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I have a 10 months old boy who really, really wants to play with my computer. It is not like he is mildly curious - as would be the case with power sockets, glass stuff and other objects which deserve more caution: when he sees the notebook, he gets excited and will do anything to reach it until I put it in a unreachable place where it cannot be used. I work at home so unfortunately sometimes I have to work with an eye at him and another at the computer.

Until now, I am teaching him that he cannot touch the computer by departing him and saying "no" in an authoritative tone. I keep him away from computer this way but he does not give up, and does not give any signal that will stop to try to get the machine. Maybe this is not the best scenario but I really need to work and cannot just spend my time keeping him far from computer.

So, how to keep a baby away from something it does want so much?

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If you can't keep Mohammed away from the mountain, you have to keep the mountain away from Mohammed. –  Dave Clarke Jan 25 '13 at 16:08
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Perhaps a toy laptop all his own would solve the problem? –  Byte56 Jan 25 '13 at 18:28
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No offence Byte56 - but that's the biggest joke. I have to still see a kid who 'plays' with toys and ignore 'real' stuff. If only some one makes a toy laptop that looks like a real one. Not sure how many toy phones and laptops I've got only to find my 3 year old ignore it for the real thing. –  YetAnotherUser Jan 25 '13 at 19:57
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Bottom line is you can't keep him from trying. You can either physically keep him away from it, or you can get him to want something else more. –  Mr.Mindor Jan 25 '13 at 22:42
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Like this, of course: bit.ly/XVKAJ5 (it didn't actually work for very long) –  David Murdoch Jan 31 '13 at 19:10

9 Answers 9

up vote 13 down vote accepted

While I agree with Torben's answer, the core of this question applies to situations other than just working vs. babysitting.

Sometimes a parent may want to check email, do some shopping, or participate in a wonderful online parenting question and answer community. The issue of a baby wanting to play with technology isn't just limited to computers/laptops/tablets. A smartphone can easily fall into the same category, particularly if, like me, you use it to show your child entertaining and/or educational vidoes, or play music. It becomes much less of a clear-cut issue when it comes down to "how can I answer a phone call without my child demanding to play with the phone?".

While it is still true that the baby needs more attention than you might give to such tasks, including phone calls, there are still situations where it may be very valid to want to use these things in front of a child. For example, when my wife and I are both with my son in the living room, one of us can surf the internet or do work while the other keeps our son entertained, and we prefer to have us all together as a family rather than have one of us have to leave the room.

So, how do you actually handle this without it becoming an issue?

One possible solution is to give your child their own version of the item to play with.

I'm not suggesting you get your child a laptop, or buy them their own iPad. However, there are plenty of toy laptops and cell phones that are age-appropriate. Children love to emulate their parents, which is probably why your son is so intent on playing with your laptop. Giving him his very own laptop will not only channel that energy into something that he can't damage (okay, a 10 month old can probably damage anything up to and including diamond, but at least we're talking a plastic toy that is easy to replace!), it also lets him feel like he's "being just like mommy/daddy".

This can be extended to lots of other items. Toy lawnmowers, ovens and cooking sets, car toys that have steering wheels, etc..

If you don't want to/can't invest in child versions of every item that you don't want him playing with, the only other options I can think of at that age are to either have something else that the child will see as "better" (which can be difficult, given how quickly "favorites" change at that age, coupled with the fact that the item in question is forbidden may only make it even more attractive), or, as Torben suggests, keep anything you don't want him playing with entirely out of sight.

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Has this "give them a toy laptop/smartphone/widget" ever actually worked for anyone? Because it's never worked for me. Even in the infant "I'm just beginning to figure out how to manipulate things" stage, they've never been able to capture my children's attention like my own widget. Whether it's an age-appropriate children's toy or even my previous smartphone (which still worked and did smartphone things), they'd rather have the one I'm using. –  afrazier Jan 25 '13 at 18:40
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@afrazier I can honestly say this has worked for me. The times when my son has wanted to play with the laptop, and we've given him his leapfrog laptop instead, he's been pretty content to use the toy. The smartphone is a little less succesful now that he's older, mainly because he wants to watch videos of animals and dinosaurs any time he sees one. If I were to dig out my old discarded iPhone and connect it to my WiFi, though, I can guarantee he'd be perfectly happy with that instead of the phone I want to use. –  Beofett Jan 25 '13 at 18:43
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@afrazier it isn't just yours. This plan will work with a lot of kids, but my kid saw through the whole "toy charade" and quickly started saying, "but I want mommy's" too. It is still worth a shot though. I always just said, "Mommy needs mommy's right now." and enforced the idea that sometimes no just means no. She was about two and a half by that time though. –  balanced mama Jan 25 '13 at 19:46
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@afrazier I confirm that my boy is not interested in surrogates, even working ones. I think that he is interested into what interest US. He doesn't want a keyboard, a mouse, a phone, he wants MY keyboard, mouse, phone. –  Francesco Jan 28 '13 at 12:14
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Put a tick for me in the "never worked" column. My current guests let their kid walk around with their iphones for craps sake and as a technophile, it drives me crazy. "he's gonna drop it on the floor and wander off, and one of MY kids is gonna step on the thing." –  monsto Jan 28 '13 at 21:21

Taking care of an infant is a full-time job. Are you doing that and working at the same time? That's hard.

Kids mimic whatever they see. They want to do whatever it is you're doing, especially if it looks like you're enjoying it. If they see you touching a device a lot (smartphone, laptop, drill press -- whatever gadget or machine it happens to be), they want to do the same. And they're not old enough to understand what "daddy has to work" means, or even what "work" is, and why they can't touch your machine at the same time.

Either I play with my son, or with electronics. Not both at the same time. Because I've seen other parents' smartphones ruined because their toddlers used them as cars on a tile floor, we've always had a totally solid house rule that "electronics aren't kids' toys", so with my first son, I quickly learned to tuck away my smartphone when he was near.

Working from home and looking after a baby, I realize that you can't follow that rule. But you will have to separate play and fun because frankly, if you are supposed to be working for your employer and you're taking care of a baby at the same time, then your employer isn't getting his money's worth from you. So that's where I'd look for solutions first -- are you working, or are you babysitting?

Note: I realize you might be a freelancer, but I believe that my final question remains valid. You might need to set up a home office in a separate room which your son isn't allowed (or able!) to enter.

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Can you hire a "helper" part time to "entertain for a few hours in the morning? Then you have a couple of hours to focus. Switch off, pay the helper and have a little "play time," feed and put baby down for afternoon nap and then you've got more uninterupted "work time." –  balanced mama Jan 25 '13 at 19:43
    
I so agree with this. I want my infant playing with open-ended, developmentally appropriate toys like blocks, stacking rings, stacking cups, etc. and working on meeting milestones. I don't want her mesmerized by electronics. But I wouldn't call a parent acting as a childcaregiver a babysitter. That's just parenting. –  justkt Jan 29 '13 at 13:37
    
@Torben I agree. However, I am in a somewhat unusual situation: I lost my job and it is a bit difficult to find a new one now (mostly because I am cherrypicking, I confess). I have saving to keep my family for a long time but I would like to supplement them with freelancer jobs. Also, my wife works at home, too, and I like to keep her free most of the time. Before being fired, we were thinking about changing to a bigger apartment where the baby could have his place but this is not very wise right now :) –  brandizzi Jan 29 '13 at 16:30
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I am cogitating to stop working and just take care of my son - actually, I would wholeheartedly prefer to do it - so I could answer your question as "I am babysitting". Nonetheless, the question can be helpful for people who do not have the same flexibility I have, and it would be nice to be able to work with a baby too... –  brandizzi Jan 29 '13 at 16:32

I can relate to this. There is no way I can work on my computer with my child around. They want to do what I'm doing. Giving a toy doesn't help either.

The child wants to do what you are doing, if it's so great that my parent is at it all the time, why should I be denied that experience? seems to be the logic in the little brain.

The solution I have for this, if I can call it that, is to work early in the mornings before wake up time, or after the baby goes to sleep. The added beneficial side effect is that when it's play time, I'm not distracted by work or internet surfitis.

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Your solution is great but I already use those early hours for studying... Nonetheless, this is the solution I'd recommend. –  brandizzi Feb 21 '13 at 17:38

When my oldest daughter was an infant, I mean she couldn't even roll over... hm I forget how it started, but the memory is that she was there laying on her back, on my computer desk, between me and the keyboard, just a cute little knot of flesh. I had been looking at game screenshots. With her laying there, I'd put an image on and she'd be almost completely locked up staring, scanning, studying the image. Then after about 15 secs, she'd start frog kicking and I mean hard. I'd change the pic and she'd lock up again and start all over. We did this for prob 4-5 mins.

So how do you keep him away? Diffuse the mystery. He see's you guys sitting there, captivated, and well, he want's to play, too.

IMO it's a perfect opportunity for a little papa time.

You can put your son on your lap and bring up a screen that doesn't matter, mspaint is great for this. There was a program we used called BabyType that blacked the screen and throws up shapes and noises for each keypress and only leaves with an alt-f4. A quick search shows that they want $29 for it now. Pass. It's not worth that. The version I have was an earlier free version and doesn't run (dated 1999, go fig).

Anyway, the answer is to take the mystery and desire out of it by allowing him to do something on it while he sits on your lap. After a couple minutes, something else will grab his attention. He might even would rather go back to repairing the band saw or using the wood etching kit.

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BabySmash is a free alternative that I highly recommend! Full-screen, a few options to choose from, very thoroughly baby-tested. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 28 '13 at 22:43
    
Cory Doctorow suggests having a small VLC window playing his favorite video clips. (That whole thing is a totally worthwhile read. Also available in other formats like ebook and PDF.) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 28 '13 at 22:45

I can relate with your problem, I'm also working at home, and my two year old also loves to play with my computer ever since.

What I did is that, I had to adjust my schedule, because I cannot work and baby sit at the same time. At 10 month old and onward, your baby loves to explore a lot, so you have to really keep an eye on him because he is really prone to accidents.

I usually wake up early morning to work, that's the best time for me, because my baby is sleeping, so I can really focus on my work. When he wakes up, I have to stop and take care of his needs. When he sleeps in the morning and afternoon, that's the time I can work. I can work longer hours if someone is taking care of him.

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I really enjoyed that phase, working with each of my kids on my lap when they were babies and toddlers.

Sure, you can't be quite as efficient as when you work in the office, as you are also paying attention to the child, but it is much better than having them somewhere else in the room (or possibly the house if they are mobile) as you'd end up worrying about them, chasing them, making sure they weren't in trouble etc.

They are actually a really good excuse to take proper breaks. If you are like me (and most other folks in IT) you tend to work and not notice things like lunchtimes etc despite knowing that taking a short break every hour is much better for you. With a child, taking a break to play with them, and spend some time not working really helps recharge the batteries.

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it really really depends on the child, if that is possible. With our children (during the phase when they absolutely wanted to also touch the computer) they were permanently with their hands on the keyboard or mouse - no way I would have been able to concentrate on my work (or even private things like reading/writing an e-mail) like that without getting frustrated or angry. So I tried to keep those things separate. However, I've heard from other parents who wrote their dissertation with the baby on the lap. That would not have been possible for us. –  BBM Apr 12 at 18:39

I didn't work from home when my daughter was a baby but I did take her to work with me. I worked at a small children's boutique and a lot of my job involved working on the computer. Because the computer was on top of the cash wrap it was inaccessible to the baby; even as a toddler she had no way of climbing up there. So she played with toys on the floor and I stood and did my work and kept an eye on her.

So maybe a standing work staton would be useful in your situation. I found that she was always less interested in what I was doing if I was standing, be it computer work or the dishes. Standing also makes it easy to see what the little one is up to while you work.

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As a single father with a work from home business I spend plently of time working and "babysitting" at the same time. Originally I did have the problem of having my little monster jumping all over my laptop and screaming for his turn to play which made it very hard for me to concentrate. As I started to think about a solution I had to understand what the key problem was... which was as long as he couldn't reach my laptop he may scream for a moment but then give up and turn to something else. So how do you keep it out of reach and still use it?.... simple two words... Laptop Desk. From around £12 on ebay these desks are 80cm tall and are perfect for use on sofas just like dinner desks used by the elderly.
It worked for me so give it a try.

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Welcome to SE Parenting. Your first statement in this answer is a bit derogatory. May I suggest offering your own advice as to what has been successful for you and citing specific reasons for disagreeing with others. That will be more helpful than claims of "useless", etc, which provide no reasoning so as to be helpful. –  Jeremy Miller Apr 12 at 22:45

When my daughter was crawling and learning to pull herself up to look at what was on the coffee table or on anything she could explore, I worked on teaching the meaning of "No!" It takes repetition together with consequences.

One of the last things that helped drive the meaning home was our stereo system. She'd pulled herself up to lean against the entertainment center and play with buttons on the receiver/amplifier. I saw her turn the large volume knob way up, and then she had a finger out to push the on/off switch.

At that moment, I gave a fairly sharp "No!" She somewhat froze and turned her head to look at me. She actually had a grin, probably pleased at getting a funny reaction out of me. As I repeated "No!" she turned back and pushed on/off. The stereo immediately belted out whatever was on the radio, and startled her to drop back on her behind.

I went over to turn it down and "rescue" her, still saying "no" but in a more conversational tone. I placed her farther away and let the music play at it's quieter volume.

By watching for opportunities to let the child experience consequences, your "No" is changed from a meaningless sound into something understood, a trustworthy warning. "When mom/dad say that sound, I need to heed it."

Infants don't understand 'talking' until a series of semantic connections are formed. One of your responsibilities is to help form those connections. "No" is one of the earliest needed, and it should create an automatic response. Creating trust in your words should be a prime objective as a parent.

And one thing that that means is that you can't be regularly saying 'no' if it doesn't have consequential meaning to the infant. (You can, but it won't reinforce trust in your words.) You might want to create situations such as making bad tasting foods available. Not harmful, but unpleasant for the infant. Trouble with that is that it's hard to tell what an infant will choose to like. Pureed radishes can give a harmless mouth burn, but might also be truly liked. Infant food can be pretty boring, and new tastes are often chosen for who knows what reasons.

If it's something rejected by an infant, it can be useful, though. Keep it handy as a choice. Put some on a saucer next to pureed bananas. Say "good" when banana is grabbed and "no" for the radishes. It won't take long to get the meaning across if the choices have meaning to the infant.

When the semantic meaning is both understood and trusted, it's far easier to use "no" in a general way to discourage other behaviors.

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