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Reality Check: Phone Hang-Ups

Q. My 3-year-old throws tantrums whenever I'm on the phone. How can I get him to respect the fact that I'm busy and shouldn't be interrupted?


A. Of course you can't hold all your calls until your child is napping or otherwise engaged, but sometimes you can tell the person on the other end of the line that you'll call back later, when the two of you can have a conversation in peace. This might seem like giving in to your child's bad behavior, but there are times in parenthood when the goal is merely to survive. Not everything has to be a "teachable moment."

And it's okay to put on SpongeBob SquarePants or another video when you really need to talk. Or set the kitchen timer for five or ten minutes, and tell your child that when the bell rings, you'll be finished with your phone call and he can have you to himself again. A friend of mine used to put callers on speakerphone (she'd warn them first) because hearing the other people's voices made her rambunctious toddler sit down on the floor and listen!

The point is, we all need to remember that "respect" just isn't in the vocabulary of a 3-year-old, particularly when he's competing with an inanimate plastic object for your attention. And even though a 3-year-old can understand when you're busy and that you need a minute, he may not have enough impulse control to let you have your time. You have a ways to go and much shushing to do before you can expect your child to occupy himself quietly while you chat on the phone. For me, telephone conversations became more do-able once my children learned to write. "Momy," begins one note I was handed while on the phone, "kan I poot on anuthr Spunjbob so u kan tawk moor?" at which point, I knew it was time to say goodbye.

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