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During this social distancing and lockdown situation, we have all been going through, we haven't been able to connect with loved ones which has been hard.

It's been especially rough for my parents because my 2-year-old has been refusing to jump on the call the majority of the time. Every time I ask, do you want to call grandma (or grandpa, or pretty much anyone), she screams No and them run out of the room. I've tried even calling them to see if maybe she just needs to see their faces, and she screams in the background the entire time. Prior to the lockdown situation, she loved having daily calls with her grandparents. We've driven by their house recently to say hi from the car and she throws a tantrum because she wants to play with them. So I don't really know why she refuses to call them. I personally am more of a texting person myself, but is it possible that a toddler already set their mind up about preferences when communicating? (in-person vs on the phone)

My questions are:

  • How do I encourage my toddler to call her loved ones, without adding too much pressure or force?
  • Is this just a phase?

I just feel bad because my parents were used to seeing her so often :/

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Calling someone or video-chatting is a quite abstract form of communication, and I would guess that her verbal skills are still rather limited, which makes a bilateral communication via screen challenging.

She won’t realize the nice parts about having at least a semblance of social interaction. It took my kids a decade to independently talk with family via phone. So what she needs is something that makes participation a positive experience. And more attractive than just running around or having to interrupt whatever she’s doing at the moment.

My suggestion is to pick an activity that per se means sitting down and listening: Have the grandparents read a book to her. And do so at a time when you would anyway encourage quiet reading time. If she’s resisting, try an intermediate step of you reading to her (on your lap or snuggling up on the couch) in front of the screen so that the grandparents can watch. Hand over after a few calls.

When she’s comfortable with interacting in this somewhat passive way, start encouraging a more active communication.

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    I love this, thank you! I am definitely going to try this out – Stephanie Jun 18 at 20:51
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    For the grandparents, it’s at least seeing/watching her. Better than nothing... – Stephie Jun 18 at 20:54
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    Oooh, I love this idea! My 3 year old grandchild seems to have about a 45 second attention span on facetime, and it decreases rapidly. I understand, but this might be revolutionary! – anongoodnurse Jun 18 at 23:28
  • +1, My mom reads to my (2yo) toddler on video chat regularly. It's also great for bilingual homes where the minority language from a grandparent is super helpful for exposure. My daughter also brings toys to show her, and sometimes they play a silly game where you have to eg put a toy on your head, or touch the ball to your nose, those kinds of follow-the-leader type games. – stan Jun 19 at 19:55
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My kids (8 and 7) have gone in and out of interest of video chatting with Grandma (who they love seeing in person) over the years. We've not really stressed about it too much; we did at first, and then realized it wasn't always going to work out - and all parties learned to be okay with it, basically.

To avoid adding too much stress, we just call Grandma and video chat with her ourselves, in a public space nearby, and the kids will end up being drawn (by their social nature) to it. Our oldest will "photobomb" us sometimes (jump in front/behind), our youngest will run up and hug the camera; then they'll go off doing their own thing, and we'll just turn the video camera on what they're doing so Grandma can see them playing and having fun.

I think this is the way to get them to do it more, as it familiarizes them with the idea and makes it more comfortable with it. No different from any new thing we want them to do really; just having some experience with it in a low-key way makes it so they get to the point they can do it comfortably later on. Maybe not ideal for right now, but probably the best we can do.

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Your comment that prior to the lockdown your child did enjoy these calls suggests to me that this is a reaction to the social distancing. Think of it, if you will, as seeing them on a screen being too painful a reminder of what she's missing out on, or as her rejecting a perceived attempt to substitute physical closeness with a video chat.

I might be wrong about that being the exact reason, but I fully expect that there is a valid reason, and you need to get to the bottom of that before you can begin to work out how best to address it.

In this scenario, I would pick a moment to bring this up when the child is not upset. Put words on what you're seeing, and check in with the child. "I notice you get upset when I suggest we chat with your grandparents. I'm guessing you really miss seeing them face to face, I know I sure do. How does that make you feel?" There's a balance to strike between helping them connect with their feelings and putting words in their mouths. I generally don't mind suggesting a cause, as in the example above, but I'd be careful to follow with an open question, probing their feelings, and not just an "is that right?"

If it is not apparent to the child why they're having the feelings they are, and such discussions don't lead anywhere, you could also try something similar in the heat of the moment, when your child is upset, by being close and validating them, to create a safe space to cry out, rather than our usual knee jerk reaction of rushing to fix the problem. Walk the child through their upset, and causes you'd never imagine might bubble up. But this is trickier and less pleasant, so I'd leave that until attempts at approaching it in a non-upset setting has failed.

If this is indeed a reaction to the lockdown then that is a very valid reason to be upset, and you could work on validating that feeling, and allowing her to grieve that loss of closeness. To act that grief out by not using the means of connection that are still available is dysfunctional, and while that may be obvious to you, focusing solely on how her reaction is problematic might easily send the message that her grief is also wrong. She likely won't be able to consider your solutions until you've really gained her trust that you accept her problem. Validate the feeling and let her know it's OK to be sad about this, and you may be able to have a constructive talk about how to best mitigate the problem. It's not unthinkable that with a new framing, she'll agree that a video chat is the next best thing.

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  • I think this is by far the best answer, My goddaughter is gong through the same thing right now; except being a little older, and not afraid to express herself, when asked if she wants to video chat with me that her answer is "no, I want Drew to visit". – dsollen Jun 30 at 19:52
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I really want to second dxh's answer, as I feel it's by far the best in this case. If your child has regularly handled video chats in the past without issue then I suspect the problem is not the video chat themselves. I suspect the covid-19 and quarantine is hard for her, the change of her normal, what's expected, and who she can visit can be confusing and upsetting to her. She doesn't know how to handle this new status quo.

The video chat's are likely seen as a replacement for in person meetings, and as a symbol/representation of how things have changed since covid-19 has started. What she is really saying is she doesn't like being quarantined from those she loves, but she lacks the ability to communicate this properly.

She isn't alone in this regard, My oldest goddaughter is having the exact same experience at the moment. She did video-based activities at first, but as the quarantine continued she started to refuse to do her gym and language classes over video, which she liked at first, as it started to get frustrated with what she was missing and wanting to rebel against it. She felt like doing these activities meant giving up on the way things use to be, and in general was frustrated with the changes and lacked any other good way to handle them.

The only difference is since my goddaughter is a little older, and a child who will never be accused of being afraid to express what she wants quite clearly, she was a bit better able to articulate her feelings. When asked if she wants to video chat with me her response was always the same, "No, I want Drew to come here". In her mind if she refused my video chats enough eventually she would finally get me to come visit again.

To answer your specific questions, I don't think this is about preferences for how to communicate, every child at 2 prefers face to face contact over video chat; but usually they don't refuse video chat options, just like your daughter use to enjoy them. Further more if a child doesn't like video chat they just ignore it, the fact that she is actively screaming and fighting it shows an emotional aversion far stronger then just preference to face to face communication.

I do think this is a phase, specifically one caused by covid-19, but that doesn't mean you should ignore her emotions.

Dhx already talked a good bit about how to help her to express her feelings about video chat, I won't repeat what he said other then to say I agree with it. I would go a step further and try talking to her about her feelings about covid-19 and the quarantine as well. Is she only upset about not getting to see people in person, or are her feelings a part of a larger distress over the entire change for her environment and lifestyle caused by covid-19?

Try to give her a chance to express, as much as she can, how she feels about these changes. Listen to her and make sure to validate her feelings. Tell her you understand it can be upsetting and your very sorry that things had to change. Ensure her that things won't stay the way they are now, but at the same time let her know that it's okay that she is upset about the change and it's okay to not like how things are now, ie just because it won't stay like this forever doesn't mean her feelings at the moment aren't just as valid. It can help to tell her how you feel about the changes, that you miss her grand parents too etc. Let her know her grandparents are missing her just as much as she misses them (but not in a way that makes her feel guilty for not video chatting with them, she doesn't need more stress!)

I would also consider not doing the in-car visits right now, or at least giving her a choice about them. If she is only going to get upset that she can't play with her grandparents when you do your drive by visits then it can be far more upsetting to her then not doing the visits at all. I'd let her decide which she wants to do and make sure she knows that either option is okay to make.

Still, you wanted to do video chats, so lets see what we can do to make them happen. With my goddaughter the way we arranged them was by having me not call her. Specifically her mother would tell her that I was calling my youngest god daughter, instead of the oldest that didn't want to do video chats, and that she didn't have to participate in them if she didn't want to. Of course once I was on the screen and her younger sister happily playing with me the oldest sister was quick to jump in and participate in the calls as well.

You could try something similar by telling your daughter that your going to call your grandparents because you want to talk to them. Talk to her ahead of time to tell her your missing your grandparents and so are planning to call them later today. don't ask her to participate, in fact tell her your get out her coloring books or otherwise give her some activity she can do while your chatting (to make it more obvious that this is your call time and not hers since you arranged other activities for her). You an tell her she is welcome to talk to them if she wants to, but she doesn't have to.

Ideally she will not see this as a problem since she it isn't a video chat for her in place of personal visit time, but it's hard to say how she will view this. That's why I suggest mentioning your plan ahead of time and seeing how she responds to it.

Assuming she isn't too vehement about resisting you I would set her up with an activity and call them from another room. Then wander in to the room a little later while talking to them and stay conspicuously close. Don't insist that she participate with them, just be nearby with her grandparents on video chat. I suspect that, much like with my goddaughter, once you have them on video chat without upsetting her she will be quick to wander over and join in on the call. The important thing is to make sure she doesn't feel like she is being forced to, let her join in without being reminded that she was resisting the video calls.

If she shows distress over this as well then as I said validate her feelings by acknowledging she is upset and letting her know your do something about it. Either leave the room again or get off the call so you can show you are respecting her enough to try to avoid upsetting her.

Only mildly related, but once you have her willing to do video chats there are many things you can do to help get her more active in them. I've found kids work best with video chats when you can engage them in more then just talk. As already suggested reading a book can sometimes work, but at 2 a more active game works best. Some games I've found work well with toddlers for video chat:

  1. Ring around the Rosie, both sides spin around, and fall down, together. If your parents aren't up to the physical exertion required to constantly 'fall down' you can usually tilt the phone/tablet your doing the chat in the air instead, as long as someone goes out of frame the kids don't usually ask too many questions on how it happened.

  2. Singing, especially songs that involve hand motions or dances as part of the songs. For instance the Ittsy Bitsy Spider and Skidamarink have some pretty common hand motions associated with them you can do while singing the song. Here is a whole list of 'action songs' you can do with kids.

  3. Peak a boo. turn the camera a little to put you out of frame, then come back in frame to surprise a kid. Mix it up by coming in from different angles/sides of the camera, or put your finger right on the video camera to black it out then remove the finger etc (works better with younger kids obviously)

  4. 'eating' together. Have a similar snack on both sides of the camera that you can share. Include games of pretending to eat the toddlers food. Ask them to 'feed' you by holding their snack up to the camera and pretending to eat it, then let them do the same with yours etc. Kids really love feeding you on camera....

  5. Hide and seek: This works best, obviously, with a parent there to 'assist' in the game. Have the kid hide and you carry the phone/tablet used for video chat around as her grandparents are 'looking' for her, then you hide the tablet somewhere and have your daughter find it, while grandparents talk to the child to help her to find them. Oddly enough kids really enjoy playing hide and seek even if there isn't someone around to help the person on the other end of the video chat seek them. You would think that wouldn't be a very effective game, but all the kids I've done it with still somehow enjoy it; kids are strange ;)

  6. "faces" as my nephew calls it. Most phones and tablets out there come with tools to mess with your video feed, things like turning your face into a dogs or having rainbows rain out of your mouth when you open it, they have all kind of bizarre features. If your using a a video device that already has these features kids love seeing what strange faces you can turn in, and will usually be happy to make games out of some of the sillier ones. You can install software to add more options like this as well if you (or your parents) happen to be willing to put in the effort to do so.

  7. Simon says. This one is pretty self explanatory, just play the game :P

The biggest thing with video chatting with young children though is to be a little over the top. Be extra loud, extra excited, just a bit more dynamic then in person to help keep them engaged.

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