Written by Doctor G

Tantrum when I’m on the phone

Wondering what to do about tantrums when I’m on the phone.  One of my friends who is also a writer says her daughter is fine, and then the minute she gets on the phone to do a phone interview, she starts throwing a fit. If you have to make a call when your child is around, what can you do to avoid this?

Linda, in NY

A:  Is it just Murphy’s Law?  I’m enjoying the relative peace of a summer morning, kids all engaged in non-richter scale activities and I decide to make a phone call.  Within seconds, the littlest one spills something on purpose, the bigger kids start asking for snacks (despite the partially eaten breakfast that ended 12 seconds ago), the 4 year old trips on a line painted on the floor and starts to cry.  Even the dog starts barking.  Is it coincidence?  I think… no.

Let’s face it, our phone time is fun/important/necessary for us but a big red flag to our kids.  They know that while their grown up is holding a phone (which we do more and more these days) the child has moved to at least second place in that person’s focus and attention.  This causes some kids to want to “take the floor back” by getting your attention over whoever is on the phone.

A great way to handle this is not only with a stick but with a carrot as well.

First of all, let your child know that when you are on the phone they may not interrupt with noise.  If they need your attention for something they should lay a hand on your arm and wait.  This lets them nonverbally ask for your attention.  You can place a hand over theirs to let them know you are aware they are waiting.  When you get to a break in the conversation, gently ask your caller to hold and attend to the request in one way or another.

Also let your kids know that if they can’t remember this rule, they will have to sit down in another room (basically a time out) while you finish your call.  This is hard to enforce but if you hang up your call politely and briefly to escort them to the waiting spot and then get back on the phone, you will teach the lesson a few times and soon they will remember better.  If you’re worried about appearing unprofessional to your caller then practice on the phone with a friend or family member.

Lastly – and this is the carrot – keep a basket of fun toys or activities that they may ONLY do when you are on the phone.  This way the time you have to work will be filled with privilege for them if they can manage their behavior.

Remember – you are teaching two great lessons here.  One, you are improving their responsiveness and yours by finding a way to have respectful communication during a “work” time.  Secondly you are showing that they are a priority by choosing to work from home, and teaching them to juggle priorities as best as possible so that you can have the income your family needs.  You are shaping their character by showing that they are very important to you but also need to learn to wait respectfully.

And if it works even 75% of the time, what an improvement that would be for most of us!


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1 thought on “Tantrum when I’m on the phone”

  1. I think it would be fair and helpful for the kids if, in the “I’m on the phone” rules, there is a also a limit on when a parent can invoke the “I’m on the phone” rules, i.e., the length of call and/or number of calls in a specific time frame when the kids are supposed to be priority one with the parent. Many calls, and email notices, do not warrant being moved to priority one over the kids place in the priority chain during parent/kid time-they should wait to be answered or responded to when the parent is not on parent/child time.

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