Dear Miriam,

I hope that you can help with a problem. I am married to a farmer. We have a two and a half year old son, and I also work full-time. When I went back to work, we were very lucky to find an excellent childminder. Unfortunately, she recently had to take a step back from minding our son due to an illness in her family.

It has been very difficult to find another childminder and I’m reluctant to send my son into a creche setting at the moment, especially with all the bugs going around. My own family live up the country, so they can’t help much.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law said that she would take our son until we find another solution. I am very grateful for this and it works well as she is in the home place, so my husband goes up there to farm every morning anyway. The problem is that I have been very careful around screentime with my son, but I know that my mother-in-law has been letting him watch cartoons etc on YouTube on her tablet.

I am not happy about this, but my husband is not inclined to talk to his mother about it, as he says she is doing us a big favour. But I don’t want my child staring at a screen like a zombie all day when there is so much more she could be doing with him, like playing or baking or bringing him out for walks etc.

What do you think Miriam?

Concerned Mother

Miriam responds

Dear Concerned Mother,

Thanks for your email. I am not - nor will I pretend to be - a child development expert, though a quick Google tells me that for children of your son’s age, screentime should be limited to one hour a day and should be of high-quality, eg educational cartoons.

What I am, though, is a realist. While of course you don’t want your son scrolling mindlessly on YouTube all day, your mother-in-law should not be expected to provide a bells and whistles Montessori service either. She is obviously doing the family a huge favour in providing your son with a safe and loving environment while you try to arrange an alternative. But toddlers are demanding and very high energy, and I can understand why she might slip him the iPad if she needs a break now and then.

I imagine you have dropped up your son’s favourite toys to his granny’s, but maybe consider things that lead to very hands-on, open-end play, such as Play-Doh (again, I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I have found Play-Doh especially good in capturing young children’s full attention and quelling demands for Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol!)

As your husband is working up at the farm, perhaps he can be more involved too during the day in bringing your toddler out for a little walk whenever he gets a break.

As for screen time, maybe you or your husband could explain that you completely understand it, but perhaps it would be better to use a TV rather than the tablet and if so, to opt for educational channels/cartoons for limited time periods. Maybe you can help with this by providing a DVD or some recordings of cartoons/shows that you might prefer your son to watch in this regard.

When your son does come home in the evenings, you can make sure that there is no screentime and prioritise the activities you would like him to enjoy before bedtime.

Ultimately, though, you may have to look again at a local creche if you don’t find another childminder soon, as I don’t think it’s fair to put that pressure on your mother-in-law long term. But don’t be so hard on yourself either: everybody is doing their best in difficult circumstances. Wishing you all the best of luck.

Reader writes

Dear Miriam,

Regarding the future mother-in-law story (“My future mother-in-law keeps interfering”, 14 January edition) if this girl loses the first battle, then she’s bunched for life.

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