22 votes

How can I converse with my 4-year-old nephew/godson who lives in another continent?

I am, by all definitions, a strong introvert. Communication is an issue with people that are physically close, let alone on Skype video calls. When my sister got pregnant, I claimed the godfather position. She was very happy. We're not even Catholics anymore, but we come from a Catholic background and it's tradition.

She's bringing the kid to get baptized next month. Last time he was here, 2 years+ ago, I was able to "talk" to him and we even became "friends" (he was 1-years-old, so probably forgot about me by now). I have trouble Skyping with him (and everyone else for that matter). Every once in a while my mother asks me I want to get distant from my sister, and this causes some distress. It's not like I want to create a situation. My father is a lot like me in that regard, and it doesn't really bother me that it takes a few months for him to talk to me (I'm 99% sure I'm in the spectrum, not so sure about him). He showed me his affection multiple times before, on his own way.

I'm aware not everyone is like me, and want to be more online-present for my godson and my sister. This may seem silly to some people, but it's hard to start or keep up with a conversation. I cannot talk about any subject, and silence is preferable to conversation for the sake of conversation.

But in this situation, I must give space to his infant world, which obviously does not include my grown-up interests. I don't know how to proceed from that understanding. I actually like the kid, we had great "conversations" when my sister last visited. But it's been really hard to keep an online presence. And I think I should.

12 comments

  1. [3]
    Greg
    Link
    Perhaps you could try reading stories to him over Skype? That way it's a bit more structured for you, while still being a special time for your nephew where he can bond with his uncle! I imagine...

    Perhaps you could try reading stories to him over Skype? That way it's a bit more structured for you, while still being a special time for your nephew where he can bond with his uncle!

    I imagine setting a schedule would probably help too - once Skype storytime is in the calendar every few weeks, you and he can both look forward to it, and the time won't slip past with the risk of seeming distant as you mentioned above.

    10 votes
    1. [2]
      mrbig
      Link Parent
      That's a great idea, thanks! I don't think he's got the attention span for me to read a whole story for him via the internet, but I can read it little by little... might even record some for my...

      That's a great idea, thanks! I don't think he's got the attention span for me to read a whole story for him via the internet, but I can read it little by little... might even record some for my sister to play when she needs a break lol. We have some awesome traditional Brazilian children stories in the public domain ;)

      8 votes
      1. DanBC
        Link Parent
        There are some great children's books. Here's a list of my favourites, and they're all pretty short - all suitable for reading over skype. I want my hat back, and This is not my hat, by Jon...

        There are some great children's books. Here's a list of my favourites, and they're all pretty short - all suitable for reading over skype.

        I want my hat back, and This is not my hat, by Jon Klassen. The illustrations are joy and the humour is subversive.

        Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae (Author), and Guy Parker-Rees (Ilustrator). A nice book about finding your own way.

        Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner. A beautifully illustrated book about a dog who finds interesting smells. Fun to read.

        You Must Bring a Hat. By Simon Philip (author) and Kate Hindley (illustrator). My child loved the ridiculousness of it all.

        Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site. By Sherri Duskey Rinker (Author) and Tom Lichtenheld (Illustrator). Tom's gentle and lovely illustrations are perfect for this cute bedtime story about construction vehicles. This is a great read for going to bed.

        The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak forces you to use comedy voices and is a great book for interactive reading.

        I get book ideas from the English CILIP Greenaway award winners. The winning books are good, the short-listed books are good, and usually the authors and illustrators have done other good work. https://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/archive.php?medal=greenaway

        If you speak German there's this really nice website too: https://www.schoene-kinderbuecher.de/

        I want my hat back: https://www.amazon.co.uk/I-Want-My-Hat-Back/dp/1406338532/

        This is not my hat: https://www.amazon.co.uk/This-Not-Hat-Jon-Klassen/dp/1406353434/

        Giraffes Can't Dance: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Giraffes-Cant-Dance-International-Bestseller/dp/1841215651/

        Smelly Louie: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Smelly-Louie-Catherine-Rayner/dp/1447271807/

        Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site https://www.amazon.co.uk/Goodnight-Construction-Sherri-Duskey-Rinke/dp/1452111731/

        You Must Bring a Hat: https://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Must-Bring-Simon-Philip/dp/1471117324/

        The Book With No Pictures: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-No-Pictures-B-Novak/dp/0141361794/

        6 votes
  2. [5]
    DanBC
    Link
    This is a great question. Four years old is tricky, especially if you don't have children. Some children are still developing vocal skills so while they can speak in whole sentences you may find...

    This is a great question.

    Four years old is tricky, especially if you don't have children. Some children are still developing vocal skills so while they can speak in whole sentences you may find it hard to understand them unless you know the child. It might be an idea for them to have a toy with them as you speak to them so you can talk about the toy.

    Often just repeating what the child is doing in a positive tone is enough. "Oh, and now the car is zooming? And now it is being chased? Who is it being chased by?"

    To manage your stuff you may want to examine why talking to people is so uncomfortable, because if that's something that can be fixed it might be useful. Of course, it's totally fine if it's something that isn't going to change! You may want to work out a gentle bit of structure, so writing some cues on card before the conversation, telling people to provide a toy or activity for the child for you to chat about, setting strict time limts of 3 minutes, then building up to 5 or 10 minutes, and building in a nice relaxing activity for you afterwards to self-soothe.

    Good luck though!

    9 votes
    1. [4]
      mrbig
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Thanks, my friend! I will try this advice. This actually doesn't cause me much harm by itself. I like being an introvert. Not everyone must talk at every chance. Some people are uncomfortable with...

      Thanks, my friend! I will try this advice.

      examine why talking to people is so uncomfortable

      This actually doesn't cause me much harm by itself. I like being an introvert. Not everyone must talk at every chance. Some people are uncomfortable with silence, think I'm judging, etc. That's on them, cause I'm absolutely not! BUT, in the particular case of a 4-year-old, I think he deserves some leeway on my part ;)

      8 votes
      1. culturedleftfoot
        Link Parent
        Chances are he might not even notice. I second the suggestion of scheduling the calls, and you'd probably get a fair amount of mileage out of asking him an open-ended question or two and just...

        Chances are he might not even notice. I second the suggestion of scheduling the calls, and you'd probably get a fair amount of mileage out of asking him an open-ended question or two and just listening as he rambles. I asked my little cousin once what was the Pokemon that he was playing with and got a 10-minute monologue.

        3 votes
      2. [2]
        sandaltree
        Link Parent
        If it doesn't make you uncomfortable, it's fine. Personally I would define myself as an introvert (and probably most people around me), but I'm still quite social and enjoy talking (especially...

        If it doesn't make you uncomfortable, it's fine. Personally I would define myself as an introvert (and probably most people around me), but I'm still quite social and enjoy talking (especially listening) to people. There are times, however, when I don't want to at all because I feel so drained. I guess my point was that there's a difference being an introvert and anti-social (or social anxiety, which can be worked on).

        Anyway, I've come to the conclusion that it's going to be difficult socializing if I never say anything, so I've tried to work my way up from feeling a bit anxious. Getting a bit older has definitely helped.

        EDIT: One more point that I wanted to add was that I generally don't like defining myself in some way, because it easily becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

        2 votes
        1. mrbig
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          Well, the definition of introvert I use is not someone that is entirely asocial, but rather an individual that tends to drain their "social battery" way quicker than most people. There's a cartoon...

          Well, the definition of introvert I use is not someone that is entirely asocial, but rather an individual that tends to drain their "social battery" way quicker than most people. There's a cartoon about that but I don't know how to search for it now (too many results). But the gist is: introverts spend energy when they're around people, and recharge when they're alone. Extroverts lose charge when they're alone, and recharge on social situations.

          it easily becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

          That is only true if you think in a binary-like framework. When you study current philosophy, you'll see that even the analytic tradition is very aware that language is not a mathematical system, and therefore anything that requires language to be expressed (including science) also requires non-formal definitions, at least in some passages.

          But the fact that definitions are necessarily porous does not entail that they're harmful. They help us design our thoughts. When applied to our own psychology, definitions are a useful way to identify the major patterns in which we act.

          If you think like that, you get the benefits of being able to express your desires and needs with useful vocabulary, drawing comparisons with other people with the same predicaments and making use of scientific and philosophic literature about your existential issues without ever becoming limited by any definitions we choose to employ.

  3. vivaria
    Link
    I'm quiet, I have different social abilities than the norm, and I too have immense difficulty with Skype calls. My gut reaction, then, is to try to get creative and think of something outside the...

    I'm quiet, I have different social abilities than the norm, and I too have immense difficulty with Skype calls. My gut reaction, then, is to try to get creative and think of something outside the box.

    Depending on the age he learns to read and write, exchanging letters could be an interesting option in addition to what's been suggested. Not just letters, actually, but snail mail of all kinds. Postcards, photos you've taken and had developed, little toys or gifts or keepsakes bundled up as care packages. You can share little bits and pieces of your life and your experiences to remind him of you!

    Heartfelt and personal mail is just a magical thing, even moreso from the perspective of a child. Personally, I don't think it took me too long (age-wise) to "get" the importance of a special letter. There's the daily routine of checking mail and having it be bills and flyers, but then every once in a while... "Look what we have here! It's a package from @mrbig!" It's adds a little dash of wonder and excitement to an otherwise mundane activity. On their end, too, the process of writing, packaging, and dropping off a letter is such an intimate little ritual.

    Plus, as he grows older, you can even get a penpal-ish thing going on where you write to each other about what's going on in your lives. To me, that's a recipe for a much more personal bond... letters provide the time and space to really express yourself and your thoughts. Also, all of this has the side effect of creating a paper trail of memories to look back on one day.

    (I could just be old fashioned and this may not actually seem that appealing to him, what with the instant gratification of tech these days, but if I were a kid again I'd be so into this idea.)

    6 votes
  4. PahoojyMan
    Link
    Are there any age-appropriate shows for your nephew that you enjoy watching? Watch together while talking to the episode on Skype. This keeps the "conversation" from getting quiet and takes some...

    Are there any age-appropriate shows for your nephew that you enjoy watching?

    Watch together while talking to the episode on Skype. This keeps the "conversation" from getting quiet and takes some pressure off from needing to think of topics off the top of your head. Ask lots of questions about the episode, characters, or even just animals/items in the background etc.

    6 votes
  5. grahamiam
    Link
    As others have pointed out, four is a difficult age to keep their attention on a little screen. My advice? Treat the kid like they're video blogging their life and you're there to ask questions....

    As others have pointed out, four is a difficult age to keep their attention on a little screen. My advice? Treat the kid like they're video blogging their life and you're there to ask questions. Have them keep the video going while doing something else. Maybe they're playing with a toy, maybe they're watching TV, but you can just be a present familiar face that asks them questions while they're doing it and this will keep you connected to their life but also give a topic for you beyond just general talking. It will become easier when they're older and you can read the same book/watch the same movie separately and discuss, etc.

    3 votes
  6. envy
    Link
    All children are different but most four year olds have an incredibly short attention span. Especially when it comes to the phone or skype. Other posters have some really solid suggestions. You...

    it's hard to start or keep up with a conversation

    All children are different but most four year olds have an incredibly short attention span. Especially when it comes to the phone or skype.

    Other posters have some really solid suggestions. You could also try making funny faces, or doing funny voices. Something to pique their interest.

    I personally consider a minute long conversation a success. That includes my nephews, or my own son when I am away from town. Rather than trying to have longer calls, consider having regular shorter calls, and just gracefully end the call when the kid loses interest.

    Repetition is a huge think at that age. It helps them learn. So it's good to repeat the same thing if it worked well the last call.

    2 votes