Seldom do I travel without my children, but when I do we make a habit of using FaceTime or Skype to talk face to face. I use the word "talk" loosely, since what usually happens is one or two or all three kids will get a serious case of the giggles or ants in their pants, hamming it up, or they physically push one another out of the camera frame, or worse yet they don't say anything at all. What little interaction we have during these calls feels less meaningful than what I hope and I hang up feeling more lonely or (sometimes) guilty my spouse will have to settle them down solo at home while I order room service and watch HGTV from my hotel room miles away.
I have decided to make the most of these interactions by scrapping whatever expectations I have for the conversation, let go of my aversion to looking ridiculous talking to a screen alone, and being mindful of a few logistics. With the use of some conversation prompts and games to engage little ones, parents and long distance relatives can enjoy quality time via FaceTime, Skype, or the like.
First, set yourself up for success with these simple tips. Plan calls at times in which your children and you are not rushing in transition from one activity to another. We like to plan calls either before bed or at the breakfast table. Setting the electronic device on the breakfast table so it is free standing and in view of all the kids alleviates some of the fight for screen time. Also, limit distractions like the television on both ends of the call. Try sitting in a well-lit spot so that your face is clear, and close and look right into the camera rather than the screen so the children feel you are making eye contact with them.
Obviously, it's easier to carry a more meaningful conversation with older children. Try some of these conversation starters to get it rolling.
1. What was the funniest, hardest, most heartwarming, thing that happened today?
2. If you could switch places with anyone, who would it be?
3. Tell me a joke and I'll share one with you.
4. What are you thankful for today?
5. What did you daydream about?
6. Who did you play with? and What did you play?
7. What are you most excited for?
You could also try these games with older kids.
1. Two Truths and a Lie - Take turns telling the other person two truths and one lie about your day and ask the other person to guess which were true and which was a lie.
2. Would you Rather - Give the child two options to choose between. For example, "Would you rather eat a peanut butter pickle sandwich or ketchup on popcorn?
3. Movie Lines - Share a line from a movie and ask the other person to guess what movie it's from.
Engaging younger children via video chat can be a little more challenging. It's helpful to be more animated, use more vocal inflection, and open facial expressions. Try any of the following games for a playful interaction that is more about connecting with one another and time spent together than anything else.
1. Peek-A-Boo - This classic is sure to delight the youngest of conversationalists. Need I say more?
2. Peanut Butter and Jelly - One person says the words "peanut butter" in a distinct way like a robot, yodeler,with a southern drawl, or in a whisper etc. The second person follows suit and says the word "jelly" in the same manner. This game is so simple, yet often ends in hysterical laughter.
3. Pass the Silly Face - Take turns making a silly face in which the other person has to copy. This game also works well when chatting with multiple kids, in which they all take turns passing along the same silly facial expression.
4. What's Different - Turn away from the camera and change something about your appearance; change your hair, remove jewelry or glasses, turn an article of clothing inside out. When you return into the camera frame ask what is different.
5. Catching Kisses - Practice blowing kisses to one another that the other person has to catch. If you're feeling creative and energetic place the electronic device down so it is free standing and try catching kisses by moving and jumping so kisses land on your face, or catch them with your hands or feet, or even with your mouth so that you can eat those silly, flying kisses.
Spending quality time over long distances can be challenging for anyone. We can make the most of this time together using these ideas and building off of them. Just as you would in person, be intentional about really listening to what your child is sharing, even if it's the thousandth time he's told you about the game, Fortnite, or something he dislikes about school. This child is inviting you into his world and if we don't graciously accept the invitation, we may not be invited back. Personally, I think the hardest piece of these communications is the lack of physical touch. I'm not able to brush the hair out of my child's face, give her a hug, or tickle her. In these cases, I think we can show our children we still hold space for them throughout the day by commenting when something reminded us of them, or asking about something specific that is happening that day for them. Making a point to comment positively about something that is different about your child such as a hair cut, lost tooth, or a new ouchie shows your kiddo that you carry space and care for him whether near or far. Lastly, if using FaceTime or Skype often with your kids, it may be fun to create your own special greeting or goodbye to start and end the conversations, maybe a silly wave, activity, or phrase.
Although it's still hard to be away from our little ones, FaceTime and Skype have made it a whole lot easier to "be there" with one another whether it's playing silly games, seeing your kids' eyes light up, noticing their crazy bedhead, or getting and giving tours of the surroundings, and blowing kisses. Until someone invents teleportation, games over video chats will just have to do. Happy trails!