Your 3-year-old now
Computers can be great learning tools, and software for preschoolers is plentiful — but this kind of play is by no means necessary at 3. If your child seems very interested and you're prepared to keep close tabs on his play, look for games and websites that promote art creativity or math and reading readiness, stressing skills like counting, letter recognition, and patterns. Preschooler-friendly games rely more on sound and images than on written prompts. Consider your child's abilities and choose games that fit him.
The main caveat is that time in front of the screen — no matter how educational the software — shouldn't replace more active pursuits. Parents are often vigilant about limiting TV but softer on computer time because it's perceived as more educational. But scientists say that the best way to develop a young mind is hands-on exploration and interacting with people.
Your child may need your help in maneuvering the mouse or running the program. As with television viewing, your child will get more out of the experience if you talk about what he's doing and ask questions, relating it to his everyday life.
Less than an hour of computer time, with your child on your lap or at your side, is plenty for now. Bonus: This is a great opportunity to start teaching him that screen time has limits. Set a timer. If you notice him getting fidgety or cranky, cut the session short. Above all, don't be overeager to introduce computer play. All too soon you'll be looking for ways to actively discourage your school-ager from the addictive computer screen.
Your life now
You may have heard the advice that consistency counts when it comes to discipline. It's true, and here's a parallel that can help you see the wisdom in that adage: How would you feel if the traffic laws or income tax regulations changed from day to day without notice? You'd probably feel a lot of stress from not being sure of the rules. You'd also be tempted to see what you could get away with. Firm, consistent boundaries, on the other hand, breed security and obedience.
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