Hands Free Mama? What about Hands Free Toddler (or Child)?

(My Hands Free Baby doing a little dance!)

Yesterday evening after swimming lessons and dinner out I took my almost three year old to Target with me to pick up a few items. Of course, a few items turned into a few more items and we were there well over an hour. She wanted to ride in the cart, she wanted to ride on the cart, she wanted to stand on the back of the cart, and stand on the front of the car. She fell over, she almost fell out. A typical trip to Target. Oh, and she sat on the Cheerios box that I put in the cart as soon as we got in the store (it was on sale) and even ripped open the top asking “What is this?!” Luckily she didn’t make it INTO the Cherrios. Yikes!

After a few minutes of this toddler-sized chaos, I realized that there was a bag of items that we had purchased at the Dollar Store prior to coming to Target. I suggested that she take the items out of their packages while we zipped around the store. We had picked up some small beach balls and some toys for the swimming pool: most of them were all packed in paperboard and plastic. This kept her busy for a while but she was still into stuff, doing her typical toddler thing.

About half way through our trip, I noticed something interesting. There was another mother pushing the cart of a toddler just about the size of mine. But unlike my cart which was full of chatter and movement, her cart was silent. How could that be? A toddler sitting in the bottom of the cart and not making a sound? I looked over into the cart to investigate. There sat with a toddler completely silent, not moving, transfixed. What going on? Then I saw it: the smart phone. She was watching Elmo on her mother’s phone.

Now if you’ve read any of my other posts on children and screen time, you may know my opinion on this. Any time a child is spent engaged with an electronic device is time that the child is not spending engaged with another human being or a tangible object. The toddler is not learning how to entertain herself, the toddler is passively being entertained.

Now perhaps for that mother, that was just the break she needed. Who am I to judge? But the skeptical side of me says that’s not the case. The skeptical side of me says that the phone is whipped out whenever there’s an occasion to keep an antsy child from squirming, exploring, grabbing and generally making a mess out of things.

(This is also backed up by the fact that a different mother at the table of the restaurant we were eating at before the Dollar Store was on her phone the whole time and only spoke to her 5 and 8 year old kids when it was to tell them to sit down. Not a Hands Free Mom.) Her children ended up leaning over the booth for half of the dinner to talk and interact with me and my child.

The interesting thing about this trip is that it never crossed my mind to try to entertain in her in any other way than the way that I was, and I won’t be changing my ways anytime soon. For me dealing with a squirmy toddler is part of the job of raising a child. Sure, I was tired. I had worked a full day of work, I had taken her to swimming lessons, out to dinner and to the Dollar Store. I’m a single mom. I do these things myself. But a toddler is a toddler. She needs to explore, to learn about objects, to ask questions. On one trip to the grocery store I spent half the time reading the signs advertising the fruits and veggies.

The grocery store, or any store for that matter, is a 3D experience. She’s touching things, looking at objects, asking questions. She’s learning how to balance in the cart when she’s standing in it and it comes to sudden stop. Language, reading, fine motor, gross motor, it’s all there.

For me, the smart phone and Elmo is a last resort. It’s for times when there are few other choices.  This has always been while we on a long car trip. Giving my child the smart phone every time she is restless would be somewhat akin to giving her a cookie every time she cries. I do use the occasional cookie to pacify the upset child, but aren’t there other lessons to be learned? Shouldn’t she learn that there are times you don’t get what you want, or to teach her how to self-soothe or learn that her mamma is there when she needs a hug? Why use the phone when you can offer your child a learning experience and a chance to be in the real world? Sure, it takes more time and effort on the part of the parent. But isn’t that what we’re there for? Isn’t that what we wanted when we signed on the dotted line of motherhood?

For more on Hands Free mother check out the Hands Free mama blog.

RELATED POSTS:
CHILDREN AND SCREEN TIME

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