COVID-19 has seen a huge increase in video calling as we try to socially distance but still stay in touch.
This is particularly the case for grandparents and their grandchildren, who have either chosen to stay away, given the vulnerability of older people to coronavirus, or been forced apart due to lockdowns and border closures.
Now early childhood, psychology and linguistics researchers in Western Sydney are studying how video calls fit into the lives of grandparents and their grandchildren and how to can enhance this interaction.
And the researchers - from Western Sydney University's BabyLab - are looking for grandparents and parents from around Australia to take part in a survey to find out their experience of using video chat with children under the age of five, to capture the changes brought by COVID-19.
BabyLab Research Fellow, Dr Christa Lam-Cassettari, said she was hoping to get a good understanding of grandparents' experiences using video calls to understand ways they can be better supported.
"As a mum of two young children I understand the value of staying connected with grandparents as you raise young children," she said.
"Grandparents can provide priceless support to parents and grandchildren as they have their own stories and experiences. These pearls of wisdom can help alleviate the stresses and worries that parents may experience in their journey as a parent, as well as comfort and support their grandchild when they have worries about school, friends, activities or the changed world that we are living in."
She said video calls also allow families to share precious milestones as babies learn to walk and talk, and as children are learning to master new skills.
"Having opportunities to stay in touch with grandparents helps grandchildren develop a sense of love and connection with a bigger support network, which can help foster a sense of belonging, positively influence their social skills and nurture their self-esteem."
So far, 130 grandparents and parents from around Australia have responded.
Of those surveyed, on average, grandparents video call two to three times a week with their grandchildren, for about five to ten minutes. They mostly used FaceTime and Facebook Messenger, as apps that are already available on their phones.
The researchers said around 40 per cent of grandparents surveyed began using video calls with their grandchildren for the first time during COVID-19. For all those surveyed, it was a mostly positive experience.
Grandparents say the calls allow them to stay connected with their grandchildren - with respondents talking about "being a part of their lives" and "not missing seeing them grow".
But there are challenges. Not surprisingly, the greatest challenge was maintaining children's attention during the calls.
Other parents described the experience as stressful, noting the call had to be at "right time". As one parent noted of her one-year-old daughter, "she gets overstimulated and then will not go to bed".
Some grandparents also expressed concern that it was an additional burden for parents.
Tips for preparing for a video call
- Place your device on a firm surface, using your cover or something similar as a tripod to free your hands for gesturing and showing objects.
- Try to keep the light source in front of you, excessive sun glare behind you leads to poor quality video.
- Minimise background noise (such as the washing machine or radio).
- Make the call part of your routine, so children come to expect and get used to calls.
- Make calls at a time of day when you can all relax - when babies are fed, changed and alert and older children are fed and not too tired.
- Before making the call, parents can share images, videos and messages describing new skills or activities since you last spoke, so grandparents have something to ask questions about and engage with.
- Prepare the child before the call to help manage their expectations. For example, ask them to pick out their favourite toy or drawing so they can show and talk about it.
- Start with shorter calls (around five minutes) and increase the length as you see fit.
Tips for keeping the call going
- For parents, consider making the video call as you do routine activities, such as cooking, sharing meals or bath-time - this can bring grandparents into the day-to-day routine and reduce the stress of finding a time to call.
- As a grandparent, try to maintain eye contact and talk about things that baby or child is paying attention to at that moment.
- Use songs and games ("pat-a-cake" and "peekaboo" are good examples) to capture babies' attention. Musical statues is a good game to play with older children.
- Make funny faces and hand gestures, blow kisses.
- Dance, take each other on a tour of your home or garden, or try exercise moves together.
- Set aside some books to use for video calls. You can carry on reading longer books with older children each time you call.
- Try out various filters or virtual backgrounds built into your apps to make it more interesting for kids and give you something else to talk about.
If you are a grandparent, you can register to participate in the BabyLab survey here.
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