University of Illinois Extension
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Hold the Phone

Many people consider a telephone as a source of information, service and a way to keep in touch with friends and relatives but to a child it may be a rival to a parents attention.

Every parent has experienced the frustration of trying to carry on a phone conversation with a child in the same room. Without fail, as soon as you pick up the phone, your child starts competing for your attention.

Short of never making or receiving a phone call, what is a parent to do? The first step is to try to understand this complex problem. When you are on the phone it is as if you are away from your child. You tune out your environment when you talk on the phone.

This "absence" of the parent can cause a lot of distress for children. They can feel lost or confused because Mom or Dad aren't there to help. Children need to keep in contact with their parents.

Parents can help by reaching a compromise with their child. First of all accept that a toddler genuinely needs your attention and can't cope with you on the phone. Keep calls short when your child is with you. Don't expect any understanding or good behavior because it will not be there. Try to keep some activities available for the times you are on the phone. High-interest toys, crayons, blocks, or waterplay at the kitchen sink are all quiet activities that you and your child can do while you are talking on the phone. Give plenty of physical contact such as cuddling while you are on the phone.

As a child reaches 4 or 5 you can reason more effectively with him or her and they are more developmentally able to cope with separation from parents. Also, positive and negative reinforcements work well for behavior modification. Again, an activity area in the same room as the phone will help to keep a child occupied while their parent is distracted.

Honesty also helps a child cooperate better. If you say you will only be a minute and then talk on and on its hard for your child not to feel resentful. Show your child that you mean what you say.