Hanging on the telephone; the trouble with telephone contact

Telephone calls between a separated parent and their children can be a deeply unsatisfying experience.

Little children can be reluctant to engage in telephone contact, and so can middle size ones and big ones.

I’m in the phone box, it’s the one across the road

Telephone contact can also be a cause of conflict between parents or if the parents are already in conflict; then the failure of telephone contact can make matters worse.

Very often, the separated parent will blame the other parent of undermining their relationship with their children. Often such  accusations are unfounded and the parents with whom the children live will be deeply upset by these accusations.

So how do the problems arise and what can be done?

If you don’t answer, I’ll just ring it off the wall

The first thing to consider is how children generally respond to telephone calls.

My own children are fairly typical. Whenever a telephone call is received from grandparents or a relative or sometimes even one of their friends, they can be very reluctant to come to the phone.

They might be watching television or they might be involved in game. If you can get them to the telephone they can also be very reluctant to say very much because they want to get back to what they were doing before.

Even in today’s world where most adults have a mobile phone or two and many children have a mobile phone or access to a mobile phone, children and particularly younger children are simply not used to, or comfortable speaking on the phone.

Many children do not like being put on the spot and asked questions even by someone who with whom there is a loving relationship.

All those things she said, I told you to ignore

It is also worth thinking about what the purpose of the telephone contact is.

Telephone contact is generally used to support face-to-face contact. It is less often a primary form of contact.

From the child’s point of view it can be a reminder that is their parents is well and is thinking about the them. Telephone contact can be used to prepare for a forthcoming visit; for example for parent and child to discuss what they are going to be doing so that the child is more able to look forward to the time they are going to be spending together.

Telephone contact is also a chance to remember the enjoyment of the previous meeting.

Telephone calls can therefore fulfil a very important role but this does not mean that the telephone calls take place at a time when the child is wanting to speak.

Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone

Let’s think about things from the perspective of the parents making the telephone call.

They are loving parents their missing their children. When parents separate both parents go from situation where they are around their children for most of the non-working week to a situation where they have to divide up the time between them.

Parents often find the separation from their children difficult.

Parents miss their children and any opportunity to have any form of contact with them is extremely important.

Telephone calls can be made at points where there is tension between the adults. This means that the parents making the call may well have some anxiety and nervousness.

Is the phone going to be answered?

Is the child going to speak?

Has the other parent prepared the child for the telephone call?

Will the telephone call be a good one?

There will be uncertainty.

If the telephone call does not go well, perhaps because the child is not in the mood; then there will be  disappointment and this can lead to blame.

If a telephone call does not go well this does not mean that it has not been supported by the parent who is looking after the child. It could simply mean that the child is more interested in something else or is in a grumpy mood.

It’s good to hear your voice, you know it’s been so long

In our experience,  parents want to avoid conflict. Both will want the arrangements to run smoothly as possible. This does not mean that there will not be tension or anxiety about the arrangements.

Over the years I have met very few parents who have been involved in situations where the other parent  will actively try to undermine  contact; including telephone contact.

More often, or indeed most often, the reason why contact does not work is poor communication, mistrust, anxiety, misunderstandings or sometimes rudeness perceived as bullying,

Most parents who I meet either as a solicitor or in mediation have a genuine wish to do the best they can for their children.  Invariably parents recognise that is that it is important for their children to grow up having a good relationship with the other parent.

This does not mean ignoring failings or safety issues.

Most often the parents with whom the child lives wants the other parent to be able to recognise their failings and to make changes both because this will be to the benefit of their children but also because this will make their own life easier

If I don’t get your call then everything goes wrong

What is the solution?

What will work will depend upon the parents and their children but some options include;

The child telephoning the parents rather than the other way round.

If the child is dialling the numbers and pressing the button to make the call then they are more involved in the actual process of setting up the call.

They will probe probably be more inclined to talk. If the other parent does not answer the phone there will of course be disappointment but this can be managed by text being sent to confirm that the parents has the phone ready to take the call



Another option is for the parents making the call to relax over failed or disappointing calls.

Telephone contact should not be viewed as the be all and end all. Parents should take the view that if the child is not in the mood then so be it and they should look forward to the next point of contact.

They should try to avoid blaming the other parents to the failed telephone call or disappointing telephone call.  If the parent is more relaxed then the other parent, and of course the child are also more likely to be relaxed and telephone calls are more likely to be more successful.

Visual conversation

Instead of telephone calls perhaps think about face time or Skype which are visual and which are more likely to be more interesting for the child?

Think also of greater use of texting and other forms of social media communication. For example; the  separated parents could send a text to the children earlier in the day saying that they are looking forward to speaking to them later. The parent could send them an interesting picture or article or simply 🙂

Rather than rely on telephone calls the parents and child could move to texting instead.

In some ways telephone calls are an old-fashioned way of communicating and their importance goes back to the days of fixed lines and telephone boxes.

If the purpose of the telephone call or rather the contact is to keep in touch and to let the child know that the parent is thinking about them then more frequent, short and happy texts can be just as effective as a telephone call. The message can be sent at leisure and reply would be sent at a point when the child is ready and willing and of course sending a message is also an interactive experience.

Of course there are situations where there would need to be caution if a parent were to misuse a mobile phone or text to undermine the arrangements of the parents with whom the child lives, but when used effectively this can be an extremely useful form of contact.

For contact arrangements to be successful what’s important is to think about the child and their personality and what will work with them rather than perhaps thinking that the child is more able and more mature and more willing than the reality.

These situations are never easy, but if both parents are relaxed about the arrangements then they are more likely to be successful than if one or both of the parents are stressed about the arrangements as the stress is likely to filter down to the child as well.

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