Q&A: Stop the Interruptions


I can't seem to get a full sentence in before my child interrupts. It doesn't seem to matter who I'm talking to--my husband, friend or someone else. How do I get her to stop? -Anonymous

Kids want our attention and NOW and the younger the age the harder it is for them to put on the brakes and "wait." But interrupting is a learned behavior and can be stopped, so here are a few crucial steps to turn this annoying behavior around.

Distinguish "emergency" interruptions. Your first step is to teach your child legitimate interrupting times. Explain that "an 'emergency interruption' is when someone needs help because he is or could be hurt." There are emergencies when our kids should be heard right then and there, so talk about what constitutes an emergency: the pasta is boiling over, the stove is on fire, the dog ran into the street, your brother is stuck in a tree, the baby is crawling to the pool. Once your child knows that distinction, there are no excuses for interrupting. Instead, she must learn to wait and learn the virtue of patience.

Give a forewarning. The next time you're about to make a call, visit a friend or start a conversation, tell your child you expect her to be considerate and to not interrupt. You might give her something to do to occupy her time for the moment (a puzzle, book, or game), but be clear that you will not respond. (And then make sure you keep your word.)

Use sign language. If your younger child interrupts at an inappropriate, nonemergency moment, use the sign language approach to stop her. Put your hand on her hand to let her know you recognize her, then hold up your hand to signal she needs to wait. Give her anything to occupy her energy (your car key or a pad and pencil) but continue your conversation, then pause after a few minutes to ask what she needs.

Teach manners. Children with attention or social skill deficits have difficulty waiting and often barge into conversations. If this is the case with your child, make sure you teach your child how to interrupt politely ("Excuse me, Mom,") so she doesn't seem rude. Then gradually stretch her ability to wait as long as possible. It's also best to give this child forewarning, "I'm going to be making an important call, so I'll need you to not interrupt." Adjust your response to your child's needs, but please don't use any possible disability as an excuse. It will not do her reputation any favors.

Remove an older kid. If your child is older and can clearly control her impulses, keep doing what you're doing, but isolate her to another room for a couple of minutes or longer, depending on her age. You can say to the caller, "Excuse me, Mom, I need to take care of something." (Believe me, your mother will get it.) Isolate your child, and then continue your conversation. Do the same thing every time your child interrupts. This behavior is attention-getting and shows disrespect, so do not tolerate it. When you are done with your conversation, sit down with your child and let her know not only how you feel about being interrupted, but how it makes you feel.

Reinforce waiting. Remember the most effective way to reduce any annoying behavior at any age is to reinforce the child when she does not interrupt. "I know it was hard to wait patiently, but thank you for not interrupting me when I was speaking with your teacher." Just be consistent until your child gets the message that you expect to be treated in a courteous manner.

Of course, if your child has gotten in the habit of interrupting and has usually succeeded in getting her needs met pronto, stopping this annoying behavior will take a bit of good ol' parental fortitude. But keep the faith. Change is doable. A 4-year-old will clearly have more trouble than a 12-year-old, so consider your child's age and development, but stick fast to your "No More Interrupting Plan." Every child needs to learn the virtue of patience. And that's a little of what you'll need as well to turn this behavior around.

Click here to read more of Michele Borba's Q&As.

12Secrets_Borba.jpgDr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know .


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