If left to their own devices, children will race to the phone as if it is the starting bell in a race. Once they reach their destination, a fumbled hello is all you can hope for unless you teach them phone manners from the start. Since I work from home, my phone has to be answered professionally. I cannot have kids tackling each other while they scream hello into the phone. So aside from the rule that the phone signals quiet time, I made it a point to teach the following important skills to my children.
4 phone skills your child needs to know
1. Choose your greeting
As a family, decide what the standard greeting will be and then enforce it. For years I had my children answer the phone with their name, but I have since changed this policy. Having potential strangers learn a name to go with the small voice on the other side was not the best idea.
Answering the phone with a simple, “Hello,” is fine. “Hey”, “Yo”, and “Yeah” is not. You may have a business name that all calls need to be answered with. If this is the case, your four year old probably should not be answering the phone. Caller ID is a good thing. When I knew it was grandma calling or a good friend, I let my youngest answer the phone to give her extra practice. If the number was unknown, it was off-limits.
2. Focus before, and throughout, a phone call
Grabbing the phone on the first ring, or before their brother, is not the goal. Train your kids to stand in front of the phone and take one breath before answering. Explain that this moment is for focusing. Once ready, they can pick up the phone and repeat the agreed upon greeting. Focus is very important for the next part, once the caller says who they want to speak to, a prepared child can respond with, “Yes, may I ask who is calling?” Then, remembering who is calling, say, “I will go get them.” and gently put the phone down or carry it to the person.
3. Take a message
If the person the caller needs to talk to is not available, then the child may need to take a message. Make it easy by having a large pad of paper and a pen near the phone. A small notebook, or phone message pad may look nice, but will be harder for a young child to write the information. If a child cannot write, they will most likely not be home alone, so they can say, “Just a moment please,” and get someone else to speak to the caller.
4. Placing a phone call
Before letting your child pick up the phone to call a friend, be sure they know what to do when someone other than their friend answers. There are a couple of my children’s friends who have clearly not had this instruction. Those are the calls where a kid simply says my son’s name, as if I were an answering service. Some add another word, as in “Sam home?” That is still not enough. Teach your children that full sentences are necessary. A quick introduction and then a question works much better. For example, “Hello, this is Joe. May I please speak with Sam?”
Practice, practice, practice
Since there are several steps to answering a call properly, it is important to practice.
Just talking about how to answer the phone will not get you very far. Everyone knows how to nod their head and say, “Okay,” while getting instructions. In order to make the lessons stick, real life practice is necessary.
Call the home phone from your cell. Check in on the kids when you leave the house. Test them by calling from another phone number if you have caller ID.