My child likes to talk on the telephone. How do I handle this?

Children like to do what their parents do, and parents spend a lot of time on the telephone. Even before a child is two years old, he’ll imitate his parents by using a toy phone, holding a real phone, pushing the buttons, and making sounds. When he’s between two and three, he’ll want to talk on the phone and, given the chance, he may do comical things. He might listen and nod without saying a word, or he may hold objects up to the phone so his listener can see them since he assumes that if he can see something, everyone else can. One two-year-old had his aunt hold on while he got his pet gerbil. “See,” he said, holding the animal up to the receiver, “he’s moving around.”

Children like to imitate their parents by being first to answer the phone. Parents who want to avoid this situation shout, “I’ll get it,” but sometimes their child also shouts, “I’ll get it,” and races his parents to the phone. When a two-year-old answers, he might just hold it, saying nothing. A three-year-old might pick up the phone and say, “Who is this?” or “What do you want?” and a four- or five-year-old who is given a message by a caller will probably forget it. At these young ages, children’s conversations are all about themselves. Once they’ve said what they want to say, they may simply hang up without thinking or caring about the person on the other end.

Children are fascinated by the telephone not only because their parents use it, but also because it has a magical quality. It’s both tool and toy, and it lets a child share his thoughts with other people, something children like to do. They also like to talk on the phone because they don’t want to feel left out. If parents are having a conversation, children want to be in on it and they want the attention their parents are giving to whoever is on the line.

Parents often are frustrated when their child wants to talk, especially when they’re engaged in important calls. He might yell and have a tantrum if he’s not allowed to talk, and such noise can embarrass parents. If he becomes too disruptive, his parent might have to end an important call prematurely, hoping that the person on the other end is understanding. Although parents can gradually teach a five- or six-year-old not to interrupt important calls, explanations do little good with younger, egocentric children. Sometimes they can be distracted by a silent offer of toys or food, but more often they just keep interrupting.

Parents may feel particularly embarrassed if their child answers an important phone call. One mother expected a business call from a man named Paul Jones. Her son picked up the phone, listened, and then shouted, “It’s Paul Bones. Who’s he?” A four-year-old can be taught to answer the phone politely, but parents of younger children have to be tolerant and hope their callers understand children’s behavior and have a sense of humor.

One way you can accommodate your young child’s desire to answer the phone is to ask relatives or friends to call at prearranged times; then you can safely let your child answer and talk. If you have an adult who enjoys making such calls, you may be able to keep your child from interrupting you. Tell him, “As soon as I’m off the phone, we’ll dial Aunt Ellen and ask her to give you a call.”

If you’re having a phone conversation with the parent of a child the same age as yours, ask if your child can talk for a few moments. The other parent will certainly understand and may want to put his or her own child on to talk to you. And since children like to talk to each other, your child may especially enjoy a chance to call one of his friends.

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