Here’s why you shouldn’t use mobile devices to calm an upset child

Here’s why you shouldn’t use mobile devices to calm an upset child

Calming an upset preschooler can feel impossible. Some parents turn to technology to diffuse the situation. But is handing a child a smartphone or tablet an appropriate solution?

Probably not, according to research published in JAMA Pediatrics, which suggests that while devices may help calm young children in the moment, the practice can lead to increased emotional dysregulation, especially among males. Emotional dysregulation can present in the form of mood swings, impulsivity and more. The researchers concluded that the utilization of electronic devices to calm children lessens the opportunities for teaching emotion-regulation strategies.

“Tantrums and big feelings are common occurrences in the life of children ages 3-5. But when we hand a child a device to distract from their emotions, we’re not taking the opportunity to help them regulate those emotions,” says Dr. Maribel Serrato, a pediatric neuropsychologist with Advocate Health Care. “A child who doesn’t learn how to manage their emotions grows into an adult with the same struggles.”

Dr. Serrato adds that although this strategy is used by many parents because of how quickly it calms children and helps ease parents’ distress, usage of devices is often a point of contention with older children and the use of technology.

Instead of turning to electronics the next time your child needs help calming down, Dr. Serrato recommends the following techniques:

  • Attempt to identify reasons for the behavior and prevent them. For example, is your child tired? Do they want something? Are they trying to avoid something? It is easier to prevent a behavior than wait until your child is in a meltdown to act.
  • Label your emotions and help your child do the same. A feelings chart is a good way to help your child learn about emotions. Talking about what to do when we feel sad, mad, excited, etc. is helpful when your child is not in distress.
  • Be ready! Have fidgets, books and headphones available. Jumping, marching and tight hugs work well, too.
  • Offer options! We all like options. Children want some level of control over their bodies and environment. (For example: “Do you want to wear the orange shirt or the blue shirt?” )
  • Practice mindfulness techniques, including being aware of emotions (label them), the environment and our body. Practice deep breathing, muscle relaxation and overall awareness in fun ways. There are many age-appropriate books and apps that help practice these skills.
  • Ensure that your child is getting good sleep, daily movement and eating well. Use of devices to help them fall asleep is discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Our lives are busier than ever. As adults, many of us are stretched to our limits. While it can be easier to provide our children with a ‘quick fix,’ in the long run, we want to teach coping skills from a young age rather than distract children from what they are feeling. Learning emotional regulation strategies begins from an early age and is harder to address once behaviors are firmly established and reinforced and deemed more problematic as children grow into tweens and teens.”

Are you trying to find a doctor? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

Related Posts



  1. smartphones and tablets are for adults, ONLY. they should’ve never been a tech or toy for kids. smartphones were meant to be a phone with features, again, for adults, and tablets are just an evolution from smartphones, with bigger viewing spaces. nothing more!! those parents give them to kids as rewards are not thinking.

  2. I don’t have children myself but from what we know about technology making kids’ attention span even worse, I cannot imagine just giving a child a tablet when they are having a tantrum. I’m even more surprised that so many public schools require use of technology and computers in grade school kids! I agree with the above comment that phones and tablets should be for adults and not kids, especially when kids should be using their imaginations rather than being overstimulated with constant technology in their faces. I’m curious to know the effects it’s having on all the kids forced to do remote learning and/or using chromebooks, tablets, etc. for school!

Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.