It’s looking like this new reality of Zoom grandpa hugs and Facetime grandma kisses is going to last a while. But the problem is, our kids are kind of over it. So this week, let’s talk about something that’s become essential to our living these days—how to keep our little ones engaged with family members on the screen.
Here’s the thing. When quarantine started, we rushed to the computers. Hell, we were on a Facetime high for those first few weeks. We met with friends on Zoom left and right, the kids were excited to have extra time with the grandparents. It actually even felt a little better than normal; we were connecting with our loved ones even more than usual.
And then the energy tanked. The kids crawled away or hid from the screen. They got tired of it and we understood. And that meant disappointed grandparents, some who even took it a littler personally. And It was a loss for us too. We came to rely on those convos as the next best thing to a babysitter. We could do the dishes, straighten up, or even take a work call as they were happening. Plus we loved them for helping maintain the connection between our kids and loved ones.
So before we figure out how we can breathe new life into our kids’ relationship with extended family through the screen, let’s talk about why our kids might not be fans of connecting through video.
Why your kids are not a fan of Facetime
The obvious reason is that there is no substitute for the actual snuggles and kisses that relatives give. Kids need tactile stimulation. We all do. Not being able to curl up into grandpa’s lap for a story is a huge loss.
But there’s more to it.
Connecting visually through the screen can be confusing. When we are face to face with someone we learn to pick up on many tiny cues constantly happening: a twitch around the mouth, a slight smile in the eyes, a face slightly turned away, the body leaning in, the eyebrows in a slight scowl. These cues are extremely subtle and we react to them just as unconsciously as they were expressed.
Facetime eliminates a lot of those extra cues because the picture isn’t clear enough, there’s often a delay, and because we don’t see the full body. We have much less information to go on and that means it is harder to connect.
Not only that, the technical issues of video chatting make our emotional experience tiring. A recent New York Times article explained that because the image we are watching is out of sync with the speech, delayed, or frozen for a second, “we perceive it as a prediction error that needs to be fixed…we’re having to do more work because aspects of our predictions are not being confirmed, and that can get exhausting.” (Paula Niedenthal, professor or psychology at the University of Wisconsin.)
Meaning, we aren’t able to make a logical match between the speech and the picture. We need to fill in the gaps to make sense of the emotion expressed. And that’s alot of work.
Why it’s worth it nonetheless
That said, the benefits of Facetime with grandparents, especially right now, outweigh the costs. Our kids (and us) need connection. They’ve got us at home all the time now but they also see us working more than ever, on our computers, cleaning, etc. Having family members who are exclusively focused on them repairs that a bit.
Also, believe it or not, this type of screen time is not only NOT harmful, it is beneficial. The American Academy of Pediatrics say that interactive facetime with a relative (or in a music class!!) is in a different category than normal screen time. It makes all the difference when your baby is fully engaged and when each side is reacting to each other.
So we know why it may be challenging, and we know why it’s worth fighting for nonetheless. So now let’s talk a few tips and tricks so your kids don’t go on hating them. Facetime that is, not the grandparents.
So here are a few tips that YOU’VE told me have worked for you.
1. Story Time
No matter what age the child, this is a winner strategy. The family members can read board books and story books to the little ones and chapter books to the older kids. My daughter’s interest in grandma screen time was reignited when grandma started reading Charlotte’s Web. Now she is excited to tune in.
2. Lunch Date
Lots of parents have told me that their babies and kids are happier talking to family members when it’s over a meal. The kids are busy with the food and have something tactile to work on. The grandparents can tell them a story, just hang out, or have their own meal at the same time.
3. Facetime Song
I’m sure you’re not surprised to see this on the list. That’s because it works! Ask your family members to have a hello song, and goodbye song, songs that help structure the call. If they can throw in some hand gestures and movement songs, even better.
4. Busy Bee
Before you make the call, set your kid up with an engaging activity – drawing, play dough, cutting, painting, building, sticking, whatever. That way your kid can be busy with something they love and the grandparents can chime in and feel like they are involved.
My daughter’s other grandmother is very crafty. She’s been leading them in art projects over the screen.
5. Puppet Play
Looking at 2D faces is not that interesting. You know what is? PUPPETS. The kids in my classes love when we do our puppets songs. They add color, fun, and imagination. Even the disengaged babies seem to tune in during the puppet song. Here is one of the songs we do in class. Send this to the grandparents. Send them a puppet in the mail. It’s super simple and is sure to be a hit.
My daughter joined me on this one… a fave of hers too.
6. Bubble Bash
It’s never the wrong time for bubbles. Someone just mentioned this in one of my classes today and I love it. So simple. Have grandma grab a bottle of bubbles. That will definitely make the screen more interesting. And to make the party even more spectacular, you can blow bubbles on your side too.
7. Peace Out
Sometimes our kids get turned off by an activity that they feel they can’t get out of. Your daughter might have had a great time talking to grandma last week but it went on longer than she could handle. She ended up being tired of it and didn’t know how to end it. To avoid this, decide on a sign, gesture, word, song, that your kid uses to say “I’m done”. They don’t always know how to say it and that could be part of their hesitation. Give them a way to get out of it elegantly.
8. Ipad is best
When possible, use an ipad instead of a computer or phone – this is just a technical adjustment. The phone is too small and also trains our kids to stare at our phones (like we do all day). Better to avoid that. The computer has way too many enticing buttons on it. I’m sure you’ve already experienced that issue and are still trying to find that file that’s now vanished from your desktop.
The main gist of all of these is this: Take the focus off the screen in and of itself.
Have the grandparents bring in an activity or set your kid up with an activity. That way they can share in the experience.
But there’s something important we need to remember:
This is going to go in phases. It is natural for our kids to be very into something for a while and then tired of it the next. We go through the same phases ourselves! It means that grandparents and family members need to accept this and not take it personally.
Mostly they know this and accept all push and pull their grandchild hits them with. But these times are different. Right now the older generation may be feeling scared, threatened, lonely and emotional. Connection to the grandkids is mostly everything.
You know what else they need right now? You guys.
So even if your kids aren’t in the mood to connect with family members right now, you can make the effort to do so. Chances are, you need it just as much as they do.
In fact, that’s how I ended this song called “Grandparents.” I realized it was really me who needed the hug most of all.
Do you have other tricks you use to get your kids excited about Skyping with the family? COMMENT below and let us know! We need your tips!
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