Simple Steps To Help Your Child Stop Interrupting

Simple Steps To Help Your Child Stop Interrupting

How to stop a child interrupting using positive parenting 

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. 

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, and one cuddly dog.

15 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.

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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!

  9. My 3-year-old mostly interrupts while I’m talking to my husband (or, more specifically, while he’s trying to say something to me). I try to quickly respond to her, sometimes asking her to wait, sometimes actually responding if it’s a quick thing, but my husband finds it frustrating and feels like what he’s saying isn’t being given priority. From my perspective, everyone is trying to speak to me at the same time, so I just can’t focus on any one conversation. I will try the hand gestures, but is there anything you recommend for the dinner table, when she can’t necessarily hold my hand or something?

  10. We are having a problem with our 5 year old at dinner. She is interrupting during the dinner conversation. When we tell her to wait for the person talking to finish their thought she gets very frustrated and mad.

    It doesn’t help that her 6 yr old big sister is a talker and is upset when we tell her to finish up so others can speak.

  11. Hello,

    It might be helpful to talk about taking turns at the dinner table and maybe ask the kids, as a topic of a focused conversation how they think they could manage the turn taking (you could suggest a talking stick as an example). Another suggestion is that you start having regular family meetings this is a wonderful tool that we go over in our mission cooperation course because it really does help the whole family learn to communicate in positive, respectful ways as a group. Lastly, at a time outside of dinner you may try helping your five year old come up with ideas as to how she can pass the time while waiting to talk, like taking a few breaths, cutting up her food, drinking water etc…if you invest time to solve the issue away from the dinner table you can expect more cooperation all around 😉

  12. Hi! I LOVE your philosophy and I work hard at trying to be that positive parent but I am struggling with my 6 year old. I have dedicated A LOT of time to try and implement the positive parenting tools but I know I am failing in many areas. Here are my struggles:

    1. Using the signal or “it’s not your turn to talk yet” doesn’t work for my child. He will angrily say “MOM”, “MOM”, “MOM”….it is usually when he is upset about something. What can I do?
    2. He often forgets when it is his turn and gets upset about it. Would handing him my phone to text me his thought be a bad choice?
    3. He complains about school daily (Kinder) that it is too long (3 hours), no play time and he just wants to be home with his family. The teacher gives good behavior awards which he loves and she says he behaves well in school but it is difficult to hear him complain daily about it and he struggles to get out of bed to go. Suggestions? We will be talking to school counselor next week and I would like to suggest some things that you may have
    4. BACK TALKING is my biggest right now. Do you have a list of Rules or a FUN BEHAVIOR BOARD that lists how to control back talking? He has formed bad habits.
    5. Playing fair and not giving up. He makes up rules in his favor and will quit if kids or I do not play by them. I was thinking of also having a REC RULES BOARD: 1. R -rock/paper/scissors for who goes first 2. E -establish rules before the game starts 2. C -communicating no quitting

    Thank you for your help!

  13. Hi Erin,
    It’s hard to divide your attention between everyone at the table (or any other situation)! It may be helpful to talk to your husband and decide on a better strategy that you can both agree on, maybe you will decide that you will both practice not attending to the interruption (even if it gets loud), or have an alternative at the table for your daughter such as a drawing pad and pencil for her to scribble her thoughts until she is ready. The other thing that is helpful is to set aside to talk as a couple, without your daughter on a daily basis. Meaning your daughter can go play in her room ( or another safe space) while you both talk and catch up. Then you can make dinner conversations more about family things and light topics, not things that your husband and you are really trying to say to each other. Over the years your daughter will learn the dynamics of turn taking if you keep modeling it and show less frustration by creating new plans for communication.

  14. Please help! I’m so frustrated with my 5 year old boy,he cannot stop talking.Today when we visited our neighbors and discussed about something,while the elders was talking my son just start interrupting,not once but everytime we start our talks,he started interrupting. I asked him to wait,but he just screamed to me that he cannot wait! So we had to leave immediately because no way we can continue our conversation.How to help him to collaborate well with adults in such cases?

  15. Hello Tracy,

    Taking time to practice is a great way for children to learn how to take turns. You can use props like a talking stick, give him ideas for drawing or writing down words while he waits and making a signal for him to remember to stop and wait. This is something that takes a lot of time to practice so if you can find some friends or relatives that are willing to help, you can tell them you would like to invite them for a coffee chat and ask if they are ok with you working on this with your child for a bit of the time they are there? Without practice the child will not be able to understand the social norms that are expected. hope that helps you.

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