Last week, I wrote a piece for parents on how to help their little kids get better at participating in video chats with loved ones (because they suck at it). But the thing is, the kids are only half the equation: There are things the person on the other end of the call—maybe that’s you!—could do to help the chats go a little more smoothly, too.
Come armed with a couple of questions
Toddlers and preschoolers aren’t exactly known for their conversational prowess; you’re going to have to take the lead here. Prepare a couple of good open-ended questions; anything that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” will likely be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”
Ask them what has been the funnest part of their day so far, ask them to tell you a joke or a story, or ask them what they think they’ll dream about when they go to sleep tonight. After you ask them a question, give them plenty of time to answer. Silence doesn’t necessarily mean you need to jump in with more questions or conversation—they may just be thinking, and everything over video chat can be a little stilted or delayed anyway.
Share a meal or activity
If you really want to get creative, try planning your call around snack time and keep their favourite snacks on hand to “share” with them through the screen. Or set the call up for lunchtime and eat your meal together—they may be more chatty if it feels like they’re sitting around the table with you.
You could also keep a couple of books handy to read them a story or plan a little show-and-tell ahead of time (you should “show and tell” something, too). Games or activities can help give the call a little structure and better hold their attention.
If all else fails, just go along with their silliness. If they’re making funny noises, make funny noises back. If they’re mostly showing you the way their cat is lying around, show them your energetic dog in return. If they’re hanging upside-down off the couch… well, just be careful not to throw your back out.
Keep it short and sweet
Maybe you’re a grandparent who hasn’t been able to see their grandkids much—or at all—during the pandemic. Or maybe you live far away and photos and video calls are really your only way of connecting with the little ones. It’s true that in-person visits would be much longer (and probably more enjoyable), but young kids likely wouldn’t be sitting nicely on the couch chatting with you in 30-minute increments anyway.
You’d be more likely to get one-on-one interaction in shorter bursts of time in person, so maybe think of these chats less like full-blown catch-up sessions and more like catch-up bursts. A few five-minute calls per week may work better than a one 15- or 20-minute call.
Don’t be surprised if it’s a total disaster
Sometimes kids beg to video chat with someone and then once the call starts, they’re sort of like, “actually…. nah!” They may get distracted by something shinier in the amount of time it takes to dial your phone number, they may suddenly have to pee, they may come down with a bout of shyness.
If they’re just not into it, let ‘em off the hook. Take comfort in the fact that they were thinking of you and wanting to connect at all—that’s the most important thing. And there’s always next time.