interactions. It can only occur in the absence of a biomedical condition. DLD affects 7% of the population (that’s roughly 2 in every class of 30 children).
For more information take a look at these factsheets:
DLD for primary schools
DLD for secondary schools

Also, check out the RADLD website for more info.