My daughter is 18 months old and for the next year or so, I have opted to have her stay at home with me. People have told me they think I am making a big mistake because they say she needs outside socialization and stimulation at this age. What do you think? F.M., Jerusalem Dear F.M., It sounds like you are not getting much support for your decision to stay at home and it seems as though everyone has lots of advice. This is a personal decision that rests with you and your partner. People especially like to give advice when your decision is seen as different from theirs. Sometimes it helps them justify their own choices. At your daughter's age, if you can afford it and are happy being at home, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for the two of you to spend time together. Another option and one that you may ultimately move toward is working part-time and/or having someone come into your home part-time. For now, though, what could be better than one-on-one attention? Many programs that offer childcare outside the home have a very high ratio of children to caregiver, so one must always check this out to see if the placement one is considering is appropriate. There is a lot you can do to stimulate your baby at home. I remember decorating my children's cribs with all kinds of homemade easy-to-make safe toys, playing music and of course, talking to my kids from a very early age. The latter is really essential to their development of speech, language acquisition and appropriate social skills - and one can begin the process even before birth! Tell your 18-month-old what you are doing, read books aloud, look at pictures and show her things. My children knew their letters, for example, well before their second birthday, not because of any formal teaching but because we sat on the floor and just played! Some of my favorite moments were making books, such as B is for blue, baby etc... and My Big Book of Big Letters for my children out of file folders and everyday objects and pictures cut from magazines. Children can also learn at a very young age to match socks, sort spoons and create music if you are willing to let them into your pots and pans drawer and give them a spatula. While young children need lots of attention, you can also teach your children to play independently and creatively on their own. At this age, much of children's play in a room with other children is not social but what we psychologists refer to as parallel play. Two tots can be sitting side by side pretty much doing their own thing. Social interaction will be minimal. They may each talk, but it is rarely to each other. That said, play is indeed a child's work. I am a firm believer, having done both, that it is in many ways much harder to stay at home with your children than to go out of the house to work. Children who stay at home are generally less sick in the first few years of life unless they have older siblings who bring home lots of "bugs." That said, when your child then does go off to gan, you may find that initially, he misses lots of days because he has not had as much prior exposure to everyday germs. Life is a tradeoff. Remember that in order to be the best mom that you can be, you need to take frequent breaks from your baby. Get a babysitter at least once a week so you and your hubby can go out on a "date," but make sure that you also take time to do something just for yourself, whether to exercise or meet a friend for coffee. Some moms also like to join a co-op with other moms so that they can exchange babysitting services at no cost. This can work really well and give each mom the time she needs to get things accomplished without a child in tow. A mom-and-tot group also provides a great way for you both to enjoy the company of others. Finally, television is not a suitable babysitter. At this age there is very little that television can offer your child. Even the best of shows designed to capture a child's interest are passively entertaining and often have overly fast moving images and subtle innuendo aimed at keeping the adults from becoming bored. There is no substitute for human interaction. You've made a great decision, but be prepared for little support from others as you are a rare breed these days! The time will soon come when your daughter is off to school and your time together will be a thing of the past. Enjoy every minute; they grow up so quickly. Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. Send correspondence to [email protected].