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The Dadventurer Guide to Video Calling with Kids

While this post was originally written with those travelling with kids in mind, or those living overseas for work, adventure or other such pursuits, like the international espionage community, (shhhh... your secret is safe here). There's clearly an extra reason we've all had to get into the old video chat software with Coronavirus keeping families apart and massively increasing Zoom's stock price (conspiracy??? erm... no). With the craziness of what is happening in the world right now and the strain it can put on families who are missing loved ones, hopefully there's something useful in here for you. There might not be, but if you can't leave the house you might as well kill 5 minutes reading this!


It takes a village to raise a child. A great little saying that helps us understand the impact of the local community members on the children in our home. Our children will grow up both in and out of the home we provide and we are trying to surround them with a "village" of people who will have an amazing impact and helping them grow into awesome, well rounded people. The problem is, the village my kids are growing up in is a bloody weird shape!


We've got an amazing adopted Aussie family who have been instrumental in building our lives here and shaping our kids' futures, starting as close as 100m away. This "Aussie" family also includes our Scottish and Italian brothers and their families, both around 4000km away but in different directions. Plus, we have our actual biological families back in the UK, around 14000km away as the (bloody exhausted!) crow flies. Our village includes friends who have moved around Europe and settled somewhere in the between... Ok, you get it, it's a weird village.


We want our kids to have the influence of our family and friends all over this globe as they grow up and we want to travel and adventure to the places where their families are and maybe try to skip the awkward "Dad, who the hell is this guy?!" for the first three days when we get there. But our kids are young and Skype, Facetime, Zoom or Houseparty (other video chat systems are available!) can be tricky to engage kids with and family members can really struggle to keep the relationship going, particularly with young kids. We've come up with five helpful tips that really work for us so your kids, and their family, can make the most of their virtual hang outs.


1. Teach them to use the Tech

I think our little monsters' grandparents suffered almost Blair Witch levels of motion sickness as Isla carried the phone round pointed at the ceiling or upside down or at a super close up view of her nostril during earlier calls. And she struggled to show them any of the things she thought she was pointing the phone at while rapidly switching from landscape to portrait and back, it was a pretty frustrating experience for all of us. Spending a little time teaching her to take photos with the phone allowed her to understand how to aim, how to keep your face in shot and how to see what they can see. This translated really easily into video calling skills. So now there is a conversation: "this is the sofa, this is our wall, this is the grass...". It's inane, but it works and it flows and it allows grandparents, aunts and cousins thrice removed to participate and guide the conversation. Note: a tripod or handle really helps tiny hands aim the phone.


2. Prepare for the person.

"Hey, we're calling Grandad so let's wear that dress he bought you to show him", "Remember that book Nana bought for you, what can we tell her about it?" or even "let's see if Uncle is in his kitchen or out in the garden this time". A simple question or reminder is pretty important to start the conversation engaged. Reminding where the last conversation left off or when they last met is pretty useful in making sure the kids are really engaging and getting excited to see what they have to talk about.


3. Create a captive Audience

I mean, not literally. If your kids are super active or you struggle to get them to sit still for a Skype you'll need an extra reason to get them to stay in one place long enough to appease a great aunt in a video call. Try a meal time so they are sat eating and the video is just part of the conversation or if you're super committed to no screens at the dining table (which, fair enough!) then maybe gather round a jigsaw or other such time killer and add in the VR relative once the kids are busy. Note: our kids don't actually plan Catan!


4. What're you talking about?

Spend a little time before the call making sure they have some stories to tell... this helps to remove the "this is my bed, this is my chair..." story telling but also makes sure your kids are able to reflect on the cool things you've spent hours planning for them! Prepare some visual reminders with them pre-video chat to reflect on what you've been up to. If and when they run out of things to say you can point at the picture or pass them a card to remind them what stories to tell. It's been a busy week here, what with a school holiday and social distancing being enforced so the picture below reflects an unusually eventful week where we installed a beehive, a mother goat had a baby and we planted some fruit trees but this works for a new movie you've seen, drawing you've done, den you've built or whatever other lockdown shenanigans you've been up to.


5. End well.

Don't let the conversation drag on too long and fizzle out. There is nothing more painful than trying to drag the kids into a conversation they've lost interest in and it'll do you no favours the next time you start calling the rellies (that's short for relatives, right?). Far better to have a nice chat and say goodbye while the kids are on sparkling form. Let the kids wander off and play after they've told their stories and had their fun so you can have a relaxed catch up while they keep themselves busy.


 

I really hope this quick blog solves your biggest problem in these shitty times and that you, your family and everyone you know are well and safe. Look after each other from a safe distance and practice physical distancing while maintaining a social closeness that will help us all through this. Thanks for reading.


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