If there’s one thing parents have learned during the pandemic, it’s this: Little kids suck at video chatting. Maybe we already suspected this based on the occasional, disastrous FaceTime or Skype call with out-of-town family. But then we were thrust into this all-online-all-the-time reality, in which video chats feel so much more important, and yet the kids are still just terrible at it, despite all the extra practice.
Eventually, they will get better at it, simply by virtue of getting older, less easily distracted and generally better at holding conversations. In the meantime, though, there are some tactics you can try to set your little ones up for Zoom success.
Choose the right time of day
You don’t take your kids to the grocery store 20 minutes before their nap time or to the playground when they’re hungry, because the few times you’ve done that, you realised your mistake right away and vowed to be more careful in the future. The same rules apply here.
If your kid is hungry, cranky, distracted or even more energetic than usual, they’re probably not going to do very well during a Zoom call. Schedule calls for a time when they’re most likely to be the calmest, happiest version of themselves. For older babies and toddlers, bath time might even be a good option if you have a tablet or laptop you can set up on a stool (far enough away from any splashing water!). Even if they’re not super chatty or conversational, the grandparents will love to watch a little one splash about.
Help them make a ‘question box’
Grownups might think of this as a collection of “icebreaker” questions, but the difference is that icebreaker questions are most often only used at the very beginning of a meeting or event: the first day of school, during the breakfast meeting for a work retreat, that sort of thing. They get people talking, they shake loose any nerves and they help the group start to build connections.
The difference with a video chat “question box” is that you can bust it out whenever you see things start to fall apart. Work with kids ahead of time on a collection of fun or silly questions: If you could be any animal, what would you be and why? Who is your favourite Disney character? If you could have any animal as a pet, what would you choose? What is the best gift you ever received?
If they help come up with the questions, they’ll be more invested in participating when you bring out the box.
Plan a (short) agenda
You don’t need to have a 10-point list of topics to cover during your phone call, but with little kids, it helps to have a bit of structure. Prepare a “show and tell” with a loved one ahead of time—especially if the person they’re calling is also younger.
Or plan an activity for them to do with the other person or simply to do while they’re talking. It might be easier for a grandparent to talk to kids while they’re sitting at the table and colouring because they’re naturally a little more calm and focused during that type of activity. You might also want to have books to read or some of their recent artwork nearby to show off in a pinch.
If you’ve got two (or more) little kids and they both want to see and talk to grandma and now they’re spending the whole video call trying to elbow each other out of the way, it’s time to separate them.
If you have multiple devices, set them up in different rooms of the house and start a three-way call. The physical separation could be enough to take the edge off and let them chat a little more naturally.
Keep it short
No matter what you do or how strategic you try to be, some days, the kids are just going to want to make silly faces or rude noises while the person on the other end tries to ask them about their day.
The key is to remember that it’s ok for them to suck at this—they’re little kids! Little kids who are living through extra weird times. So keep the calls short: They don’t need a 45-minute catch-up with Auntie Sarah every other day. Five or ten minutes here or there is sometimes all we can ask of them, and that’s enough.