Whether it’s because of poor manners or difficulty in impulse-control, kids often interrupt adults. It is the parents’ job to teach children how to wait patiently or, in case of true emergency, interrupt properly. After all, social skills are integral in a child’s personality development. Kids will find more social and relationship success when they know how to behave politely.
If you have a child who tends to interrupt others, consider the following tips:
Inform Kids Early That Interrupting is Not O.K.
Interrupting starts early and is best addressed early. Babies can interrupt conversations with their cries and there’s not much parents can do about that! However, toddlers can begin to learn that they are not the only one with needs. Two and three year-olds can be taught to recognize when adults are talking. “Mommy is talking with Daddy right now. Please wait a minute” or “Mommy is talking on the phone. Please wait a minute.” As the child grows, even more can be required of him. For instance, a pre-schooler can be taught to say “excuse me” – and can also be taught when to use this phrase and when to just wait instead. “If you need help you can say “excuse me” but if you just want to tell me something interesting, then please wait until you see that I have finished speaking.” School-age children are capable of distinguishing between true emergencies and “I want something right now,” so you can raise the bar even higher: “If there is a fire or something else dangerous that is happening, go ahead and say “Excuse me but there is a fire in the kitchen!” or something like that. Or, if someone is waiting for you at the door and you have to leave right away, you can say, “Excuse me, but someone is waiting for me – I need to ask permission for something right away” On the other hand, if you want to know if you can eat something or do something, then please wait until you see that I’ve finished speaking and then say, “Excuse me, can I ask you something?” Hopefully, by the time your child is an adolescent, you won’t need to to offer any more lessons on interruption! (Although, you may need to review what you’ve taught previously!).
Teach Kids How to Recognize Cues Signalling their Turn
Make sure that you child knows what “interrupt” means! Use role-playing, puppets or dolls to illustrate what happens in a conversation. Demonstrate what a pause or “lull” in the conversation sounds like. Explain how to say “excuse me” and wait for a response.
Don’t Reward Interruptions with Attention
Some kids are prone to interrupting because they know that it is a strategy that “works” – they’ll get what they want. If this is the case, then it’s best to send the message as soon as you can that interrupting is not an effective way of getting needs met. Tell your interrupting child “I’m talking to so & so right now” and then ignore him until you are ready to deal with his concern. Try to refrain from giving attention even if the child starts to tantrum. Try not to show irritation or upset (since that is also a form of attention). Don’t reprimand or punish. Instead, reward the behavior that you approve of (waiting patiently and saying “excuse me” at the right time). If parents consistently reinforce the behavior of waiting for one’s turn, then they will eventually see more of it in their children. If after using this strategy for some time, your child still interrupts, then change strategies. You can use discipline to eradicate interruptions. Make a rule: “From now on, when you interrupt me to ask a question, the answer will be an automatic ‘no.'” Or, “From now on, when you interrupt me when I am speaking with someone, I will not answer you and you will have to write out ‘I wait my turn before speaking’ ten times” (or pick any other negative consequence that you want to use – see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for appropriate suggestions). Be consistent with consequences if you decide to use them and your child will quickly learn not to interrupt.
Give Your Child Quality Time
Kids love to share stories, and they may be constantly interrupting you because they like to tell you things. Make sure that you do give your child time so that they can tell you everything they want to tell you. If parent-child bonding time is regular, then there’ll be less need for frequent interruptions.
Provide Ways to Manage Excitement While Waiting
The behavior of interrupting frequently may be due to poor impulse control. Kids get so excited, they can’t contain what they want to say! As alternative to giving in to one’s impulses, parents can teach their children ways to manage frustration tolerance. For example, parents can give children a recorder so that they can document their stories during moments when there’s no one they can speak with. Parents may also teach children to count from 1 to 10 while waiting, write out their message (if they’re old enough to write!), or play with toys that are nearby until you are available.
Consider Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD
If your child’s interrupting behavior is excessive, chronic and appears across all settings, then consider the possibility that your child may have ADHD. ADHD appears before a child is 7 years old, and symptoms typically last for more than 6 months. If you suspect that your child has ADHD, then do consult a mental health professional for an assessment. When ADHD is properly treated, it will be easier for the child to refrain from interrupting parents and others.