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Staying Home Instead

Finding Computer Time

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 4, July-August 2000, pp. 128-130

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I've finally entered the 21st century (along with the calendar), and gotten a computer. We got it so I could connect with friends and other parents via email and the Internet, which is especially important to me since we recently moved and we don't really know anyone around here yet. But every time I sit down to use the computer, my children (ages two and four) climb onto my lap and try to type or grab the mouse while I'm using it. The computer seems to hold this tremendous fascination for them. They'll play happily while I cook, clean, or talk on the phone but as soon as I sit at the computer, they're all over me. If I try to have them take a turn typing, they won't share and end up fighting with each other. If I say no altogether, they throw a tantrum. And when my husband comes home and needs to use the computer for work, our problems are multiplied. Any suggestions on how I can get computer time without causing a war around here?

Response

I, too, have children who love to type on the computer when I am using it. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for me. First, I have given them their own keyboard to type on whenever they want - either while I am typing on mine or when I am not. This may sound extravagant until you consider that I got it for $2 at a thrift shop. My four-and-a-half year old now has his own computer, too - a very old model that a friend gave to us. It doesn't do much but it works great for his purposes! Perhaps you could find a very cheap or free old one for your children, or just a keyboard that could sit on the desk next to yours.

Second, I give my children plenty of time typing, on the "real" computer, in a very big font that is fun and easy to see, when it is not otherwise being used. This helps, perhaps because they get it out of their systems and when it's my turn, they've already had theirs. I also let my four-year-old "help" by doing tasks such as pressing enter, clicking the mouse, and turning off the computer at the appropriate times. He is willing to wait briefly between tasks and enjoys doing these "important" jobs.

In general, I try to limit my computer time when I am with my children and this helps. If I feel as if I really need some time to email a friend, I ask my husband to take the children for a walk so I can concentrate for a little while. This plan seems to please everyone. Our children even consider it a treat.

As far as dealing with your children fighting and refusing to share or take turns, this can certainly be frustrating. I highly recommend Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. You will probably find helpful suggestions there. Congratulations on your willingness to be flexible, and good luck connecting to a new community!

Rachel Gathercole
Carrboro NC USA

Response

One of the reasons I am able to work on the computer is that I consider my computer time to be very personal. When the baby goes to sleep, or sometimes when she takes a nap, I often make a cup of tea for myself and sit down at the computer for 15 minutes or so (instead of the 101 other things I could do). This is "me" time, and I find it very refreshing.

The tasks you mentioned in your letter: cooking, cleaning, and speaking with others (even though on the phone) are things that children can imitate. I'm sure you've seen how your children will imitate everything (and I mean everything) they see you do. I am trained as a Waldorf teacher, and I believe imitation is a child's main job for the first seven years of life. Children begin to develop their will and ego strength from imitating and interacting with others and the world. This is the beginning of empathy, which helps to form the basis of their moral sense. The activities of daily living provide all the experiences a child needs for healthy development.

Computers, however, are deceptive to a young child, who does not, and cannot, understand how automation and programming work. A computer can provide only an automated response for the child and does not allow the child to have an experience with a living thing, though he will, and must, assume it is a living thing. I feel this does not help a child's development, as there are no living consequences for his actions. A child does not grow emotionally from playing with computers. I think we need children to have all the emotional development they can get, especially with the way the world is these days. Neither does the computer allow the physical activity that is so important to growing children. There is research showing that early use of computers and television is harmful to children. See for instance a book by Jane Healy, Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think. Your child may do better to play, play, play!

Cynthia Bodger
Lompoc, CA USA

Response

As the busy mother of three - a two-year-old and infant twins—I can relate to your desire to find time to work on the computer. It sounds as if a schedule might help. Do your children take naps? If they do, then use the time to use the computer. If that's not feasible, then wait until they've gone to bed. Or, wake up an hour or so before they do and use the computer. If none of these options work, how about finding someone to baby sit while you use the computer? I've used all of these options and they've worked well for me.

I would also let your family know that you need time to relax too and would like to use the computer. Once family members know how serious your intentions are, they should be more willing to accommodate you. Yes, even young children can understand the need to be alone sometimes! My husband knows how important computer time is to me, so he goes the extra mile to make sure the children are taken care of and leave me alone while I'm working. Another suggestion is to get children's educational software or computer games that allow each person to take a turn. That way, there's minimal fighting and maximum learning and enjoyment for all.

Lori Peters
Carlisle PA USA

Response

Good for you for getting a computer! I have had similar experiences though my husband and I have three (and sometimes four) working computers in our house. Our work sometimes comes home and I consult as a computer database programmer after my part-time job.

One of the things that worked for me is to avoid finding myself needing to work on the computer and watch my son at the same time. Also, my computer was off limits. I made a point of arranging with my husband to watch our son (even though I was right there) at those times I needed to work on the computer. When my son needed to nurse, I would interrupt my computer work to do so, but I did not find this disruptive. This worked while my son was young, between six months and 18 months. Later, when my son started playing by himself, I would use those short periods of time to get a few minutes of work done on the computer.

When my son was 18 months old, my husband found a simple computer program that played a song and displayed a picture for each letter key pressed on the keyboard. My husband put an older computer within reach of my son (actually just the keyboard and monitor were within reach) and let him play this game. This helped to keep my son out of my lap when I was on the computer. Even just having a keyboard to "bang" on distracted him enough.

When my son was about three years old, he would want to sit in my lap and play some games on the computer. I had to draw the line between time to play on the computer and my time to work on the computer. I remember repeating over and over, "Sorry, mama has to work (on the computer)." Over time, he got the idea.

Donna Cote
Bryan TX USA

Response

We got our computer two months ago and were suffering with the same dilemma. I now use the computer early in the morning before the children wake up, and am able to use it during their nap time. We have a camera attached to our computer. When it's turned on, the children can see themselves on it. They especially enjoy watching themselves dance. It's a way for them to have fun with the computer and I don't have to worry about them touching the keyboard or mouse.

Monique Heieie
Elko NV USA

Response

I have a similar situation with my two-year-old son, Marc. I try to use the computer when he and his sister are napping, but that isn't always possible. I have found that setting aside a specific time for him to use the computer with me has helped. Now whenever he wants to type or click when I am trying to use the computer, I remind him that we will use the computer together after his sister goes to bed. It also helps if he has something fun to do, such as coloring a picture or playing with his cars. Two nights per week we have computer time together. It is something that we both look forward to and it lets me use the computer without trying to keep eager fingers from deleting my emails!

Mandy Reynolds
Clinton IA USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
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