Don't Interrupt!

October 2, 2012

Tips From Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting

By: Noël Janis-Norton
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Macaroni Kid Reader Asks:
My daughter interrupts constantly. How do I get her to stop hijacking the conversation?"

Noel Janis-Norton

There probably isn’t a parent out there who can’t relate to this problem! The good news is that within a short space of time, your child can learn to wait patiently and respectfully while you finish conversations.

I’m going to give you four strategies to significantly reduce the amount of interrupting. You’ll notice a difference even if you only use one or two of these strategies, but if you practice all four, you’ll see a transformation within a week or two.

First let’s look at what might be happening now when your daughter interrupts you. Many times when our children interrupt us, we turn to them and say, “Don’t interrupt. Now what is it?” So we’re telling them not to interrupt but then answering them anyway. We’re giving our kids very mixed messages.

1.  So the first thing you’ll want to do is to Prepare for Success to make it easier for your child to do the right thing. Start by making a rule about what she needs to do when you are talking and she wants to talk to you. Your rule could be:

‘When mommy’s talking to someone and you want to talk to me, you have to wait until I’m finished talking. I’ll put my index finger up silently and that will be a signal for you to wait.’

2.  Then at a neutral time, do what I call a think-through about this rule with your child to maximize the likelihood that she’ll remember and follow the new rule. First tell her the new rule and then ask her to tell you back in her own words what the new rule is. When she tells you, be sure to give her Descriptive Praise. "That’s right, if mommy’s talking to someone, even if it’s just on the phone, you have to wait until I’m finished talking before you can talk." It’s also helpful to inject empathy into your think-through, Reflectively Listening to how your daughter might feel about this new rule. "And that might be frustrating because you may feel like you have something really important to tell me, but when can you tell me?"

3.  After your daughter knows the new interrupting rule, make sure to catch her doing it right and give her Descriptive Praise. Whenever you are talking with someone and she isn’t interrupting, you can say, "I’ve been talking for two minutes, and you haven’t interrupted me once; you’re remembering the rule and being very respectful." Don’t worry that you’ve interrupted yourself to give her Descriptive Praise! We’ve got to catch these glimpses of cooperation and mention them.

4. For many kids, interrupting is all about seeking attention. Kids crave the attention of their parents, even if it’s negative attention. So another way to vastly reduce interrupting is to give our kids positive attention by carving out regular “Special Time” to spend with them. I define Special Time as one parent with one child, doing something you both enjoy that doesn’t cost money and isn’t in front of a screen. When we spend one-on-one time with our kids it shows them that we not only love them but that we also like them and want to spend time with them. Kids do not vie for our attention nearly so much when they are getting the positive individual attention that they need and deserve. Even just 10 – 15 minutes will make a difference!

So what do you do if you’ve been putting these strategies into practice and she still interrupts? Just put a finger up, signaling for her to wait and continue your conversation. The second she stops interrupting, give her Descriptive Praise for waiting and being respectful. Repeat this as much as necessary. If you stay firm and follow through on your rule, your daughter will soon stop interrupting you because it no longer gets her what she wants.

Descriptive Praise, Preparing for Success and Reflective Listening are three of the five core skills of the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting program. The more you practice these positive and effective strategies, the calmer, easier and happier family life will become.

For parenting tips, follow the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Blog, get more tips from Noël on Twitter @calmerparenting and to sign-up for our newsletter, email [email protected]


1) Kate said:
No comment
1 year, 9 months ago
2) brigitte said:
My twins 4 year old, also interrupt my conversation all the time so i use the school technique when i talk they raise the hand them I ask them to talk. the worse if I am on the phone with friend i make short conversation with clients it is dificult for my twins . Most of time they forgot why they want to talk to me so they get fustrate.
1 year, 9 months ago
3) Emily said:
really helpful, thanks.
1 year, 9 months ago
4) heather said:
Thank you for the advice. Can't wait to try it out.
1 year, 9 months ago
5) Carol said:
This is a helpful strategy and, at-the-same-time, I believe that interrupting may also go the other way! Is the child learning to interrupt because he/she has been interrupted?
1 year, 9 months ago
6) monika said:
Carol made an important point; we often forget that our children are people, too. It really works both ways and the strategy presented by Joel is 100% fool proof if we apply it in both directions. When you speak to your child you demand a 100% attention, so please do the same when your child speaks to you. I'm speaking from experience :))) mom of twins
1 year, 9 months ago
7) tanya said:
I love having my kids put their hand on my arm and quietly wait. I touch their hand so they know that I realize they are there and then they wait. I then turn my attention to them as soon as possible and address their need.
1 year, 9 months ago
8) Sara said:
Tanya - I love your technique!
1 year, 9 months ago
9) Amy said:
It sounds rather too like dog training for me. Kids are people too, I'd like to see you put up a finger to an adult who interrupts you and see what response you'd get.... Why are children always treated in a way that we'd never get away with when with an adult? I much prefer something that is more two way and sympathetic like Tanya's lovely approach.
1 year, 8 months ago
10) Lucy said:
Amy: I hear what you are saying, but disagree. Children are not small adults. They have to learn how society works and be prepared for life in a community. Putting a finger up to an adult is a different story, it is not a parents job to teach another adult how to behave, but it is a parents job to teach a child how to behave. If a parent puts their finger up their children, then they won't grow up to be those adults you are referring to. That being said, there are many ways to raise children, some may find these tips helpful, some not.
1 year, 8 months ago

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