Teaching kids phone etiquette

pexels-photo-774448By Kathy P. Behan

What is it about kids and the phone? For starters, they’ll come out of nowhere just to interrupt conversations. It’s definitely a conspiracy that they’re all a part of, and it begins at birth. Even new babies are programmed to wake up and fuss just as mom reaches for the phone.

As if their interrupting, fighting, screaming and talking weren’t sufficiently annoying and disruptive, they also literally tried to be part of the call. Back in the day when phones weren’t cordless, my kids would somehow manage to become tied up in the phone line. They would tug at the cord, and twirl it around their bodies until they were wrapped mummy-fashion in the phone’s coils.

This practice, not surprisingly, played havoc not only with my conversations, but also with the phone’s performance. All of our phones eventually developed shorts and loose wires. The result was that each of them would only work if they were placed in a certain position — usually one that only a contortionist would find comfortable.

Besides being more considerate of the family member who’s trying to talk, we’re currently working on other types of phone etiquette as well. For example, instead of snarling “Who is this?” into the receiver, Cullen, our eldest has been told (constantly!) that a simple “Hello” will suffice. But this training is not coming easily. Even when he’s the one making the call, when someone answers, the first words out of his mouth are invariably, “Who is this?”

My four-year-old daughter, though not as overtly rude, has her own telephone quirk. She’ll answer the phone politely enough, but then holds the caller captive. She chatters on endlessly, discussing preschool or the latest episode of Barney. She refuses to get off unless she’s caught, or if the caller is wily enough to trick her into putting one of us on the phone.

Our only reliable telephone child is seven-year-old Brendan. He remains unfailingly polite, accurate and careful in his responses. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, he’s also the one who’s least likely to answer the phone.

Here’s an all too typical scenario in my house: I haven’t seen the kids for what seems like hours, so I think it may be safe to make a call. I quietly reach for the phone and begin dialing. So far, so good, the kids remain out of sight. I begin talking to the “callee” tentatively at first, since I’m not sure how much time I have. Breathing a sigh of relief, I start to relax and enjoy the chat. Soon we begin discussing a more interesting and intimate topic. Suddenly, doors fly open all over the house.

“Mom, I’m hungry. Can I have a snack?”

“Mom, she took my new action figure! Make her give it back.”

“Mom, he called me a name. Is ‘Pooper Scooper’ bad?”

I start out patiently enough. Excusing myself, I remind the kids that I’m on the phone, and they shouldn’t interrupt.

“But I’m hungry, and thirsty, and I can’t reach the glasses.”

“Mom, he hurt my feelings. Make him say he’s sorry.”

“I want my toy back NOW!”

Fighting to maintain my composure, I try for a quick fix. After all, there is still a chance that I can salvage my phone conversation.

“Taryn, give Brendan his action figure. Bren, tell her you’re sorry. Cullen, here’s a glass. Make sure you pick out a healthy snack.”

I again apologize to my friend, and try to resume our talk. Another fight breaks out. After initially trying to ignore it, I finally explode. “Does anyone see that I’m on the phone here! How many times do you need to be told to leave Mom alone when she’s on the phone!”

Even that little outburst isn’t enough to dampen their interrupting enthusiasm. Reluctantly, I tell my friend I’ll call her back at a more convenient time, a.k.a. when the kids are out of the house. I hang up and turn my full attention to the children.

The phone rings. It’s my mother calling long-distance from California. Suddenly, I’m alone in the kitchen.

“Kids, get on the phone. It’s Grammy!”

No answer.

“Grammy’s on the phone.”

No answer.

“Kids, your grandmother wants to talk to you!”

Still no response.

Like I said, it’s a conspiracy…

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a freelance writer specializing in family and health issues.

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