How To Get by Without the Electronic Babysitting Box

By , September 29, 2007 8:26 pm

According to the study I wrote about in my September 26th post: How Much TV Do American Babies Really Watch, one of the main reasons that kids under age two watch TV is for “babysitting” purposes. People often ask me how I manage to get any cooking, laundry or other household chores done with three kids and no TV or video games.

The answer? I simply neglect my children. That is my secret! I more or less leave them to their own devices. I don’t believe that my job includes being their entertainment committee.

They have toys, games, and books, but mostly they just run around in or out of the house and play imaginary games. I am fortunate that I have two children relatively close in age to entertain each other. This does make occupying them easier. The downside is that, with more than one child, there can occasionally (OK, on some days – often) be discord. Then I am unfortunately interrupted in my work to become a referee (not my job either).

But I also have a 20 month-old and she is more demanding of my time and attention. Sometimes she runs around with the older two, but when they are at school, or engaged in a non baby-friendly game for example, she follows me around wanting attention.

Obviously I can’t let her wander too far off. Her silence is always a bad sign. Some of my best “Mom of the Year” moments have been when I have diverted my attention from her for just a minute or two (more on those particular True Confessions on a day when I feel more like making True Confessions).

Age 1 – 2 years is the most challenging one for entertainment I think. You can’t tell them to just “go play” or send them off to clean their rooms. They are developed enough to want to do something other than sit on a blanket and stare at their hands for example, but they are not yet very interested in toys, at least not for long. The attention span is so short. Plus, they can MOVE and that can mean definite trouble!

Here are some things I do to divert the baby’s attention from me in order to do all the necessary tasks (obviously I am right there next to her for these activities to avoid any other “Mom of the Year” moments):

1) Stand her at the little kitchen island sink with a trickle of water and a few plastic cups (not good if I need her clothes to stay dry however).

2) Give her a tray with measuring cups, plastic bowls, measuring spoons and some dried beans. Of course, watch very closely that none go in the mouth. If your child still puts lots of things in his mouth, maybe try this with larger containers and scoops and use those big Legos that are too big to be swallowed.

3) Let her play in the pots and pans cupboard.

4) Bring out our giant box of dull plastic cookie cutters (which have always been used for play more than for cookies).

5) Give her a box filled with an odd collection of objects that are too large to choke on. She likes to take them out and put them in again. If the box has a top, I make sure that it is easy enough for her to take off and put back on by herself. I have learned the hard way that I will be called upon every fifteen seconds or so to “help” if the lid is not easy enough, and frustration for both of us will quickly ensue.

6) A box of canning rings is entertaining. They can make noise, become bracelets, or simply be placed in and out of the box again and again.

Sometimes these tactics only buy me a few moments of peace, but a minute or two combined with fast working, usually lets me muddle by. If I have a really time-consuming project, then I try to plan it around her nap, or after bed.

What do/did you do to keep your 1 to 2 year-old occupied* when necessary?

*occupied – with your observation, but not your direct participation!

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11 Responses to “How To Get by Without the Electronic Babysitting Box”

  1. Gwyn says:

    Ummm…I take my 15mths old as far away from the kitchen as I can manage – where I can still see him though – and give him chocolate – this is the only way I can get somethign hot off the stove or out of the oven!

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  2. amanda says:

    My son used to love to play with canning rings. Actually he still does :)

    I love your thoughts about not being your children’s entertainment committee. With an only child it is a bit trickier, so I find myself playing with my son a lot more than my parents ever played with me. However sometimes I feel that is the expectation today–to be constatnly entertaining and directing play. Not necessarily a good thing in my opinion. It’s a balance I suppose. Children are made for play, and to do it their own way is best for them. Letting kids push past their own “boredom” and invent their own fun is important! I am so glad my mom left my sister and me to our own devices for playtime. It was a true gift.

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  3. Mom Unplugged says:

    Gwyn- Yet another use for chocolate! Good idea!

    Amanda- I know I am very fortunate to have two children around the same age. I think it must be more difficult with only one. However, I remember spending many hours running around by myself or playing imaginary games with my doll house as a child. (My only sister is 14 years older than me so I basically grew up like an only child). So, I guess that given the opportunity, children will do what they need to do to keep themselves entertained, with or without parental help.

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  4. Andrée says:

    What an excellent post. There was an NPR spot about the Baby Einstein videos: they are worthless and actually delay language development. “So what do we do so that we can make supper?” the parents cried. “I don’t know,” the scientist said (I’m encouraged that a researcher didn’t stick his/her nose into parenting where they are not qualified to speak). “What did your ancestors do 100 years ago? A thousand years ago? FIFTY YEARS AGO?”

    I am done with the Wildlife Habitat post finally. I should have re-taken all the photos tho because we are near peak in color and last week the color was just beginning. But it’s up. Thank you so much.

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  5. The Not Quite Crunchy Parent says:

    Great post!

    I actually think 3-1/2 or so is the hardest age for getting something done…no more naps!

    However, in the early years…before 4 or 5 I do think a parent needs to teach a child to entertain him/herself.

    I’ve found that those hours and hours I spent setting up “stories” with wooden and plastic figures, silks and blocks for my 1,2,3,4 year old have paid off. My now 5-year-old (only) can spend hours ( OK – maybe 30-45 minutes) playing by himself setting up elaborate stories with his play figures.

    When he was younger I had a basket or cabinet in each room for him…when I was in that room, he could open it up…most of the toys stayed the same but I would add or subtract things to keep him busy.

    In reality though, a commitment to no TV means a commitment to getting only the things that really need to be done completed, having little time to yourself and spending LOTS of time playing with your child.

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  6. Tamara says:

    Thanks for the tip. I am short on creativity. I pulled out the tray, beans and cups and bowls and my kids had a ball. They are 2 and 4 and still enjoyed it for 45 minutes this morning and 30 minutes this afternoon.

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  7. Mom Unplugged says:

    Thanks for all the comments!

    Tamara-I don’t know how to get in touch with you personally (Blogger does not reveal emails, a definite minus), but your comment made my evening! I am so glad that one of my ideas worked for your kids and that you came back to tell me about it. That makes me feel like I am not completely wasting my time with this blog! Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. [...] the end of September I wrote a post entitled How to Get By Without the Electronic Babysitting Box, inspired by the frequent questions I get along the lines of “how do you make supper without [...]

  9. [...] How to get by Without the Electronic Babysitting Box [...]

  10. Camille says:

    Hey! Love this site, even though I am still a kid myself (and unplugged at that! No TV or anything, just a tape player and a computer :) ) it makes me eager to grow up and have a kid of my own so I can use these great ideas. :)
    Because I am not a mother, I do not have loads of experience with babies, but many of my friends have 6 month-to-4 year old siblings. I have found that my Jacob’s Ladder and some Lincoln Logs, as well as a giant stuffed tiger, keep the babies busy enough so my friend and I can hang out and play Scrabble or something. (You would not believe how much they love that tiger!! In fact, I gave it to my friend to keep so her siblings can play with it. And the Jacob’s Ladder sure does keep them stumped, plus it is too big to swallow. I am not sure about Lincoln Logs, though they are just the best toy hands-down in my book.)

    Cheers!
    Camille Lorraine

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    Mom Unplugged Reply:

    Hi Camille,
    It is really great to hear from an unplugged kid! I am glad you like the site. It sounds like you would make a great baby sitter. Keep up the good work and thanks so much for your comment!

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