Little fingers like to touch whatever they find, and when the object of their attention happens to be your computer, trouble abounds! All it takes is one small bathroom excursion or a trip to the kitchen to make your child a snack and those tiny hands could screw up your computer by pressing all of those fun little buttons before you know it.
In the heat of the moment, do your best to stay calm. Freaking out or yelling will only scare your child and won't help get the data back. It's on you to have a talk with your child later to set some boundaries about touching your electronics, and especially your computer. Right now, data recovery is the focus.
First, sit at the computer and try to figure out what's happened. Perhaps your child has closed an unsaved Word document that you were working on or quit your Web browser. Those are relatively easy fixes. Microsoft Word generally autosaves documents if the program quits unexpectedly, so restart Word and see if the documents are recovered. Likewise, some Web browsers (like Firefox) provide you the opportunity to restore your prior browsing session. No harm, no foul in these circumstances.
If you’re unable to recover files using the autosave option, you have a couple of options. If you back up your machine to an external hard drive or to cloud storage, chances are you have a backup of older files stored away. Login to cloud storage or connect your external hard drive, then locate the missing files and manually transfer them back to your machine. Keeping your cool helps here, because you may overlook backup up files if you're panicking. If the data lost was new — and therefore not backed up yet — there is an option.
Data recovery software can help you restore deleted files. The software scans your hard drive for bits and pieces of files. Because your computer may store file pieces without overwriting the data, seemingly missing files can be stitched together using this type of software. There is a wide array of free and paid data recovery programs for Windows and Mac computers; this list can get you started picking out a program that can help recover the type of data you are missing. This software can also restore videos, audio files and more. Just remember that you shouldn't use your computer if you plan on recovering your files this way. Take the hard drive out and put it into another computer (you can buy an empty external hard drive enclosure and put it in there) to recover the information. The more you use that hard drive, the more information will be irretrievable.
If your child accidentally trashes email messages from programs like Outlook, you have recovery options. As a first step, check in the trash to see if the message was deleted and restore it to the correct folder if it was trashed. If you do not find the message in the trash, an Outlook recovery client or other mail recovery client can recover messages, calendar appointments and other information that may have disappeared or been corrupted.
Talk to your child about what happened and set boundaries regarding your personal property, work laptop or other devices. As a safeguard, consider implementing password protection for your devices that activates with a small period of non-use, such as one to two minutes. While unlocking the device can be irritating, it's certainly less so than having to recover your data. There's even a way to make your computer auto-lock when you walk away with your phone (as long as you have a Bluetooth-enabled computer and phone) so you don't have to worry about forgetting. Handled correctly, this can be a powerful tool in teaching your children about respect for others.
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