7 tips for FaceTiming with a child who would rather watch TV

I just spent a little over a week away from home for a professional development conference, which meant I was forced to communicate with my 3-year-old son by FaceTime.

The expectation is always that FaceTime (or your video chat service of choice) will go very, very well. It will be a tender moment of connection between mother and child. It will be a meaningful exchange in which distance is transcended in mere seconds. It will be the best part of the day.

The reality, however, is that FaceTime with a toddler is a digital hellscape.

A small boy sits at a table touching a tablet, like an iPad

There is no good way to FaceTime with a toddler because:

1. He expects Paw Patrol when he looks at a screen.

2. I am not Paw Patrol.

Whenever this realization hits my child, he looks at me with the same expression I reserve for the DMV when I’ve made an appointment and still end up #87 in line. The only difference is that I’ve learned to stifle my screams. Beyond that, there’s a performative aspect to FaceTime that makes these conversations feel phony.

I was ready to call it quits after a night of him running circles around the iPad, ignoring me in favor of his toys, then a meltdown when I said I was going to hang up. Yet I missed my child. I still wanted to connect with that stinky little muffin of mine, so I tried and tried again until we made it work.

During that time away, I picked up a couple of tricks for making FaceTime chats as painless as possible for kids of any age. Maybe some of them will work for you and yours:

Two babies hover over a tablet computer between them

• Have good lighting. Sometimes this can mean doing FaceTime in the bathroom. (Really, some hotels rooms have perfect selfie light, which also means it’s perfect for a video chat.) As long as you’re not pooping, you’re all good.

• Don’t FaceTime in a busy place. Don’t set up for a chat in the hotel lobby or a coffee shop, if you can help it. The noise and people are too distracting for both you and your child.

• Make eye contact. It can be pretty tempting to look at your own little video square to keep tabs on how hot you are, but stay focused on the kid.

• Bring a book. And by that, I mean a book to read to your child. I like to tuck a few slim Golden Books into my luggage and continue our bedtime story routine, even when I’m away. I hold the pages up as I’m reading, LeVar Burton-style.

• Share a meal. Sometimes conversations with my son feel stilted, as though he has to perform for me. Having a snack or a meal together can take some of that pressure away — even if the bulk of time is spent with him shoveling oatmeal into his mouth.

Be active. Turn up some music and have a dance party. Sing some songs together. Play peek-a-boo.

• Whatever you do, don’t toss a hotel robe over your head and say, “Uh-oh. Mommy disappeared and is never coming home” — no matter how tempted you are to stay in the land of room service.

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Copyright or Author: Maggie Downs
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