It’s something many parents do in the heat of the moment. Your child is in meltdown mode, so you hand them a device to try to calm them down.

But new research from Michigan Medicine suggests this could be linked to worse behavior challenges down the road. Frequently using devices to calm preschoolers was associated with increased emotional dysregulation, which can be rapid shifts between sadness and excitement, sudden changes in mood and increased impulsivity.

The study in JAMA Pediatrics took place before the pandemic. Researchers looked at how often parents gave devices to calm children and then symptoms of emotional reactivity over six months.

Researchers say using devices to appease agitated kids may be a big problem for kids already struggling with emotional coping skills. Instead of devices to help during a child’s tantrum, they recommend sensory techniques such as swinging, hugging, jumping on a trampoline, or squishing putty in hands. Parents can also name the emotion they think the child is feeling. To prevent technology tantrums, parents can set timers and set boundaries on when digital devices can be used. Helping kids build coping skills now can help them better manage stress later in life.

Researchers found the association between using devices to calm down and emotional response was high among young boys and children who may already be hyperactive and impulsive.