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My 4-year-old daughter plays a lot of handheld computer games.
Sue Baltimore
I would do more than restrict her time with these games. I’d take them away from her for a while. And I would try to engage her in interactive play a little bit each day. For example, have a tea party with toy dishes or plastic ones from the kitchen. Get the conversation going and then ask questions that fit the world of make-believe: “This is good tea. Where did you get it?” “Is that where you usually shop?” If she’s hooked on computer games, she may not be interested in such play, so you will have to be creative to get her involved. There are a lot of simple games you can play with her that require fairly close attention. Look around for some. And I would read to her every day, often pausing to ask her questions.

I would definitely try to get her involved in a playgroup at least two to three times a week. One reason they’re valuable in your circumstances is that kids aren’t as accepting of being ignored as adults are. They have a way of getting in another child’s face and asking a demanding question. Even those children who frequently don’t pay attention are almost forced to respond. If you arrange a playgroup, tell the parent in charge that you don’t want your daughter using computer games.

There are probably many ways of classifying or describing toys. One is “close-ended” and “open-ended.” Close-ended toys have one correct answer; open-ended toys allow for many correct answers. Children need and learn from both types. Most high-tech toys are of the first variety; certainly computer games are. I would encourage your daughter to play with open-ended toys, such as dolls, blocks and all kinds of art activities. If she produces a drawing, resist the temptation to ask what it is. Instead, ask her to tell you about it. Such activities might help your daughter relax a bit in her play and have more energy left over for interacting with you.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education