Lots of kids aren't great communicators on the telephone. So what to do if you work away and it is the only way to stay connected?

By Alicia Ranford

We received a heartfelt email last month from a mother who was struggling with her five-year-old son – he was refusing to Skype or talk on the phone while his Dad was away at work.

At best he'd stay on the phone for one or two minutes, and even that was met with resistance.

The lack of communication was taking its toll on Dad, in particular, who felt he was "out of sight, out of mind" when he was away at work.

I struggled with this same issue myself when the kids were younger, and I know lots of other families go through it too. So here are a few ideas to help take the pressure off nightly phone calls:

  • Be realistic about what is expected from the kids. Our psychologist Angie Willcocks suggests:
    • 2-4 years: around two to three minutes on the phone or Skype, answering basic questions about their day. Prior to this age, 'face time' or Skype can be used, but that's more about seeing Mom/Dad rather than having a conversation.
    • 5-7 years: children should be able to recount interesting things that happened in their day when prompted.
    • 8 and above: kids should be able to engage in a two-way conversation, both asking and answering questions. This is really variable though and depends a lot on the individual child and the relationship with their parent.
  • Don’t try to guilt the kids into talking. Angie says it's not fair to tell young kids that they have to speak to their Mom/Dad because she/he is missing them. If they don't want to chat, simply reinforce that she/he is thinking of them and looking forward to seeing them soon.
  • Before putting the kids on the phone, tell your partner what has been going on at school, with sport and around the house so they can ask open-ended, relevant and interesting questions. For example, "How was your swimming lesson?" is likely to generate more interest than "How was your day?". 
  • Get your partner to take a couple of lightweight children’s books to work, and read to the kids over Skype.
  • If the kids are obsessed with drawing (or anything!), get them to give a little show and tell over Skype too.
  • If you are lucky enough to know when your partner will call, make it a game to create a funny way to answer the phone. Ring! Ring! "Hello fish market. Shark speaking."
  • Let Dad/Mom know the best time to call. If their shift finishes at 6pm but this is right in the middle of dinner, suggest they shower and eat before calling at bedtime when the kids are calm and settling down for the night.
  • If Dad/Mom can only Skype at dinner time, set up the laptop at the dinner table. This way the family is all chatting together and it can take the pressure off the one-on-one conversation.
    Remember, it is all about being a bit creative and making sure the lines of communication stay strong so that everyone feels connected.

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