Communication partners, video chats, and children – let’s make it successful

In the last 2 months, I think we’ve all been there – we’re on a video chat with a child and it goes TERRIBLY.  There are a lot of blank stares, long moments of silence, and sometimes (read: almost always) the phone shakes as if you’re in a 6.0 magnitude earthquake. Talking with children over new mediums, such as FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom, can be really challenging. It can be very frustrating to have an awkward or a “bad” video chat with a child, especially if you’re used to having lots of quality face-to-face interactions with them.

I mentioned on our Facebook page earlier this week that despite shelter-in-place orders, it’s still important that children receive some sort of social interaction. Video chatting can provide an opportunity for just that. While parents can do some things on their end to help prepare their kiddos for a video chat, the communication partner can also help. Here’s how!

  1. Keep your expectations tempered. There are varying time frames when it comes to a child’s attention span. Overall, though, a child’s attention span in minutes is about 2 times their age. For example, a 2 year old would have an attention span of about 4-5 minutes. That time might even be less if the child is not particularly interested in an activity. If your little video chat partner decides to bolt after a few minutes, this is normal. They can only sit still for so long.

    Additionally, please keep in mind that while the kiddo may have been used to seeing you in person, over the phone or via video is very different, especially if they’re very young. Grandparents who saw their grandkids everyday may not have the same, warm response from their grandchildren over FaceTime as they did face-to-face. Depending on the child’s age, they may not realize that you on FaceTime and you in-person are the same people. This is normal.

    All of this is to say that video chat success may vary from call to call, and that’s OK. Don’t be upset if the kiddo on the other end of the call stares blankly for a few minutes and then runs away. There’s always tomorrow!

  2. Mind your questions. Us speech-language pathologists like to maintain a 3:1 ratio – 3 comments and then 1 question. This goes for face-to-face interactions as well as video chatting. When using questions, just stick a a handful to ask and leave it at that. If the child is being particularly untalkative, start with a few yes/no questions and let them nod a response. Follow up with a few open ended questions. These will provide more opportunities for them to chat vs. a one-word yes/no question.
  3. Provide a lot of wait time. Also, silence is OK. WAITING IS VERY HARD and can feel very awkward (helloooo, awkward silence). Little brains need time to process, though, especially if you’re asking them questions. Try giving them 5-8 seconds to respond before you help them out. Silence can be your best friend, too. By opening up to moments of silence, you are allowing conversation to pop up independently rather than forcing it. Give the kiddos a moment and see what happens.
  4. Share an experience.  Try planning an activity you can both do over video chat. If snack time is at 1 PM, perhaps you could both have a snack together. Do you both have a copy of the child’s favorite book? Try reading it together. Perhaps you could have a themed show-and-tell (both bring a bear, both bring a hat, etc.). Shared experiences provide a way to stimulate conversation in a way that interests the child. Plus, then you both know what the other is talking about, which is worth its weight in gold.
  5. If all else fails, razzle dazzle. As a speech-language pathologist, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that bubbles are a miracle worker. Dance! Sing! Put on a funny hat! Be silly. Kids love it! The more interested they are in what you’re doing, the more likely they are to talk about it.

Overall, be patient and have grace. We’re all navigating this new world together!


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