“You’re such a big kid! I can’t wait to visit!”
“Oh, gwamy! I miss you! Can I tell you all about schoo’?”
The reality is chaos. The video swings crazily as parents try to juggle the phone and a squirmy kid. Either entranced by their own image on the screen or too busy making faces to talk, the kid is more interested in eating a snack or playing with Hot Wheels. The parent is swearing and apologetic, the kid crying and dirty, and the grandmother frustrated and frankly experiencing a few hurt feelings. But nudging the increasingly obligatory video chat with relatives back towards the ideal can be accomplished with some strategy and practice.
“One thing we recommend is having a standing weekly time to check in,” says Mia Neagle, spokesperson for Google which offers several video chat products include Google Hangouts and their new mobile-only, phone-agnostic, video chat app Duo. “With a consistent weekly time-slot, you’re setting up structure in your child’s schedule which helps them look forward to the call and expect it.”
It also takes some of the novelty out of video chats. The more commonplace seeing grandma on a screen is, the less motivated the kid will be to show off or become entranced by themselves in the screen. But parents should also be thoughtful about when the call is scheduled to help minimize behavioral issues during the call. “We wouldn’t recommend picking a time that’s right before dinner when your child might be antsy or hungry,” Neagle says.
Considering parents have limited windows for well-behaved, happy kids, ask the grandparents to be flexible. After all, what do they have going on that’s more important than talking to their grandkids? Nothing. That’s what.
But with the time nailed down, the next step is making the call easy for everybody to join. That’s not so tough if the entire clan are Apple or Droid users. But when the operating systems and hardware are mixed things can get dicey. Unsurprisingly, Naegle notes that Duo was designed to solve this issue, but says whatever is being used, “make sure that the app you choose is really simple and anyone from a grandparent, to a parent, to a kid knows how to use it.”
Parents should also consider nailing down the location where the chat will regularly occur. Having kids talk in the place where there toys are will become an issue. And chatting in a room far from the router could cause lags, interference, and frustration. “You want to make sure you’re in a comfortable family space,” Naegle says. She recommends the kitchen or living room where parent and kid can settle.
To solve juggling and help the kid stay in one place, parents should also try to go hands-free. A phone stand not only props up the device, it removes the touching temptation away from the kid. That means no more stabbing at the screen wildly until they manage to hit the quit button.
Finally, Naegle suggests getting kids even more invested in the process by having them press the necessary icons to start the call. This helps give a kid some agency in the process, which could help their patience in the long run. But while kids should be allowed to start the call with a relative, parents should definitely stick around during the call. “It’s good to have a parent there who can serve as prompt for conversation topics,” Naegle says. “Not to take over the call, but to be there as a resource for them.”