Right now it seems like Zoom and other video call platforms are the way we are connecting with people outside of our immediate family. While it is wonderful to have the access to this technology, it has also created a phenomenon called "Zoom fatigue." You might be on video calls all day for work, you help your child(ren) through their distance learning calls, and it can feel overwhelming to get a video call-invite to connect with the family the same way. You may get anxious as the call starts to load because you are completely burnt out from being on video calls. What started out as a cool way to connect with family and friends amid the pandemic has turned into feeling laborious to many yet it feels almost wrong to admit that. Know that you are not alone in this sentiment. Everyone feels the same way and would much rather be together in each other's presence than over the computer. Try and remind yourself and your family that this is not permanent and you will be together before you know it.
We love our families more than anything, but let's be honest video calls can get awkward. Something about having that technology in between us and just staring at each other is inherently uncomfortable. People tend to talk over each other and it is a lot more of "no you go ahead" or "I'm sorry what did you say," and not as much connecting. We at the Parent Alliance have been wracking our brains and searching the internet to figure out ways to make this experience more fulfilling, and enjoyable for our families, especially for parents and primary caregivers who are raising children with social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health challenges. Below are some things you can try out this holiday season.
Looking for ways to connect other than video calls? Check out our Connecting at a Distance Tip Sheet here.
Offer assistance to family members before the day of
If you have already tried to coordinate a family-wide video call you know it can be challenging. Family members span generations and it can be difficult to ensure that older family members have the access and ability to get onto whatever platform you are using. In order to make it easier for yourself the day of, do a practice run with anybody you think will have challenges getting on the call. This way you will be able to go at their pace, and won't be stressed out because you have a million other things to worry about. If you do not have the time to do this reach out to other people in your family (siblings, nieces/nephews, cousins, etc.) to see if any of them could help out. They may still require some assistance to get onto the call but it should help make it an easier process.
If it is just not working out to get your parent/grandparent on a video call do not let it stress yourself or them out. This is an overwhelming time and it is important to give yourself and your loved one's grace. Perhaps getting them on the call is just not in the cards this year. Instead, maybe encourage every member of your family to give them a call on the telephone, and spread those calls out. This way they have a more personal connection with their loved ones and if they are feeling lonely they have more than one interaction with the family.
Have a set start time AND a set end time.
When sending out the invite for a family video call, don't just give a start time-give an end time too. Everyone who has been on a family video call knows the ending is the worst part because nobody wants to be the first person to say "okay, I am going to sign off." Knowing this is inevitably going to occur at the end of the call can make you feel anxious and may make you want to avoid the call completely.
If you are the person scheduling the call let your family know you will need to end it at a specific time for a reason. This alleviates some of the time where people are antsy to continue their day and will allow you to relax and enjoy the call more. Recognize that family time is important but so is your mental health so if this helps you to feel good this holiday season, implement it. If you are not the original call scheduler, let everyone know ahead of time that you have to leave at a certain time, and when that time comes say your goodbyes and go about your day.
Don't feel the need to do one huge call
It would be ideal to have aunts, cousins, grandparents, siblings, and everyone you can think of in one big room full of holiday cheer. This is not realistic this year, and it can feel like we are supposed to instead do a large family video call. While the idea is great, depending on family dynamics it may just not work as a way of connecting. Have a talk with your family and see if it makes more sense to have shorter calls with smaller amounts of people. One day you and your children could sit down and talk to your sibling and your nieces and nephews, and the next you could have a call with the grandparents.
It can be hard for quieter adults, and children to get a word in during large video gatherings so this may be a more comfortable situation for them. It also helps to alleviate some of that talking over each other. The more full of little cubes that your screen is the harder it is to connect with the people in those cubes. You also may have an easier time scheduling these than working around a large number of people's schedules. This could really play to your benefit because you can be very stern about keeping your children on their much-needed schedule and won't feel the pressure to change it up because there is a time that works for everyone but you.
Ways to try and keep your child(ren) engaged
This whole article details how hard it is to be engaged in a video call. It is even more challenging for a child with a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge to sit on yet another one. They have their school online, they most likely have their therapy sessions online, and now they have to interact with their family online. If your child has challenges focusing it can be very difficult for them to sit and be a part of a video call. This in turn makes it harder for you to get joy out of connecting with the people you love. The last thing you want is for the video call to turn into a fight with your child, your partner over how your child is behaving, or to feel judged by your family who is on the call.
You know your child better than anybody in the world. Try and be thoughtful about the video calls. If they are usually grumpy right before mealtimes, avoid scheduling the call then. If they are more comfortable in their own room suggest that you set up the call on their device and allow them to join from there. Perhaps they really connect with one of your family members so suggest a call with just them and their favorite cousin, or aunt/uncle (if they are on a video call with a trusted adult it could be a good time for you to get some of your to-do list done unbothered or some much needed alone time to relax).
Consider telling your family members what a good topic to talk to your child about is beforehand. If your child is really into video games suggest that your family members do a couple of minutes of research and come to the call with some talking points. It is much more enjoyable to talk to an engaged child and this could help them connect, even over a video call. Just as it is important to talk about things they love if there are any subjects that should be avoided let your family members know. If your child is really struggling with distance learning and it is a huge stressor for them, tell your family to keep the conversation light and away from the topic of school. Keeping your child happy and interested in the call benefits you, your other children, your family members, and above all helps your child connect with family this holiday season.
We know this is not an easy year for anybody. The strength and resilience it takes to be a parent navigating distance learning right now is remarkable. You are not alone and if you need someone to help you, or just listen to you from a nonjudgmental perspective, reach out to our FREE and CONFIDENTIAL Family Support Partners here. We at the Parent Alliance applaud all of your hard work and want to wish you a happy holiday.