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Video Chats: Keeping Kids Engaged

Published on Feb. 11, 2021

Part of our Raising Resilient Kids series

Raise your hand if you’ve struggled to keep your child engaged during video chats.

The trials of parenting have become all the more apparent this past year, as modifications to structures that moms and dads often rely on to help meet their children’s social-emotional needs, like child care centers, playgroups, and grandparents, have posed many challenges. But children’s longing to connect with their loved ones and friends remains steadfast. So what can you do as a parent or caregiver to meet your child’s needs while honoring physical distancing?

If video chats don’t seem to be working with the kid(s) in your life, you’re not alone. The good news is, connecting remotely can be fun and engaging for kids with a few key tweaks.

Change the Conversation

One of the biggest challenges of connecting virtually with kids that they don’t hold conversations like adults do. The best way to avoid those stretches of silence and one-word answers? Avoid yes or no questions. (i.e. Did you have a good day?)

Instead, focus on open-ended, engaging questions that spark kids’ interest. Some ideas include:

  • What was the best part about today? 
  • If you could be any animal what would you be and why? 
  • If you wrote a book, what would it be about? 
  • What makes a person kind? 
  • If you could make three family rules what would they be? 
  • What three words would you use to describe yourself? 
  • What is your favorite family tradition? 
  • What’s your favorite—summer or winter, beach or mountains—and why?
  • Want to keep the conversational momentum going? Keep kids talking by using the same approach with your follow-up questions: 
  • Tell me more. 
  • How so? 
  • Why do you think that? 

Game-on: Include Fun Activities

When children are interacting with loved ones or friends in-person, chances are they’re not just talking! Rather than focusing wholly on conversation, plan a fun game or activity that captivates their attention. Here are some fun ideas to get started:  

  • Scavenger hunts. Not only are these loads of fun – but the possibilities are endless! Scavenger hunts can be adapted to nearly any age group.

    • Colors: Choose a color and the first person to return with three items of that color wins. Kids as young as toddlers can play this game.

    • Senses: Find something fragrant or smelly, crunchy or soft, fuzzy or smooth, sticky or gooey, bright or cheery.  

    • Alphabet: Find an item that starts with every letter of the alphabet or every letter of your name.  

    • Newspaper: For older kids, identify 5-10 things for each of you to find in a magazine or newspaper – a car for sale, a typo or spelling error, a weather posting calling for wind or snow. 

  • Try the “would you rather game.” Would you rather be an artist or a nurse? Would you rather be invisible or be able to fly? Would you rather create a new sport or a holiday? What would that new “thing” look like?  

  • Choose games that work well virtually. Play Pictionary, hangman, and battleship. Or try a game of charades using an online charades generator.

  • Play 20 questions. One person thinks of a person, place, or thing and then the other players can ask up to 20 yes or no questions to figure out the answer.

  • Color together through the virtual call. Pick a theme and draw something related to that theme. 

  • Read stories or books. Bonus: Schedule the story at bedtime to help give parents a few minutes to themselves. 

  • Make something yummy. Choose a recipe from a favorite cookbook and make it together, virtually (note: keep in mind what experience level the child is at in the kitchen and be sure to discuss safety concerns ahead of time with mom or dad. You can also choose a no-bake/cook snack). 

  • Incorporate music. Play an instrument together or have kids practice for and put on a virtual show – a play they made up or a musical concert they assembled. 

Beyond Virtual Chats: Alternatives to Remote Activities

Parents or caregivers may still be feeling some guilt or sadness about children’s interactions being mostly limited to online platforms. Too much screen time is a common concern. But while we’re still practicing physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, why not encourage your child to flex his/her writing muscles?

As it turns out, one of the best ways to supplement your child’s virtual chats is an old fashioned favorite: Pen pals! Encourage your child and his/her friends or loved ones to write each other letters or send drawings of homemade crafts in the mail. You can even ask grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other loved ones to display any artwork they receive and send back a photo with a note about how much they’re enjoying it.

Enjoying These Tips? Get More Ideas by Checking Out the Other Blogs in Our Raising Resilient Kids Series