Your young kids hate phone calls, but the relatives all live far away. Should you force it?

Parent advice:

Yes. Have the kids prepare for the chat with a skit or a song or a story to share. Just making small talk can be difficult for people of all ages. Practice before the call takes place and make it fun.

– Dodie Hofstetter

Absolutely. Speaking on the phone is a valuable social and professional skill, but it takes practice. I’d start by initiating calls to relatives and “put Billy on” for no more than 30 seconds and build from there. If there’s real resistance, do a trial run or two with your kid; pick a day when he/she can communicate with you only by phone, even if you’re in the same room.

– Phil Vettel

Put them on the phone when they seem in the mood to talk – if you ask and they say no, wait for a better moment (like when they have something big to share). Coach older kids to ask questions if they don’t know what to say, which is a useful conversational skill. And remind the faraway adults that the phone is not very engaging for kids, so they shouldn’t take offense if things are short and sweet. Or try Skype with grandma and see whether the visual helps.

– Cindy Dampier

Expert advice:

Young kids are drawn to endeavors that stimulate all of their senses, said Betsy Brown Braun, author of “You’re Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your Four- to Twelve-Year-Old Child” (HarperCollins).

“Their learning is multimodal, meaning they like to touch something and see it and smell it and listen to it and taste it,” said Brown Braun. “Plain old phone talking uses one sense and requires a child to screen everything else out. That’s very hard.”

That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be nudged toward doing it, but it does mean parents should nudge gently.

“Forcing chats is going to turn the calls to poison, and you don’t need another power struggle,” she said. “Set your child up to be successful.”

Brown Braun recommended the following steps:

If possible, use Skype, FaceTime or Google Plus to connect with relatives because they engage more of the children’s senses. Brown Braun takes her grandchildren on “tours” of her house while she FaceTime chats with them, showing them where their photos are displayed and allowing them to say “hi” to her dog. Similarly, kids can show off a new stuffed animal or the project they completed in school.

Prep your children with some specific things to tell the relatives.

“ ‘Today let’s tell grandma what happened at soccer,’ ” she suggested. “The phone call needs to be more than just ‘How was your day?’ ‘What did you have for dinner?’ Ask clever questions. Sing a song together.”

Don’t let too much time pass between calls.

“It’s really hard to say, ‘Say ‘hi’ to grandma,’ when you haven’t seen or talked to grandma in four months.”

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