Teaching children to talk on the phone is as important as teaching children to talk. Given the level of communication that is now carried on through telephones, it is imperative that children be taught the right phone skills too.
If children can be taught to greet people personally, they can be taught to greet and interact with people telephonically too.
- Let the child know it’s a live person at the other end. It is always better to initiate kids into telephonic conversations with people they like and relate to. After finishing your conversation with the person, let the child know who’s at the other end. Then ask the child if he/she would like to say hello to the person. Inform the other person that you are now going to hand over the phone to the child. Only then hand over the phone to the child. Here too monitor the situation, by gently coaxing the child into greeting the person at the other end and enquiring about them.
- If the child is shy or unwilling to engage in a telephonic discussion, do not force the child.
- If your child has inadvertently intercepted some office phone calls of yours, instead of banning the child from picking up the phone, invest time and energy in teaching the child the right manner to take the call.
- Teach the child the appropriate manner in which to receive a call. Emphasize on using not just the right language but also the correct tone of voice. For example say, "May I know who’s speaking/calling", not "WHO’S THIS?"
- Explain to the child that it is alright to enquire if you didn’t hear right the first time. Explain the right nuances for the same. For example, say "I’m sorry I didn’t get that, could you please repeat what you said", not "WHAAT?"
- If you don’t want the kid in the house to shout for you after he/she has intercepted your call, make sure that’s not how you call out to other people when you receive their calls. In case you live in a house like a duplex unit where such a thing cannot be avoided, then cover the mouthpiece with your hand before you holler. Let the child know that it is rude to shout into the phone.
- Remember if you greet your children’s friends and enquire about them before you hand over the phone to them, they shall learn to do the same too. Children are more likely to follow your example than to follow your advice or instructions.
- If you are busy and cannot take a call, give your message in the manner you wish the child to deliver it. Say "Could you please inform her that I’m busy and will call her back in an hour" not "NOT NOW, I’M BUSY."
- Just as kids need to be taught not to talk to strangers, kids need to be taught not to divulge personal details on the phone. If you have an answering machine, put it on whenever you go out, even if the maid/household help has been left behind with the children. Let the child know in no uncertain terms that details like home address and who all are or are not at home are never to be shared with anybody.
- With older children you can even teach them how to write down messages. Keep the note pad and pen always within reach. Let the child know that it is alright to enquire how the name is spelt - "Could you please spell that for me so I can write it down?"
- Teach children how to dial emergency numbers. Keep a list of emergency numbers visible in a prominent place, like on the fridge or a display/bulletin board you may have at home.
- If receiving phone calls during mealtimes is taboo, the same will have to apply to the grown ups too, at least in spirit. You may make an exception for calls from the office or for an emergency, but if you are alright about leaving your meal and chatting away with your friend, your kid will resent having such a rule imposed on him/her. If you intercept a call for your child, politely enquire if it can wait, as he’s having his dinner. Reaffirm, that he will call back as soon as he has finished his meal. While most kids will politely accede, sometimes a hyper kid at the other end may have an issue that cannot wait. It maybe time to make that exception.
There is this issue of the amount of time youngsters spend on the phone, but then it’s a whole different ballgame. That would not be a discussion about telephone skills, probably more about life skills!