My kids won’t say more than ‘hello’ to me on the phone

What travelling parent hasn’t struggled to get their kids to say more than a few words to them on the phone ? You ask them a question and they walk away, seemingly more interested in the dog playing in the garden than the fact that you have been gone for weeks and miss them. I do know families where there aren’t many phone calls while the travelling parent is away but if you want to have more converstions on the phone, here are a few pointers in addition to the ones in the slider. (I’m not talking about teens here. I’ll cover that another time..) and a few ideas to strengthen your bond with your child without a phone call.

  1. See it as an opportunity for children to learn the art of conversation.
    • This article goes through a useful checklist for a good conversation such as eye contact and turn taking.
    • One study even suggests that telephone usage may be another precursor literacy activity»
    • Experiment to see if your child responds better with a phone with screen or just audio.
  2. Make it action packed
    • « Children generally have an easier time expressing their knowledge and ideas through action rather than words» (see above study). Do a show and tell, ask your child to sing a song or play a piece of music on their instrument during the call.Use silliness and play to overcome the shorter attention spans.
  3. Focus on areas of common interest between you and your child.
    • If you don’t know what they like, ask them.
    • If the child is older, you can each write a list of things you enjoy and find the ones you have in common.
  4. Carry through something in the phone calls and the ‘in person’,
    eg reading your child a story online that you can continue reading together when home, This makes the transition home more seamless.
  5. Make it a group call. Speak to all the kids together and interact as a family. Try it out, see if one-on-one conversations or group calls work best for your family.

There are also other creative ways to engage your children and invest in your relationship with them that don’t involve a phone conversation as time differences can be an issue.

  1. Find out their love language
    • All ages can take the quiz on You will find out how your child gives and receives love.
    • If their love language is words of affirmation for example, sending them a pretty card with an encouraging message from you will be something they will cherish. If it is touch, this is tougher but not undoable as you can gift them a teddy bear and get yourself the same one that you can both hug when you miss the other person.
  2. Create a photo album of things you love doing or of your childhood. They can look at it while you away, This may generate questions they can ask you on the phone or when you are back.
  3. Use a video message app like Marco Polo. This app allows you to record a quick video message which sends as soon as you hit ‘end recording’. A conversation doesn’t need to be simultaneous, just as chess can be a drawn out game over a longer period of time. Enjoy

One last thing, don’t wait for a child to ask to speak with you.

Travelling parent, speak up and request a call. You will find creative ways to make it engaging. And even if it is ‘just’ a good night every night, for them, it might become a treasured memory with you.

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Rhoda Bangerter

Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.

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