Simple Steps To Help Your Child Stop Interrupting

Simple Steps To Help Your Child Stop Interrupting

How Can You Help A Child Stop Interrupting?

I remember just a few years ago, trying to have a conversation on the phone with a friend. All I could hear was “BLUE CRAYON MAMA! BLUE CRAYON!” My little one was just 22 months old and excited to have figured out the color blue.

I really wanted to finish the conversation with my friend.

Although interrupting can be perfectly normal behavior for young children it is possible to help children develop patience and polite ways to join a conversation.

Why do children interrupt adults anyways?
Mostly children interrupt to share information they deem interesting or relevant.

Toddlers  often interrupt  because they are still learning to regulate their impulses. When a toddler has a great thought they want to share it, they don’t think “maybe mama needs to hang up the phone before she can listen to me”  It’s more like “BLUE CRAYON! BLUE CRAYON!!!! MAMA—BLUE CRAYON!!!” (HEAR ME, SEE ME, I AM SO EXCITED!!!)

Preschoolers want to show us and feel like they belong. They want to participate in our conversations. For example, when I was discussing the town’s recycling policy changes with a friend her five year old son kept saying “bottles? we have lots of bottles, I like to recycle bottles.”

Children 6 years and beyond might see a different side of an argument, have a different perspective or a great story.

The reason children tend to interrupt us is actually quite simple:

Children interrupt because either they are too young, impulsive OR they don’t have any tools for respectfully interrupting.

Another key reason for interrupting is that some children don’t have skills or a set plan for how to wait.

Here are five steps to teach your child how to stop interruptingteach child to not interrupt conversations

Step 1: Model Respectful Communication & Attentive Listening

It’s a great idea to introduce turn taking and respectful communication, from babyhood and beyond. One of the easiest ways to do this is to model what we wish to see and use the language we wish to hear.

  • Let a baby know that you will be picking them up instead of swooping in and doing it as a surprise.
  • Explain to a toddler that play time is almost over instead of insisting they finish when you say so.
  • Welcome children to share and finish their thoughts, stories and ideas without interrupting to correct, console or fix.

Step 2: Try a special code or hand signal

Back when my little blue crayon guy interrupted a lot I started holding his hand gently as a signal to him that I “saw him” but wasn’t ready to listen yet.   Over time we have been able to stretch that waiting time well beyond a minute. Now that my kids are much older and in elementary school, we have two signals. One for short waits and one for  letting them know it’s going to be a while. In that case, they know to go  play and come back later.

  Extending a hand for holding, a special nod or some other little signal can be really helpful, especially if it is practiced or talked about ahead of time.

Step 3: Be Mindful of when you must interrupt your child 

Sometimes it’s inevitable to interrupt, when we interrupt another adult we tend to say “excuse me”, “pardon me” or “is this a good time”. It’s helpful  to use the same respectful language when interrupting a child so they can learn to do the same.

  • *Excuse me, I see you are playing, it’s almost time to go.
  • *Looks like you are having a lot of fun, I need to interrupt you and help you clean up so we can get to bed.
  • *Hey Johnny, I’d like to share something with you, is this a good time?

Step 4: Respectfully asking a child to wait 

Providing opportunity for children to learn to wait is important, but it needs to happen at a time when the child can actually succeed.

Practice interrupting skills and waiting skills: Explain to your child that you will be busy, that you will pay attention to them when you are done, be specific if you can:

*I will talk on the phone for a few minutes and then we can read that book.

* I need to tell your dad something and then I will come and find you, here is a puzzle if you’d like to use it to pass the time.

* I need quiet time for 10 minutes, what will you do  to pass the time? Can you find something or want some help?

Step 5: Give it time (Adjust Expectations)

The process of learning not to interrupt or to do so politely takes practice. My blue crayon yelling tot has grown into a happy and respectful eight year old. Since he is around three years old, with some practice he learned to tap my arm and say very politely “excuse me mom” instead of blurting out what is on his mind.

Sometimes I have to let him know I’m not ready to listen:

  • *I need a few more minutes please.
  • *I will listen to you in a moment.
  • * I see you need me, and this isn’t a good time.
  • *Let’s talk after I’m done on the phone.
  • *I see you need to talk to me.  I need 5 more minutes.
  • *Would you like to hold my hand? I’ll be right with you.

Other times, it’s helpful to remember that growing children make mistakes and get excited. They are not interrupting to be rude or because they don’t care about you and your needs.

Interruptions can seem so disrespectful,  beware of using consequences or commands such as shhhhhh! or Zip it! to manage this kind of unhelpful behavior.

While you may get a child’s attention and get them to stop talking, or bothering you, this certainly does not create the opportunity to teach. Children will learn much more about taking turns, waiting, listening attentively and respecting others if you choose to model how you expect it to be done. Give your child some tools, have a plan and then plenty of opportunities to practice. 

kids that back talk

These five steps to reduce interruptions while teaching polite communication skills can be very effective with some guidance and patience on your part.

What times does your child interrupt the most? Is it a particular time of day or during a specific activity you are trying to do? Let me know in comments and I” be happe to trouble shoot a solution with you.

Peace & Be Well,




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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

8 Responses to Simple Steps To Help Your Child Stop Interrupting

  1. I’m working with a family that has this problem with their 6 year old. I am going to suggest that they try the above techniques,as I’m a big fan of your style. Are there any other suggestions you have for children this age? I understand it will take perseverance on the parents part and continuity of parenting in both households.

    • Hi Lis,
      Interrupting can sometimes be a connection seeking behavior, so making sure a child is getting plenty of individual time with the parent where the goal is simply to enjoy each other (not constantly correct the behaviors). Another possibility is to give the child some responsibilities at home so he feels a good sense of belonging to the family. Interrupting can be the child’s way of asking to be noticed. Hope that helps.

  2. Hand signal works for me. My four-year-old seems to get my hand gesture. Thanks for sharing your tips! They are really helpful.

  3. but could a pre-designed kit (so to say) notebook with crayons, drawing paper, or an Ipad, etc to help child relay what was so devastatingly important at that moment be drawn or written about so child remembers when it is his/her turn for attention? not a mom, just curious if this would benefit the situation

  4. Hi, thank you fro your article. I have a six year old that is on first grade, he does wonderfully in school with reading, math, etc. His teacher praises that side of him. His main problem is that he interrupts the teacher during class, he fails sometimes to raise his hand and talks. The teacher uses a behavioral color chart, he seems to always be on the lowest color of behavior for interrupting.
    Once he comes home, that is the one thing that brings him down and keeps expressing his dislike of school. The teacher wants some ideas. I want to help him as well. I have talked with him about it and we have tried, but keeps happening.
    Any ideas?

    • Hi Jessy,

      It might be most helpful for the teacher and your six year old to make an agreement. They could talk and brain storm together something that would help void the interruptions like a hand signal. Behavior color charts really are detrimental to children-s sense of capability and I highly recommend teachers look into Positive Discipline in the Classroom or similar programs to find alternatives for running a classroom that is based on mutual respect, building community, team work and agreements. Your six year old interrupts to participate and it would be a pity to create discouragement when the child clearly wants to learn and participate. This is something that takes practice and unless the child and teacher are on the same page and working together, instead of against each other *as the color chart tends to do putting undue pressure on the child and a focus on failure * Failing to raise a hand should-t be an offense with consequences like marking down on a color chart, but simply seen as a little mistake that can be encouraged away with kind and firm guidance. 1st graders are making many leaps in their social / emotional abilities, including learning how to navigate social conversations and norms. As far as home / playing board games for turn taking, playing with questions during meals to practice conversations and listening and noticing if your child gets interrupted often can also be good starting points. Hope this gives you some ideas on where to get started.

  5. My 51/2 year old is having the same struggles in kindergarten. We have had several emails from his teacher about interrupting during class presentations/presenters and he has even stood up and walked right up to the librarian reading to point out something in the book. We practice the techniques at home of having conversations, asking questions and waiting for people to respond before speaking. Is there anything else we can try; he’s a curious boy and I don’t want him to ever stop asking questions

    • Hi Lisa,

      One thing you can do is teach him to take his thought and place it on one of his fingers, and then the next thought on the other finger and so on and tell him it’s OK to have a handful of questions and ideas while he waits his turn. It would be great if his teacher is open to checking in with him a few times each day to see if he has questions or concerns – this way he can also count on that “check in time” and she can remind him to wait until it’s their time instead of interrupting 🙂 The ability to stay quiet and focused (listening to a story, being in class etc…really can take time for some children) Another thing to do is to play physical games at home that focus on turn taking like mother may I, red light green light , follow the leader – these are fun games that also help develop self-regulation. hope that helps!

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