Growing your Love and Affection With Family at a distanceLast month my sister, who lives in Australia, was in a difficult situation: her husband had covid, so had to self isolate in their house whilst she had to stay in the other side of the house with their two year old daughter. My sister just started a new job, had to cook, take care of her daughter ánd try not to catch covid. You can imagine this was quite a stressful situation. Normally grandparents, friends or family would be able to come to the rescue, however given her husband had covid they also had to self-isolate plus my sister’s in-laws live about 4 hours away of their home, and our family is mostly in the Netherlands. Raising children with family at a distance (especially for expats) is even more challenging during times of a pandemic. I guess there are many parents out there who can relate to this, and that’s why I thought it would be relevant to write this blog.
Helping my sisterI asked my sister: “Is there’s anything I can do to help you”? We thought for a bit and quickly came up with the idea of me babysitting her daughter remotely through video calling through her tablet and my laptop. My sister was in the other room trying to get some work done. And we had a backup plan: if my little niece would hang up on me (because the big red button is so attractive to push!), or if I could see her doing something dangerous or naughty, I would have my sister on speed dial in the other room. I was pretty nervous before babysitting through video call; I thought “what if something would go wrong on my clock whilst remote babysitting”? She is only 2.5 years old after all. How long could I possibly engage her for so long given her young age and limited attention span? But, I prepared well, and guess what?! I was able to have an amazing fun time with her for about ninety minutes. Sure, she wasn’t engaged fully all the time, but, we made it work. It was actually the first time I had a one-on-one time with her for that long and even though it wasn’t a deep connection, it felt so natural and was so happy I could help my sister with this small act of service. I always love showing my love and affection by doing something for the person I love, and not being able to babysit and take care of my niece in person can sometimes be painful. I’ve spoken to many grandparents who feel exactly the same: they want to contribute and babysit their grandchild but they feel separated by distance. Babysitting at a distance would not even come to their mind, which is why I thought this might be a nice inspiration for them as well.
Preparing to Babysit for Parents RemotelyLet me tell you how I prepared for this and maybe it can help you or inspire you as well. There are a couple of Practical tips, Do’s and Don’ts that I listed down here:
The Babysitter (aka you!)
- Charge your devices: This might sound like a no brainer but make sure your devices are fully charged. I recommend to charge your laptop or tablet (with which you’re going to videocall) in combination with a phone (which should be next to you in case of emergency call to the parent in the other room).
- Make sure to have some props next to your video calling device so you don’t have to go and look for them during the call. I’ll explain more about what props to bring in the Activities section below.
- Schedule the babysitting session at a time the child is typically in a good mood. I video called in my late evening (11 PM) so it was early morning in Australia, which is a time that my niece is usually in a great mood. It was not the best time for me personally as it was very late, however it was more important for me that she would be comfortable than the other way around.
The Parent (aka the person that needs help):
- Child-prep the play room: Ask the parent if the room that the child is in whilst video calling is child-proof. That means no sharp objects, electrical outlets covered up, no stairs they can fall from and child-safe furniture. My sister put the tablet (on which my niece was calling) on a table with a comfy pouf in front of the camera.
- Stay close (in the room nextdoor) to the play room.
- Unmute their phone’s sound in case of an emergency call.
- Give the child a snack that they can munch on whilst video calling. Beware it’s not something like a lolly that they can potentially choke on. My sister gave for example gave my niece a sandwich.
Activities for Babysitting Remotely
- Pictionary & how many do you see?! Pictionary is a very suitable game to play with children whilst videocalling. I had a whiteboard and was drawing all sorts of images on the whiteboard: flowers, a sun, a bee, hearts, shapes, a dog. I asked her if she could guess what I was drawing. My niece is just learning how to count, so with every picture I drew I asked her if she could count for example the number of flowers or flower leafs. This also just works with normal paper and a pen, although a marker is better visible when showing it in the camera.
This screenshot of me babysitting shows my niece sitting comfortably on a big cushion, whilst eating a sandwich she was pointing and loving the things I was drawing.
2. Sing songs or watch movies together
Another great activity for remote babysitting is singing, dancing or watching a movie together. I prepared a playlist on Spotify specially for my little niece with songs that I know she would love (including famous childrens’ songs like Twinkle twinkle little star, some Disney songs like Jungle Book, and Let it Go from the Frozen movie). I played the songs and we both sang and danced along behind the camera.
Pro tip: with some video calling solutions it’s possible to share the sound on your computer, which works best, but you don’t really need a playlist if you know a couple of songs by heart.
Note: In the print screen above you can see in the blue pop-up that it’s possible to even watch videos and movies together. I didn’t do this because I really liked being more engaged but would love to watch some of my favorite children’s movies with her in the future.
Ps. I forgot to take a screenshot because I was too busy dancing and singing 🎶
3. Reading a story with special effects.
Another great activity for remote babysitting is reading a story. This works best if you both have the same version of the book, but I didn’t have the specific book my niece wanted to read and it still works fine if you don’t have the same book.
My niece had an animal picture book that she loves with all sorts of animals. I always ask her to guess the animal and she knows what sounds the animals make and I asked her with each animal to make the sound together creating some special effects together.
In this screenshot you can see me pretending to be a lion, one of the animals she pointed out in her book.
4. Tell a story with some stuffed animals
Another activity that works well for remote babysitting is telling a story with stuffed animals. I for example had two cuddly bears in my house that I could use as props and I pretended to drink a cup of tea with them. Using funny voices and sounds and letting the animals have all sorts of emotions works really well with engaging with young children whilst baby sitting. You can pretend to give some tea to the camera to your child at a distance but remember to keep it simple. I asked my niece a couple of questions to let her play along with the stuffed animals but she was so mesmorized with the bears that she didn’t really answer.
This screenshot shows I’m having a good time, however my eyes are getting smaller as it was almost midnight in the Netherlands.
5. Show your love by explicitly saying you’re giving a cuddle
The best part of my video calls with my little niece is always the end when she gives the phone a hug and a kiss goodbye. For children it is really important to make explicit that you would rather give them a hug in real life, however that you’ll use a cuddly bear as a “stand-in” who can magically transfer the hugs.
This blurry picture is personally my favorite part as I know she’s pretending to give me a hug and kiss goodbye after babysitting at a distance through video calling.
Do you want more inspiration? At Peekabond we have tons of creative play suggestions for playing with young children at a distance. We created a mobile app that uses video messaging to share playful videos to each other at any time. You can also use many of those play suggestions when you’re online at the same time to babysit remote. Interested? Download it here.