By: Karen Nemeth 

Do you wonder how to help your young child and his loved ones stay in touch when they are far apart? Children as young as 8 months old respond very well to interactions with people via video chat platforms. Research shows that interactive responsive experiences in real time via video chat enhance even very young children’s language learning. This means as long as the person on the other side of the screen is interacting with and responding in real time, they are not only staying connected to your young child, but can also have many of the positive impacts of responsive communication.

Here are some ideas to make video calls more interactive for young children.


To support children with their video chats:

1. Choose a good time of day. Using video chat means children have to sit quietly at times and focus on the screen. Don’t set up for disappointment by picking a time when they are hungry or restless.

2. Help your child adjust for the medium. When young children interact in person, they pick up communication cues from sight, sound, smell, and touch. Since video chat only involves sight and sound, help your child to concentrate on those senses. Repeat questions raised by her far away friend or family member or point out things your child can see and identify.

3. Have materials at your side – storybooks, musical instruments, your child’s latest artwork or whatever you plan to show the other person so he doesn’t lose interest as one of you scramble to find something.  

Tips for adults chatting with young children:

1. Practice looking at the camera – it is tempting to keep your eyes on your own picture, or the images on the screen – but you really make eye contact when you look at the camera and that is better for interactive communication.

2. Keep very young children engaged with you by playing ‘peek a boo’ – turn the camera away from you, then back to your face – and then sometimes when the camera comes back – you can surprise the kids by showing a book, or toy, or something else that you want to talk about.

3. Make sure to use the same greeting each time and in the same tone of voice when chatting with infants and toddlers. Infants and toddlers learn to recognize and feel comfortable with a real person on the screen when they hear that same sound each time they see the person. This is important because they often depend more on smell and touch when meeting a person – so they need more visual and sound cues to recognize you on video chat.

4. Use a lot of gestures. Be close to the camera – but not so close that your video partner can’t see your hands. Don’t be afraid to move – don’t be a talking head.

To make video chats more interactive:

1. Try using a tablet or laptop so you can both move around to show different view sand different activities.

2. Plan in advance and pretend to share snacks. People on both sides of the screen have the same snack and the adults can pretend to hand it off - camera to camera - to a child’s delight

3. Play music and sing – People on both ends of the camera can hear songs and sing or dance together, and join in with instruments.

Video chatting doesn’t have to be a major event. A quick, spontaneous chat can be a fun way for distant grownups and children to feel close to each other. And don’t forget to lean in for a high five or a “kiss” to say hello or goodbye!

Note: There are a number of options for video chatting. Skype can be downloaded for free on any computer or tablet device. Similar results can be achieved with other video chat platforms like Facetime or Google Hangout.

Resource: “Responsive interactions are key to toddlers’ ability to learn language” This study showed that toddlers can learn a new language via live interactions with a responsive adult on video chats like Skype, but gain little from passive viewing of unresponsive videos. Science Daily, September 24, 2013

About the Author: Karen Nemeth is an author and consultant who often writes for NAEYC. She is also a video chat expert having kept in touch with her grandson who lives on another continent.