Caleb Bateman likes to talk — you can say the nine-year-old has the gift of gab.
Every week he spends hours on the phone with his great aunt who is 78 years old — something he suggested when the COVID-19 health restrictions shut down in-person visits.
“She actually expects me to call her every Sunday,” said Caleb. “We normally talk about school, our family members.”
With Caleb’s great aunt living in a seniors home, their chats have been a lifeline to the outside world.
A ban on in-person visits has forced many seniors to cut family connections.
Caleb, who had more time on his hands with the cancellation of hockey and other activities, said he looks forward to the calls and often helps his great aunt with her technical problems.
“I tell her how to fix it,” he said.
Kristi Bateman, Caleb’s mom, said the budding relationship is one she had the chance to develop with her aunt when she was Caleb’s age.
“She always has time to listen, you can tell her anything and I think that’s what Caleb really enjoys,” she said.
“She really enjoys talking to Caleb,” Kristi said through a smile. “Caleb has a lot to say so usually around bedtime we have to tell them both that it’s time to get off the phone because it’s been two hours and they’re still chatting.”
It’s those types of relationships Dr. Caroline Buzanko at Koru Family Psychology stressed are important for children.
“Kids need to have relationships with multiple adults in their life,” said the psychologist. “It’s been so wonderful to be able to talk with aunts and uncles and people they don’t normally, because it’s one more person in their sphere who cares about them and is interested in them.”
Buzanko said the phone calls and video chats also help kids learn a valuable life skill, especially teens that typically have their heads buried in their phones.
“They are learning the art of communication again which I think that they lose when they’re just texting their friends all the time.”
Buzanko added her own children have talked to more extended family over the past year in other parts of the country and overseas — those calls used to be reserved for Christmas and birthdays.
“I think fostering these types of relationships is so important for them.”
Buzanko said finding the silver linings during the pandemic and doing a “reset” while being forced to slow down is a win-win for kids.
Along with getting to know his great aunt, Caleb and his siblings have also faced the hard reality of not seeing their grandparents as often.
His family has lost out on Sunday dinners and spending time with their “grandma and papa” during their retirement.
Visits have been distanced — sometimes through the window.
“Everyone is masked up, we spend time outside,” said Kristi. “There’s no hugging and no kisses or anything like that so it is really different.”
Caleb can’t wait until the health restrictions are lifted so he can hug his grandparents and meet up with his great aunt to chat face-to-face at a family dinner.