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7 Ways to Distract Your Kids While You’re on a Conference Call

If you’re like me, you’ve said these exact words countless times: “Yes, I can do a conference call on Saturday morning – as long as you don’t mind hearing kids screaming in the background.” Everyone laughs and agrees it’s ok, but deep inside you know it’s really not. Even if everyone else on your team is fine with the kid noises, you know it’s going to be distracting. You can try putting the kids in front of a movie or educational iPad game, but not only can that seem like a parenting fail in and of itself, but worse, it doesn’t always work.

Nothing gets kids’ attention – or inspires them to demand yours – like hearing their parents talking to someone other than them. The instant response to having a parent pick up the phone and start a conference call is so predictable that I sometimes wonder if it’s an evolutionary trait, designed to ensure that parents never lose track of their kids while hunting and gathering.

The key to occupying your kids for conference-call chunks of time is to engage them in something so engrossing that they lose track of you and what you’re doing – which, after 35 viewings, Frozen is no longer able to do. Here are seven fool-proof ways to keep little humans engaged while you’re on the phone:

  1. Arts & Crafts Projects. Arts and craft projects are my go-to for holiday and birthday gifts – whether I’m buying for my own kids or for someone else’s. But soon after they’re unwrapped, anything with too many pieces gets quickly shelved and saved for a “rainy day.” A conference call is a great time to get these out and set them up. Yes, there’s a little bit of prep time involved, but once you’ve got the kids rolling on one of these, they are usually good for an hour or two – especially if you don’t get picky about the kids using the glue, beads and multicolored fuzz balls for things other than their intended purpose.

  2. Organize a Scavenger Hunt. This one takes a bit of advance planning, but the nice thing is that you can customize it easily for the age and stage of your unique audience. For smaller kids, I suggest including items that are familiar to them, and designating a specific box (far away from your home office) where they must place each object. For bigger kids, you can include more challenging items. (For the creatively impaired, here are some ideas for creating great scavenger hunts.) Pro tip: Make sure to make the scavenger hunt hard enough that they can’t possibly finish it before your conference call ends.

  3. Rubix Cube. Invented in 1974, the Rubix Cube is a timeless way to waste – I mean spend – hours of time, for kids and adults alike. Its flashy primary colors make it a favorite even for smaller kids, and for older kids, the ability to make any headway in actually solving the thing just increases its addictive allure. (As a bonus, if your two-year old can solve a Rubix Cube during the course of a conference call, think of the bragging rights you’ll have!)

  4. Physical Challenge / Ninja Training. For kids who enjoy physical challenges more than intellectual ones, you can create an obstacle course or – a genius idea I picked up from a friend much more creative than me – create a course called “Ninja Training.” Not only are ninjas awesome, but their most important quality is to move silently.

  5. Blocks/Legos. In my day it was Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. Today, we have Magnatiles and GoldieBlox. And, of course, there will always be Legos. In preparation for your conference call, give your kids a specific building challenge that seems attainable but is probably not. Does this seem cruel? It’s not – it’s brain training!

  6. Outside Time. This is a bit of a cop out, but if you have an outside space where kids can play safely unsupervised, the conference call might be the perfect time for some mandatory fresh air. This was one of my mom’s favorites when I was a kid, and although I never really wanted to get booted from the house on a sunny day, mandatory outside time was the setting for all of my most creative adventures.

  7. Planning a Performance. I don’t know if all kids love to stage performances, but I haven’t met one yet who didn’t. Make your conference call time into prep/rehearsal time, and when you’re done with your call, you’ll be right on time for an absolutely fabulous production. Yes, it will probably be a production of Frozen, but just think, all those hours your kids spent watching and re-watching the movie can now be directed toward a creative purpose!

Balancing work and kids is hard, especially when work weasels its way into the kids’ sovereign territory. But with a little creativity, you can dodge the guilt – and the screaming – for a win on both sides.

This article was first published as a guest blog post in The Mother List.

Liz Oertle

Liz Oertle

Liz Oertle is the CEO and co-founder of Nanno. A recovering attorney and mother of two, she is passionate about helping parents connect with high quality childcare on demand.

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