Skyping 101 for Toddlers and Grandparents

Skyping between grandparents and toddlers, no matter how keen the participants, is often a trial. Older people tend to be less agile with the equipment. And then there’s your toddler, who normally you wouldn’t let anywhere near your computer. Yet there’s no avoiding these chats — at once artificial and also incredibly precious. After a year of bumbling through these weekly sessions, we’re finally starting to get the hang of it. I thought I’d share some lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Sort out the equipment first.Skyping 101 for Toddlers and Grandparents

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve exhausted my daughter’s patience while we adults keep asking if we can hear each other. I usually skype on weekends when my husband is around. That way he can get our daughter excited about the call in another room, while I run a sound check with the grandparents.

Send an instructor to grandparents who aren’t technically savvy.

Skyping can be stressful for anyone who isn’t used to the equipment. My brother-in-law Simon set his mom up on the computer and advised her how to sit and where to look so that it appears she’s talking directly to us. This makes a big difference when interacting with a really small child. If they can only see half a face and there’s no eye-contact they quickly lose interest.

Clear away distractions.

Our computer is on my work desk and so it’s covered with pens and papers and gadgets. The desk too is a treasure chest of goodies often more interesting than the talking heads on the screen. We’ve had to clear the desk for skype sessions and empty the top drawer.

Use props.

A computer to a toddler is no different than a television. They expect to be amused. My mother-in-law is now a champ at skype and she talks to our daughter with puppets and stuffed animals. In this way they can play.

Let your child lead.

Our daughter sits and chats longer if she can introduce her stuffed animals and favorite books. Lately we’ve been encouraging her to “read” her books to her visitors. This works so well that my husband and I have joked about going out while the grandparents babysit via skype.

Get out of the way.

For the longest time I tried to control the action by making sure the grandparents, who seldom see our daughter in person, could hear her sing or say a new word or, better still, say their names. Lately I’ve backed off.  It’s distracting to the child and grandparents don’t want to watch you interact with your child. They want to talk to their grandchild themselves.

Bribery can backfire.

We had a call scheduled for this past Sunday but our daughter had skipped her nap and was cranky and uncooperative. I knew my mom and step-dad were looking forward to it. So instead of rescheduling, I told my daughter thaSkyping 101 for Toddlers and Grandparentst if she skyped for five minutes with her grandparents she could watch the Jungle Book, her favorite movie. This has worked in the past with her singing and blowing kisses and behaving somewhat disconcertingly like a Stepford child, but not this time. She waved for two seconds and then said “Bye bye, watch movie.” In the end, I had to reschedule the call with two hurt grandparents.

Be flexible about when you skype.

Everyone is so busy these days and so it makes sense for adults to want to schedule the calls. But these calls rarely work as toddlers don’t switch gears like we do and you can’t force them to be charming. A better strategy is to ask grandparents to turn on skype when their computers are on. That way, if your kid wants to skype, you can be more spontaneous. If people aren’t online, I often call the home phone and suggest we skype in five minutes. That doesn’t always work either, but when it does the calls are a lot more delightful.

Go with the flow.

Even the best strategies and props will only get your kid to sit for so long. When our two-year-old gets restless we let her play with her toys. I put the camera on her while we adults talk. People who don’t see much of their grandkids are happy just to see them at play. Some of these sessions have been among the most memorable. Our toddler delighted my father, a life-long tennis player, by showing off her tennis swing. Another time, during an impromptu tea party with her stuffed animals, she tried to serve my mother a cup of tea through the computer. That’s worth more than any conversation.

Photos by C.am.ila and bowbrick.

Stephanie is a writer in London. She’s lived in Tbilisi, Georgia, where (until the Russians bombed in August 2008) she produced a radio show on politics, business, social issues and culture, and in Lu ...read more

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