Staying connected with family during the holidays — and all year round

by Katie Krause, Extension Educator, November/December 2018 NEBLINE

Grandpa and Granddaughter working on a laptop

Stay connected over the holidays

The holidays are often times when family and friends gather together, sometimes traveling by car or plane. But how can you connect young children with family and friends this holiday season (and all year round!)?

When I moved to Nebraska a few years ago, I knew the hardest thing for me would be being so far away from my family. I have such fond memories of both sides of my family coming together for holidays; grandparents, great-grand parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. While we are able to visit with family in person a couple of times a year, being all together is just not possible for every holiday. Thankfully, there are still a lot of ways I can help my son, Weston, build a relationship with family members 800 miles away!

The traditional method of communicating over the phone is still a common way to keep in touch; however, children as old as nine can have difficulty understanding and processing phone conversations. This doesn’t mean do not try to have phone conversations, just be aware that they may not be as meaningful for a young child as they are for the adults. Also, keeping a child’s attention on a voice coming out of a tiny device isn’t usually too captivating, so plan on a hello, maybe a short conversation and probably a quick goodbye from your little one.

Weston LOVES to talk to his grandma when he can see her too. My mom only gets to see him a few times a year, so being able to connect through video chatting has been amazing. We have even been able to connect with Weston’s great-grandparents through video chatting a few times! Most of our video chatting is direct “face-to-face,” with Weston often wanting to hold onto the tablet himself. We have found the conversations are most successful when we use a slightly bigger screen, but whatever you have will work! Most operating systems have some type of video chat feature. Apple uses Facetime, Google uses Duo, Facebook messenger has a video application, WhatsApp is popular especially for international calls, and many more!

There is also the idea of utilizing “open connections” when doing video chats. This simply means to leave the video chat open for an extended period of time and is a great way to “spend time together” no matter how far apart you are! Children can work on an art project, build a block castle, sing songs or just about anything with family watching, encouraging and even singing along. My mom has a wonderful memory of Weston pulling up in his crib for one of the first times. We knew he was getting close, so I just set up my phone for her to watch him. This type of connection will utilize a lot of data, so make sure you are connected to Wi-Fi or are OK with going through a lot of data on your cellular plan.

If you are going to try to connect to family members virtually this holiday season, it might be a good thing to start doing a little bit each week. We were pretty excited when Grandma came to visit earlier this year and Weston clearly remembered who she was. Keep in mind that sometimes your child might be very interested in chatting, and other times, not. Try to help the person on the other end of the line understand that if your 2-year-old runs off to do something else, it is not personal!

Finally, a lot of people worry about screen time for young children. In 2017, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with new recommendations for screen time for young children, stating screen time should be avoided for children under 18 months, with the exception of video chatting. Research has shown that while in-person, face-to-face conversations are ideal, video chatting is a great solution for connecting with family far away.

• Moffatt, J., David, J. & Baecker, R.M. (2013). Connecting Grandparents and Grandchildren, In Naustadedter, C., Harrison, S., & Sellen, A. (Eds.), Connecting Families: The Impact of New Communication Technologies on Domestic Life (pp. 173-194). New York, NY: Springer.
• American Association of Pediatrics

You’ll find this article and more in the November/December 2018 issue of the NEBLINE Newsletter. Available free online.

If you don’t live in Lancaster County, Nebraska, please make sure to check out your local extension office too. Your extension office has resources for you, your family and community. To find your local office, visit (nationwide listing).

Have a great day!!


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