How to optimise video calls between grandparents and under fives

Published on Wednesday, 23 September 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Some grandparents care for their grandchildren every week and others relish the opportunity to connect with them when holidays permit, but either way, this year’s pandemic has impacted how seniors and juniors spend time together. 

Health precautions and travel restrictions have created distance between the generations, but the good news is that video calls have filled the void as a way for grandparents and grandchildren to keep in touch virtually, if not physically.

These calls are enabling grandparents to share in their little ones’ lives, and there’s evidence that even very young children can develop a social connection via video call. 

FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and the other platforms can be used to capture youngsters’ imaginations, teach them new things and give them a giggle; and although under-fives don’t have the same focus and conversational skills as older grandchildren, there are ways to optimise these ‘remote playdates’.

To help you host an engaging video call, here are some tips from three early childhood, psychology and linguistics experts at Western Sydney University

What’s the best plan for a video call with small children?

The experts say that preparation is key, so instead of launching straight into a video call, take the time to choose the right moment and prepare both your environment and your little one. 

In practice, you’re advised to:

  1. Set up your device so that it’s stable and hands-free. You want to be able to make gestures and show things off during the video call.  
  2. Get the lighting right. Make sure there’s no glare on the screen and try to keep the light source in front of you and your child, so the video quality is good. 
  3. Reduce background noise. It’s important that your parents or parents-in-law can hear you clearly, so turn off any washing machine, dryer, radio or TV that’s blaring behind the scenes.  
  4. Make these grandparent calls part of your child’s usual routine. Your under five will be more engaged, and the calls will feel more natural, if they happen regularly and your child knows to expect them. 
  5. Choose a relaxing time of the day to make the video call. Find a time when your small child is settled and not too tired and think about making the call during a routine activity, like a mealtime, so your child’s grandparents can be included in everyday family life. Setting a time for these video calls will help you fit them into the busy home routine and this also gives grandparents and grandchildren a remote playdate to look forward to.  
  6. Share photos, videos and messages with your child’s grandparents before the video call. Details about a new skill, like learning to ride a scooter, or a recent activity, like visiting the zoo, will serve as conversation starters for your child’s grandparents. 
  7. Prepare your child for the call to help them manage their expectations. The experts say one way to do this is to ask your under five to choose a favourite toy or drawing to show their grandparents and chat about. 
  8. Keep the video calls short at first. As a guide, the first few calls could be around five minutes long to ease your child into them. You can then build up to longer calls if your little one is ready for them. 

How can grandparents engage small children once the video call is underway?

It’s natural for small children to have shorter attention spans, but to hold their interest and have some fun, the experts suggest that your parents or parents-in-law do these things:

  1. Maintain eye contact and talk about the things that your child is paying attention to at that time. 
  2. Sing songs and play games. Peek-a-boo is a classic way to keep a baby’s attention and Musical Statues is fun for preschoolers. 
  3. Make funny faces and hand gestures, and blow kisses. 
  4. Get moving! Grandparents and grandchildren can dance together, do exercise moves or go on a tour of the house or garden with their mobile devices.
  5. Read a book. It’s fun to share board books or picture books with babies and toddlers or read a couple of chapters of junior fiction with an older grandchild (working through the whole book over consecutive calls).  
  6. Experiment with different filters or virtual backgrounds. Video call apps come with lots of colourful, funny features that add interest for young children.  
  7. Do something creative. Drawing, colouring-in and simple craft projects can be done in unison, and young children will be interested to see something your parents or parents-in-law have made, whether that’s a jar of jam or a new song played on the guitar.  
  8. Share positive stories and emotions. Video calls are a great chance to say, “I love you,” and Save The Children recommends that grandparents share one happy thing they saw, ate or did that day. Your child will also enjoy hearing a riddle, joke or compliment about something they’ve done well. 

All in all, many grandparents have embraced the video call this year and small children can also get a lot out of them. 

Although no screen time is recommended for ages two and under, the experts from Western Sydney University say that, ‘Video calls are not simply ‘screen time’. Rather, they offer an important opportunity for socialisation as young children still mimic the information typically available in face-to-face interactions.’ 

The point of difference (compared with other digital content, like TV) is that small children get instant feedback from a video call. This kind of interaction with a family member has great scope to make small children feel loved, safe, engaged, amused and curious – and these positives are felt by grandparents too.

If your child’s usual grandparent care arrangements are in place, then video calls offer an extra opportunity to connect, and if your extended family is separated by distance, then these calls are a valuable way to link one another’s lives as world events drive people apart. 

With a little preparation and a lot of enthusiasm, platforms like FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Google Duo can make the intergenerational video call a real success, so choose your moment to be a host with the most!      

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