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How to have a satisfying, uninterrupted phone conversation when your youngsters are nearby

Children love lots of attention and will go to great lengths to get it, even if they have to do something naughty to get it.

They may whine in the background or ask questions that can definitely wait for a few minutes. A good way to get your attention is for them to start doing something which is risky, such as climbing furniture or starting a fight with a sibling.

This can be really annoying and frustrating for parents and carers. There are clever ways to diminish this aggravating behaviour however. They involve preparation, effective communication, ongoing encouragement and nurturance, and deliberate ignoring (following the initial firm and polite request). If all else fails, we can offer to play a popular game when the 3, or more, minutes is up on the phone. We can start with a small amount of waiting time and slowly increase the time (when our child is co-operating). It is necessary for us to know how long our child is able to realistically wait, according to his age and level of development. A four year old can wait for a lot longer than a one year old. It’s a good idea to make a note of the time your young child can play independently, so you know how long you can reasonably expect her to wait whilst you’re on the phone.

My suggestions would be firstly to tell your child/ren in a positive and calm way, that you are going to talk to a particular person for 3 minutes, and that you need him to play quietly or listen for 3 minutes, without interrupting. You could give him something to play with, or suggest that he do a particular activity. You could even use a timer, if you wish. If he doesn’t interrupt, thank him sincerely and specifically for his efforts, after the call. If he interrupts, tell him, immediately and firmly, to wait until the 3 minutes are over. You may need to deliberately ignore any further interruptions (unless there’s a true emergency). If he does the right thing, thank him for this. This will make it more likely that he will improve in the future. If he still doesn’t get the message, you could tell him that you need to talk to someone for 3 minutes, and that you will play a game with him (a popular one), when he has waited quietly for the whole time. Make sure you follow through with the game and the exact amount of time. He will slowly learn the lengths of time if you are consistent.

When he is quiet for 3 minutes, you can gradually increase the time. You also need to keep up the sincere encouragement for his efforts (when he is quiet for the specific time) whilst you are talking to someone else.

Of course, you can’t expect your child to be obliging if you are not giving him regular undivided attention and nurturing each day. The younger the child the more of this he will need.

If the phone rings out of the blue and you need to talk for a few minutes, tell the caller to wait briefly while you explain what is happening to your child. After a few times she will get the message that she needs to play independently for a short time (that you have specified). If all goes well you eventually won’t need to get the caller to wait at all, while you word up your child.