angry toddler with cookie

Moms are 284% more likely to text a friend instead of calling. You might think that’s because your voice is tired from talking over your kids’ whining (true) or because you’ve become socially awkward since becoming a mom (probably also true). But the real reason why you text instead of call is because you don’t want to set off the Phone Call Alarm.

All children come with a built-in Phone Call Alarm, which is one of the key features that contributes to moms’ social awkwardness. Phone calls, while less valuable than in-person interaction, are still a wonderful way for you to reach out and touch long-distance friends, to share stories and ideas, and to communicate via tone if not by body language. But children instinctively know from infancy that any time you’re connecting with another adult, you’re disconnecting — if only in a small way or a brief period of time — from your child. Phone calls distract your attention from the endless contemplation of your child’s wonderfulness, which is what your child wants you to focus on continually. Hence the Phone Call Alarm.

This alarm is triggered anytime you pick up the phone. In a baby, the alarm will go off in the form of inconsolable screaming. In toddlers, the alarm is more sophisticated and can take a variety of forms, including screaming, crying, whining, wanting to be held, kicking, hitting, fighting with siblings, breaking toys, and throwing sharp objects across the room.

Fortunately, there are ways to desensitize the Phone Call Alarm. With careful, gradual practice, you might be able to make phone calls again before your child is 13.

Step 1: Lavish undue attention on your child.

All your toddler wants is 100% of your absolute, focused attention every day, all day, and all night. So if you want to take your attention off him and put it on something less important like a work-related phone call, you first need to make him feel fully appreciated, special, and loved. You can do this by focusing attention on him for a period of time. Sit down on the floor with him, play with him, look deep into his eyes, and hold him in your lap. Read him several stories. Sing songs. Do this for as long as you can. If you’re lucky, he might get tired of it before the place you need to call closes for the day.

Step 2: Distract and redirect.

Gradually redirect your own attention from your child to his toys. He won’t notice, since you’ll still be engaging with him and he’ll still feel like you’re playing with him. But this subtle shift will start to redirect his attention, too. You’ll start to play together with the toys instead of focusing on each other. Choose a toy that you know he can enjoy on his own without your help: preschool-level puzzles are bad, Thomas trains are good. It should also be a toy that is interesting enough to engage his attention for longer than a few minutes.

Step 3: Disengage. 

In this stage, you’ll gradually remove yourself from his play. At first, just hand him the toys instead of playing with them yourself, but stay on the floor with him and watch him play. As he becomes more involved with the toys, you can slowly move farther away, but be careful not to let him notice, because that could trigger his Separation Anxiety Alarm.

Step 4: Prepare for phone interruptions.

At this point, you’re ready to get your phone. But don’t just get your phone. You also need to be prepared to disable your toddler’s Phone Call Alarm if you accidentally trigger it. That means you need strong supplies — activities and distractions that are powerful enough to diffuse a tantrum in the making. Snacks, electronic toys, and candy are good choices. You’ll only need to use them in case of an emergency. But it’s best to be prepared.

Step 5: Step away. 

You don’t need to go far — and it’s best to keep line-of-sight to your toddler at all time. But you should also create a little distance between yourself and your now happily playing toddler. The Phone Call Alarm is triggered by proximity, so you need to stand a little bit away to avoid setting it off. About 5 yards is usually sufficient. The ideal situation is to step into the next room but keep the door open. You can also stand on the other side of a counter or table. This creates a physical separation to shield the Phone Call Alarm trigger radius while maintaining visual contact.

Step 6: Make your call.

This is the moment of truth. Raise your phone slowly and speak softly. You don’t want to startle your toddler out of his joyful play fantasy in which you are still paying 150% attention to him and only him. Keep one hand free at all times so you’re ready to feed him snacks, bribe him with candy, or hand him a tablet loaded with toddler-appropriate games should he look up and realize what you’re doing.

And if this doesn’t work (which it probably won’t), go back to the safe method: send a text. You don’t need adult conversation anyway.

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2 Comments

lisacbakerJanuary 22, 2014 12:48 pm

How to make a phone call without pissing off your toddler: http://t.co/jyYswgdyPL

Katie @ Pick Any TwoJanuary 30, 2014 8:44 am

Ha! I’ve completely given up on making phone calls with my toddler around. Although usually he’s not whining for my attention…he’s whining to play with my phone! Ugh…

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