How to discipline when your child keeps interrupting you.
Positive Parenting Tip: Remember that growing children make mistakes and get excited. Teaching the behavior you wish to see is more effective than punishing mistakes.
I remember a few years ago, trying to have a conversation with my boss on the phone. All I could hear was, “Mom! Mom! Mommmmmmm! Hey Mom?! I gotta show you this!”
I had to finish the conversation with my boss and it was a struggle.
Ignoring the progressively louder requests for my attention was not working.
When a child Keeps interrupting it can be so frustrating.
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 so much anyway?
The reasons your child keeps interrupting you could be any of the following:
Most children interrupt because they are still young and impulsive.
Some children interrupt because they don’t have any tools for respectfully interrupting you.
Your child does not have a set plan for how to wait for you.
Your child just wants to show and feel like they belong.
Does that kind of interruption from your child sound familiar?
Children of all ages can get caught up in their own worlds, in excitement and interrupt simply because sharing with you, their parent, feels so good.
Teach your child to stop interrupting your conversations with these five steps:
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.
- Try to let your child tell you their stories with as little interruptions as possible.
- Say things like “Go ahead, I’m listening to you” and then let your child talk.
Step 2: Try a special code or hand signal
When my children were really young, I started holding their hand gently as a signal that I “saw them” but wasn’t ready to listen yet.
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.
When they see the “long wait” signal they know to go play and come back later—unless of course, it’s an emergency.
That day on the phone with my boss, I had completely forgotten to give a signal. (Face palm, seriously, but then again nobody is perfect right!)
Extending a hand for holding, a special nod or some other little signal can be really helpful.
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 ask your 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.
Explain to your child that you will be busy, that you will pay attention to them when you are done, and 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 do you 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 children have for the most part learned to tap my arm and say very politely, “Excuse me mom” instead of blurting out what they need.
It was a process but well worth it.
What if you can’t listen to your child? Try saying one of these:
- “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 five 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 disrespectful but 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 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.
If your child keeps interrupting you and nothing seems to work at all, you may need to spend some extra time together. When children’s buckets aren’t getting filled they make sure to let us know.
Peace & Be Well,