Skyping or FaceTiming with a toddler or preschooler: some basic tips.

During a video chat, our three-year-old granddaughter Fiona will sometimes lean close to her iPad screen and say, “I wish I could hug you.” That’s a sentiment that breaks my heart — and makes me happy at the same time. Her words drive home the fact that I’m a long-distance grandma but the happiness comes from knowing she feels close enough to us during the session to tell us she wants to hug!

Alas, there’s no hugging, kissing, lap-holding, or chasing around the room when video chatting. But! This modern marvel certainly helps thousands of us out-of-town grandparents stay connected with our grandchildren in between visits. What would I do without FaceTime!

Device and positioning.

Little ones have a hard time participating in a Skype or FaceTime session if their parent is using a cell phone for the visit. Your grandchild will probably want to hold the phone, of course, which usually results in pushing buttons and ending the session. Cell phones also are not so great from a child’s viewpoint because the image of you is pretty darn small.

It’s better if the child’s parents use a laptop or a tablet such as an iPad for video chat sessions. Then, positioning the device out of the child’s reach makes the child more likely to focus on you than on the device itself. Having the younger toddler in a highchair or bouncy seat while Skyping or FaceTiming can work well, especially if their device doesn’t have to be held by a parent. Our grandchildren’s parents used an inexpensive stand to hold the iPad. (To this day they still use the stand to place the iPad where the 3-, 5-, and 7-year old can see it. At our end of the conversation, we also use a stand if we’re eating a meal and still want to FaceTime.)

side view of ipad on stand
This is the stand we all like.

For the toddler who’s now walking, a new possibility unfolds! Our son or his wife would prop their iPad on a couch cushion for their toddler, resting it against the back of the couch. That way, the little one learns quickly that he or she can’t reach it but, remarkably, is happy to stand at the couch to talk to us. Mom or Dad were always nearby, folding a load of laundry or texting with friends, letting our conversation with the toddler flow uninterrupted.  

child watching grandparents on tablet
Fiona shows us how she used to Facetime with us when she was a toddler. Mommy and Daddy set up the iPad so she could see us but not reach it.

Skills to learn.

Be an entertainer. No doubt about it – a toddler or preschooler is a “tough audience” when it comes to video chatting. But, you know, regarding your grandchild as an audience actually helps you understand you have to engage and entertain while FaceTiming or Skyping to keep the child interested. Toddlers and preschoolers love to be moving about so you have to be entertaining to make the child want to continue video chatting.

A nice close-up. Much of your video chat session will probably show your face on the screen. Make it a close-up so the child can really see you — but not too close or you get weird looking! Some people hold their device on their lap (like the grandparents in the photo by the headline). But I find that’s an odd angle. It’s harder to do, but I hold the device directly across from my face.

Speak loudly without shouting. Have one of the child’s parents give you feedback on your volume.

Flipping the camera viewpoint. Learn how to “flip” your camera so instead of seeing you, the child sees what you’re seeing. Now you can show your grandchild items in your house, such as the bird feeder outside your window. Kathy, one of my blog readers, points out that showing kids the family pets is a big hit. Good idea, Kathy!

Learn how to walk with your iPad. I might be video chatting with my grandchildren while I’m sitting on the couch but then I say, “Let’s go see how Grandpa is doing in the kitchen making delicious chili for dinner here at our house.” Presto! I “flip” the camera viewpoint on my iPad and walk out to the kitchen. I greet Grandpa who waves “Hi!” as he’s standing at the stove cooking the chili. I hold the iPad so the child can see the chili and as Grandpa talks about what ingredients he used. The more you practice walking with your video chat device, the more adept you become.   

Focus on your grandkid. It’s easy to want to ask your son how that lawn project is going or ask your daughter about her new job. But look out! The toddler or preschooler will walk away fairly quickly. This is your grandchild’s time!


Try a variety of activities while video chatting and soon your grandchild will be requesting their favorite ones.

  • Reading books.
  • Singing songs.
  • Playing games.
  • Showing them items in your home, such as the new flowers you brought in from the garden or the broken knob on the stove.
  • Showing them activities in your house. I hold the iPad while Grandpa is using the snow blower on the driveway and the grandkids are transfixed.

Try to make your activities as interactive as possible. Giving the toddler some control over his or her environment makes them feel like they have power. If something catches their eye and they want you to “go back” and show them “that colored box on the counter,” indulge them. You’re doing great!


Be forewarned: your toddler or preschooler will probably not say a great deal during any video chat session. (If you have a chatterbox, lucky you!) Go into Facetiming or Skyping knowing you will probably have to do a running monologue. Remember, you’re entertaining the child by having things to say and do as they watch.

I try to keep my questions to a minimum with these little ones, and I definitely refrain from too-big and general questions such as, “What did you do today?”

I find that specific yet easy questions yield more results, such as:

  • “This sweater is my favorite color, which is blue. What color is your shirt?” or “Do you like blue?” and then discuss other items which are blue.
  • “I had watermelon for lunch today. Have you ever tasted watermelon?” Good opportunity to be silly, by asking, “Do you put mustard on watermelon? Ewww!” “Do you put peanut butter on watermelon? Nooo! But maybe that would be good. What do you think?”
  • “I want to put these cookies I made on a fancy plate. Which one should I pick?” (as I’m showing three options). My grandkids love to make choices for me!

Coming soon to my blog! My favorite activities on FaceTime and Skype for little ones!

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