We live quite far away from most of our family, including all of our children’s grandparents. So we feel very lucky to live in an age where videochatting is possible. Our parents get to see our girls grow up and our girls know them as more than a tiny face on a photograph.
But it can be tricky to get a toddler to spend more than just a few minutes watching the computer or tablet screen, and helping them to interact with someone who isn’t physically present can be a challenge.
Here are some tricks we’ve learned to help our toddler stay engaged with her grandparents on the other side of the camera (these would also work well if parents travel for work or live apart):
One quick suggestion first: try to get everything set up before you bring your child over. It’s frustrating for very small children to wait twenty minutes while you get your camera working, figure out new software, or actually make the connection.
Show and Tell
Little children tend to love a captive audience, and this is the ideal time for toddlers to show off their favorite toys of the moment.
Because the video quality isn’t always amazing with a webcam, reading books can be hard for a child who can’t see the pictures clearly. To make it easier, my parents usually pick a book we both have copies of so that each of them can follow along on their respective ends. Alternatively, having a book or two that only the distant family member owns and reads aloud to your child can make that book really special (in our family, that book is “The Little Engine that Could”).
Singing can be a little difficult on a videochat because of the time delay. A better option is for one person to sing and the other to do the actions (very small children may want to do the actions, while older children may enjoy singing and watching their family members do silly hand motions).
Ella loves it when the grandparents draw her very simple images and have her guess what they are.
Even really small children can follow simple directions – it’s a big hit when Ella gets instructed to go retrieve a certain toy or stuffed animal and then there is plenty of clapping and cheering when she returns with it!
My dad is really good about setting up time to video chat with his grandkids each week, and Ella’s favorite activity is when he has her get out her art materials and draw along with him. He’ll ask her to draw basic shapes with certain colors, which helps her learn those skills, while strengthening their relationship.
In Google Video Chat, there is an option that lets you add facial hair, silly hats, and even animal masks. They follow your face around amazingly well, and our toddler gets a HUGE kick out seeing herself or her grandparents with funny facial accessories. (Bonus! If you want to talk yourself, this will buy you a few minutes to have an adult conversation while your child watches your silly looks).