Are you trying to stay close with the little ones in your life from afar? A good number of friends and family have confided that they don’t know much about connecting with kids virtually (both big kids and young ones). What can they talk about to keep the kids interested? Grandparents may get frustrated that the kids are often restless on the calls and want to hang up far too quickly. So what to do?
Keep in mind that every grandma, grandpa and relative offers something unique and special. There is no right way to relate. We each engage in our own way. So, the best tip is to do what is most in tune with your personality and your relationship with the children in your life.
1. Stay present
Young children live in the present, and typically don’t think even one moment before or after the here and now. As adults, we need to stay mindful of our own distractions. So often my grandkids will say, “Grandma Jah Jah, look at me, look at me.” They even turn my face to look directly into their eyes. I call my grandkids my Mindfulness Gurus.
Kids may just want you to be their audience. Become comfortable with hanging out for a while and allowing conversations to emerge out of the silence. We might find that kids will talk more if we are good listeners. They want attention and connection, to be seen and heard.
I love to be invited into the room with my grandkids and the family where just being together is enough. On many calls I just watch my grandson building his Legos, magnatiles or a puzzle. He usually makes comments about his creation in the process.
2. Time of day matters
When is the child more receptive? First thing in the morning, mid-day, bedtime? I’ve heard that my grandkids have called their aunt in Europe at the crack of dawn when their mom and dad are asleep. Auntie was awakened in the middle of the night.
3. Be aware of moods
Is the child feeling playful, tired, silly, wanting to share something, or just talk? What mood are you in? Sometimes kids will be very responsive and eager to engage. Other times they will just want to touch base and be on their way. Don’t take this personally. Kids are in constant motion.
4. Let the child lead
My grandchildren tend to be proactive and often want to share. They will show me a new artistic or Lego creation or the latest green pepper in the vegetable garden. Or they will want to talk about their new biking adventure, or chat about Harry Potter, Star Wars or Frozen. My grandson frequently comes downstairs in an array of costumes. He’ll transform into a pirate, magician, professor, ninja or zombie. One day he taught an hourlong class on Pokeman while carefully displaying each card on Zoom.
5. Have prompts ready
Sometimes you might lead by introducing an object, an activity or a prompt. I often have a few materials by my side that mirror my grandkids’ favorite subjects. I also always have a few books they will like handy. I may introduce new topics using tangible props or images (Pokemon, magic tricks, dance steps). Your tool kit can include duplicates of what the kids have – from art supplies to cuddly animals, puppets, toys, building supplies and cards and games. Parents can also put out materials for solo or collaborative online play with us.
Mr. Rogers is one of the finest models on Earth for encouraging curiosity. Watch a few of his shows on YouTube or PrimeVideo to see how he moves at a gentle and slow pace holding up an object, studying and asking fascinating questions about it.
6. Follow the child’s interests
Keeping up with a child’s interests requires staying alert, curious and current. It’s commonplace for interests to change weekly. Listen for the subjects they talk about. What books, movies, sports and games do they love? Who are their classmates and friends, and their favorite superheros? These interests plant the seeds for you to brainstorm ideas for future conversations and activities.
Julie N. Heifetz, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist, educator and grandma. Sari Heifetz Stricke, MFA, is a writer, childbirth/maternal wellness educator and mom.