Category Archives: Relationships

Young Children and Zoom

a child looking at a mobile device

I don’t think the developers at Zoom (or Skype or Microsoft Teams) ever predicted that their software would become a platform for parent-toddler classes and online preschool!

And during coronavirus, all the parents who used to try to minimize screen time for their young children now find they need to utilize it as their child’s primary way to connect to people outside their household. How do we make the experience as rich and as developmentally appropriate as we can?

These tips can be helpful whether you’re a parent planning a call between your child and their grandparent, or you’re a preschool teacher planning a class for a dozen kids.

Before the Call

Choose a good time of day when the child is relaxed and attentive.

It doesn’t have to be a long call and a big deal – it’s fine to do short calls. A few minutes here and there is great for some kids. On the other hand, it’s also fine to have long calls. I know one family in Seattle where the grandmother in China “comes for breakfast” every day (before grandma turns in for the night.) She “sits at the table” with them, and chats with the children as the parents get ready for the day.

Before the call, gather anything you’ll want to use during the call: books, instruments, and show & tell items so that no one has to step away from the computer during the call – that might cause the child to lose interest.

Prepare the child. Talk about what will happen and how long the visit will be. Remind them who they will be speaking to and what they talked about last time.

Consider staying nearby. Young children may be best able to engage with a zoom call if they’re sitting on their parent’s lap or the parent is sitting beside them. (Note, some organizations, like Outschool, require that adults be off camera, but when I teach preschool age children on Outschool, I find that the children who do best in class often have an adult right next to them – I’ll see the parent’s arm reach in to help out. Once children have done several classes, they no longer need that active support, and you may be able to step away and get things done while they’re on a call.)

Teach them to un-mute. The host can mute the child, but not all systems allow the host to un-mute, so be sure the child knows how to un-mute. There are a few choices: if you have a touch screen, the easiest may be to teach them to tap the bottom corner of the screen to bring up the command bar, then tap on the mic icon. Other options: moving the mouse cursor to the bottom of the screen and clicking on the microphone (this can be hard for little ones), pressing alt-a, or holding down the space bar (note: as soon as they let go of the space bar they return to muted.)

Over time, help your child learn Zoom skills to be more independent in the call: how to mute, how to chat, how to use the reactions like clapping, how to share screen. How to place a call. Help them understand what’s happening when their screen buddy “freezes.”

During the Call

Have familiar rituals – perhaps the same greeting each time, or the same song each time – these cues help a young child to remember who they’re speaking to and reconnect.

The remote person should speak slowly and clearly. The person in the room with the child can repeat questions and comments from either side, as needed.

The remote person should look directly at the camera – this will feel like eye contact to the child. Don’t be tempted to look at other distractions while talking. Use a lot of gestures, body language, and big facial expressions – it’s much more engaging.

Stay unmuted as much as possible so everyone in the call can hear each other and feel as though they’re in the same room.

Consider using a mobile device like a tablet or laptop so you can move around and show each other new things.

Some children focus better if eating a snack while talking – for others, that is distracting. Some children focus better if they have some simple toys nearby to hold in their hands and play with during the call. Others may find that distracting.

Let the child know when the call is nearing its end, and make a clear ending. (Maybe a song, or a story, or something to signal the ending.) Talk about when you’ll “meet” again.

Making Video Chats Interactive

Here are ideas for interactive activities to try out:

  • Play Peek a Boo. Normal style, or by covering the camera and uncovering it.
  • Read Stories. If you have a physical copy of a book, you can hold it up and read it. Or you can scan in pictures of the pages and share those as you read. Or find a YouTube of a read aloud book, but mute their video, and read along with your voice.
  • Sing Songs. With audio lag you can’t sing in unison or it sounds awful. But you CAN take turns singing.
  • Silly Faces. Take turns – who can make the silliest face? (Spotlight them.)
  • Pretend to Be – Take turns pretending to be different animals, or whatever.
  • What is My Stick? Hold up a stick. Demonstrate how it could be a fishing pole, or a baseball bat. Try a few more and ask them to guess what it is.
  • Use Props. Puppet shows can be fun!
  • Make Art Together. Get out art supplies on each end, and draw pictures together. Hold them up to the camera from time to time to share your work.
  • Show and Tell – each person brings an item to show to people and to talk about.
  • Play Guessing Games.
  • Share a travelogue – each person takes pictures of their day, and shares it with the other on the next call.
  • Dance Party. Put on some music and dance!! (Learn how to make music work well on Zoom.)
  • Talent Show – Take turns demonstrating special talents you have: telling jokes, crazy dances, singing songs, patting your head and rubbing your belly…
  • Progressive Stories. One person starts a story: “Once upon a time, a polka-dotted elephant…” then the next person continues “… boarded a spaceship headed for… “
  • Would you Rather? “would you rather ______ or _______”
  • I Spy: Do a google search for “I spy pictures.” Choose one, then share your screen and play I Spy together.
  • Play Simon Says.
  • Play Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, and other pencil and paper games on the Zoom whiteboard.
  • Guess How Many. Person A fills a container with objects (20 pennies? 30 mini marshmallows?) and shows it to Person B. They have to guess how many objects there are, then they count them together. On the next call it’s B’s turn.
  • Scavenger Hunt. Name an object – they run and find it in the house and bring it back.
  • Find the Hidden Object. The remote adult can conspire with the in-house adult. The in-house adult hides an object before the call. During the call, the remote adult can give clues to help the child find the treasure.
  • Pretend to Share Snacks. Plan ahead and have both of you have the same food to eat together. Make it a fancy tea party if you’d like.
  • Go on a walktogether” with mobile devices. Share what you see.
  • Go on a field trip “together.” Lots of zoos, aquariums, and museums have created virtual field trips or have “panda-cams” and such. Go on one together by sharing your screen and talking about what you see. You could also do virtual tourism together. My mother-in-law has found a whole world of “virtual walking tours” on YouTube and goes for walks all over the world every day in her living room.
  • Watch movies together. Share a screen and talk as you watch.
  • For older children (elementary on up), there’s lots more ideas here: https://janelledurham.com/games-interaction-on-zoom/.

I also like this suggestion from Zero to Three: “Be the “hands and heart” of the the person on-screen. When the screen partner “tickles” your baby’s tummy, give your child’s tummy a tickle, too. When a grandparent leans toward the screen to “kiss” your toddler, you can give him a kiss on the cheek. By taking this role, you help nurture the relationship between the child and their on-screen friend.”

Long Distance Babysitters

During the coronavirus stay-at-home time, many parents have been with their children 24/7 for a long time with few breaks. You can use a video chat as a “babysitter” to get you a break. Have your child talk with grandpa, or an aunt, or a friend while you rest. If you have a very young child, you may need to be in the same room but at least the child’s attention is captured by someone else. For older children, you may be able to be elsewhere in the house, and let your child know where to find you. I know some parents of elementary age kids who will go for a walk in the neighborhood while their child is online – the remote adult has their cell phone number and can reach them immediately if needed.

Internet Safety

This blog is primarily aimed at parents of kids age 1 to 6, so I assume the parents are nearby during video calls, and keeping their eyes and ears on what is happening. If you have an older child who may be making video calls independently to friends, here are some helpful safety tips: https://www.protectyoungminds.org/2019/02/19/11-safe-video-chat-rules-you-probably-havent-taught-your-kids/.

Audio Quality

If the person on the other end seems to have a hard time hearing you: Figure out whether you need to add an external microphone to make your child audible (especially if they’re speaking with an older person whose hearing isn’t what it used to be). Children tend to have quiet voices and may be hard to hear over a video chat if the internal mic on your device isn’t great. Plus they wiggle around a lot and don’t always stay near the mic. You can test your mic – use the “voice recorder” app on your computer and record your child talking, then play it back. If you can hear it with your speaker volume at any setting, it’s fine. But if you can only hear the recording if you crank your speakers up to 80 or 90 out of 100, then consider buying a mic. (Click for more tips about audio settings.)

Resources

If you’re teaching classes to young children, here’s a handout you can send to the parents about help your child succeed on Zoom.

Here are some of the sources I used when writing this.

What the research tells us about developmental impacts of video chat vs. other screen time for kids: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/10/03/496362094/could-video-chats-be-good-for-your-infant

More about managing screen time during coronavirus time: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2020/05/22/screen-time-in-coronavirus-time/

If you need a tutorial to the basics of how to use Zoom, or any of the advanced features of Zoom, check out my Guide to Zoom.

And, to get a break from the screen: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2020/03/26/connecting-to-outdoors-during-coronavirus/ 

When You…. I Feel… I Wish….

conflict res

In Honest, Direct, Respectful: Three Simple Words that will Change your Life, Dennis Adams describes a three step process for communicating your needs to others. This can be used in times of conflict to share your feelings and work toward a mutual resolution.

  1. Identify the behavior: “When you….”  The more concrete and specific you can be, the better.
  2. Identify the feeling: “I feel…” and then state the emotion (e.g. “I feel sad…” or angry… or disappointed.) Be careful not to say “I feel like….” because then you may be tempted to say “I feel like you are ignoring me” which is your interpretation of their intent, it is not how you feel because of their behavior.
  3. Identify something you want, wish, or wonder. You might use “I want” with someone you supervise – a child or employee – to tell them what action you want (and expect) them to take. “I wonder” is a continuation of your feeling statement: “I wonder if you notice what I do for you?” And “I wish” says what you want, without telling them that they have to do it for you.

Imagine if you said, in frustration: “You never pick up around the house. I always have to do all the work.” That would likely put your partner on the defensive, and it’s easy to get into a battle of one-up-manship where you both pull out all your martyr cards about how hard you work and how unappreciated you are. Instead, try:

“When you leave your piles of clean laundry in the TV room, I feel stressed that our house doesn’t feel like someplace I can relax. I wish the house was tidier so we could both enjoy our time here together.”

This re-frames the situation to you working together as allies toward a mutual goal.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

Instead of “You don’t care about this project – you never even respond to my emails!”, try “When you don’t respond to my emails, I feel frustrated, and I wonder whether you really want to work on this project with me.”

Instead of “You need to get your act together and be on time”, try “When you’re late to meet me, I feel unloved, and I also feel frustrated that I’m wasting time waiting for you. I wish you could be on time or let me know when you’re running late.”

Instead of “You’re so rude to people! Why are you such a jerk?”, try “When you interrupted her when she was speaking, I felt really uncomfortable. I wonder if you realize that could seem disrespectful to her?”

Instead of saying to your child “I’ve told you 1000 times not to leave your shoes all over the house”, try “When you leave your shoes all over the house, I feel frustrated. When we ran late to school three days this week because you couldn’t find the shoes you wanted, I felt mad. I want you to always take your shoes off and put them on the shelf as soon as we get home, so we can easily find them when you need them.”

This model is reminiscent of Marshall Rosenberg, and his model of Non-Violent Communication. I’ve written a handout on using a variant of his model to Communicating what You Really Need.

Test it out this week – it’s an easy method you can use with your kids, partner, co-workers, or anyone you’re feeling in conflict with.

Click here for a free downloadable worksheet on using this Conflict Resolution tool.

To see all my posts on relationship skills, click here.

Parental Anger

angryParents often ask: “Is it OK to be angry in front of my kids?” “Is it OK to be angry at my kids, or does that make me a bad parent?” “What if my partner and I get in a fight when the kids are in the room?” The reality is that there will be times you’re angry in your child’s presence, there will be times you’re angry at your child, and there will be times you fight with a family member when your child is around. Anger is a very basic human emotion, and we all feel it sometimes. (Click here for a post on your child’s anger and how to respond.)

When teaching your child emotional intelligence, I recommend that you say to them clearly that “Your emotions are always OK. Sometimes your behavior is not OK, so I will set limits on that when I need to. But I still love you even when you’re having big emotions and even when your behavior is bad.” We can set the same standards for ourselves as parents – all emotions are OK, but we want to handle them as maturely as we can in the moment, and repair things later when we don’t handle them well. Rather than trying to hold yourself up to an impossible standard of never getting angry, instead, accept that it will happen and make a plan for how you will manage the situation.

If our children see us get angry and then calm ourselves down, they learn many things: it’s normal to get angry, being angry doesn’t make you a bad person, being angry doesn’t have to mean losing control, and it is possible to calm yourself down from a big emotional meltdown.

This week, I’ll be doing a full series on parental anger. Tune in for

(If you’re a parent educator, who would like a one page printable handout on this topic, click here: Parental Anger.)

photo credit: Yelling Man via photopin (license)

Love Maps

John Gottman, a prominent relationship researcher, says that successful couples have “Love Maps” of each other’s lives.

These couples have made plenty of cognitive room in their minds for their relationship. They remember the major events in each other’s histories, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s world change. They know each other’s goals in life, each other’s worries, each other’s hopes and dreams. Without such a love map, you can’t really know your partner. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them? (Source)

I think love maps are VERY powerful.

I know someone who says “Every time my mom calls me, she asks me about the weather. I would love it if someday she said ‘How’s work?’ or, even better ‘I know you’ve been frustrated by budget issues at work – is that getting better?'”

I know lots of parents of school age children whose standard question every day is “So, how was school?” Think how much more powerful these questions would be: “I know you were worried about your math test today – how did it go?” or “You and Chris have been having a great time playing ____ together. Did you have time to do that today?”

Read more about love maps:

http://www.gottmanblog.com/sound-relationship-house/2014/10/28/the-sound-relationship-house-build-love-maps?rq=build%20love%20maps

Relationship Skills for Parents

In every relationship – whether with our romantic partners, our children, our parents, our co-workers, or friends – we have good days and bad days. We can have more good days if we know and use effective relationship skills. Here are some I find most helpful, with links to more details on each.

Turning Toward your Partner (based on Gottman)

When someone wants to make a connection, they make “bids for affection.” These can be questions, invitations, non-verbal gestures, glances, or touch – anything that asks you to connect. When someone bids for your attention, there are three main categories of ways that you might respond.

Turn Toward: Act in a responsive, interested, positive, and loving way. Reach out, touch them, look at them, smile. Say “I hear you”, “I want to connect with you,” “I’m interested in you.” Ask a question.

Turn Away: Act in a way that ignores them, or dismisses their bid. Look away, wander away. Don’t respond verbally, or respond in a way that has nothing to do with what they said.

Turn Against: Act in an angry way that rejects them and their bid. Walk away, glare, make threatening movements. Use sarcasm or put-downs, roll your eyes. Do the opposite of what they asked you to do.

In the most successful relationships, partners have a 20:1 ratio. They have 20 positive bids and/or turning toward incidents for every one incident of turning against or away.Can you aim for at least 5:1?

Expressing Appreciation (inspired by Hendricks and Louden)

When juggling day-to-day responsibilities at work, home, and with children, we  we might start feeling disconnected and invisible, or drained and undervalued. One of the best ways to re-fill our tanks is by creating a “culture of appreciation”. Some ideas:

  • Always thank your partner for the things s/he has done. Even if they’re part of his/her “job.” It’s still nice to know that they are noticed and appreciated.
  • When asking your partner to do something, make it a real question (i.e. something they could say no to) not an order disguised as a question. (And say please!) Thank them if they say yes.
  • Five minute writing. Each of you takes a piece of paper and a pen. Spend five full minutes listing everything you love about your partner. Pour out all the appreciation you haven’t had time to share. Give your list to your partner to have and to hold.
  • Exchanging appreciations: Sit facing each other. One person begins with “Something I appreciate about you is…” The other partner listens to that, lets it sink in, says thank you, and then shares something that they appreciate about the other.
  • Post-its: leave notes around the house, listing what you love about each other or life in general.
  • Write a thank you note, letting him/her know why you’re glad s/he is a part of your life.

Speak your partner’s love language (Chapman)

In Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, he argues that different individuals have different “languages” they use to express love, and that we “hear” love best when it’s spoken in our language. Which one of these sounds most like how your partner hears love from you? Which describes how you hear love?

Physical Touch: Feels most loved when you touch him/her: stroke her hair, hold hands, massage, rub her feet, hugging, kissing, sex. Feels most rejected when touch is missing (or if touch is used in anger).

Words of Affirmation: Encouragement and praise are vital. Being acknowledged for work, appreciated for who s/he is, validated for concerns, cheered on for efforts. May be very sensitive to criticism.

Acts of Service: Wants active support with household tasks, like laundry, washing dishes, running errands, making a to-do list together and taking on jobs. Feels unsupported when you don’t pitch in.

Gifts: Loves any special little thing done just for him/her. Little notes left around the house, something special from the grocery store, pictures of the baby texted during the day. Will be especially upset if you forget a birthday, anniversary or other gift-giving occasion.

Quality Time: Wants your Presence – time together, spent talking and connecting, doing activities together. Feels unsupported if you’re off buying gifts or doing tasks instead of spending time together.

Discuss this with your partner. Are you right about what his/her language is? What does s/he think is your language? Sometimes couples discover that if one is feeling unloved, it’s not that their partner wasn’t trying to communicate love, it’s just that s/he was shouting a lot in the wrong language.

Spend Time with your Partner

Ideally, you will find a way to have a regular date night with your partner. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a chance to be together, really listen to each other, really see the other person, and remember why you chose to spend your lives together. Celebrate being a couple!

But beyond date night, think about ways that even a few minutes a day can make a big difference. In an article by Carolyn Pirak (www.parentmap.com/article/make-time-for-your-partner) she recommends making a commitment to 40 minutes a day to improve your relationship: When you separate, spend at least two minutes saying goodbye. When you reunite, spend 20 minutes talking about your days. Take five minutes a day to express appreciation to each other. Devote at least 8 minutes a day to showing affection. Give at least five minutes a day to sharing dreams and planning ahead.

Make a plan for special time together this week. Each day, grab some sweet little moments together.

Conflict Resolution / Communicating needs

Many conflicts arise because one or both of you is not getting something that you need. You can start feeling like opponents on opposite sides of an issue or like competitors for scarce resources. Here are some steps to start thinking like allies again, and being working things out.

  1. Identify what you need. Sometimes you need to figure it out yourself before you can tell your partner. Hint: if you often find yourself saying “You never do X” or “You always do Y” or “I never get to do Z,” there’s a hint in there somewhere.
  2. Communicate that need to your partner. Be clear, and specific. Use the “I” word – “I need this”, not the “You” word – “Here’s what you need to do.” Help them understand how you feel about this emotionally. “It makes me sad when…” “I feel overwhelmed when…”
  3. Ask for help meeting that need.
  4. Listen to your partner’s opinions and concerns. Avoid interrupting, criticizing, defensiveness, and contempt. (Expressed out loud or with body language.) Paraphrase – repeat back what your partner has said, and make sure you heard him/her right.
  5. Ask your partner what s/he needs and work together to get that need met.

Next time you find yourself in conflict, try these ideas. Even better, try working preventatively. When you’re not in the heat of the moment, explore one areas of conflict, and see what you learn together.

Here’s a printable handout covering this information on Key Relationship Skills.

Sources: Louden’s Couples Comfort Book, Hendricks’ Conscious Heart; Gottman’s Baby Makes Three.