Q: My elementary school age kids are driving me crazy with their constant interruptions. If I’m on the phone, they’re asking me questions. If I’m talking to another adult, they tug at my sleeve and chatter away. I’ve tried talking to them about not interrupting, but it’s gotten nowhere.
A: Teaching kids to stay quiet when they’re bursting to say something can be challenging, but do not despair. Rehabilitation will take some time, but with persistence and consistency, you can tame the interruption monster.
First, look at your own example. Are you interrupting others, either in person or on the phone? The old adage about behavior speaking louder than words comes to play here: If your children see you interrupting your conversations, then they will likely do the same.
Second, have a plan for interruptions. What is your child going to do if she needs to tell you something but you’re talking with someone else? At the dinner table, we have instructed the kids to raise their hand when they have something to say when someone else is speaking. That has worked for the most part to cut down on talking over someone else.
We’ve also trained our children to come up to us and pause until we acknowledge them by asking, “Do you need something?” or a similar question. Other parents have the child stand a short distance away from them until parent can take a break from her conversation.
Third, hold training sessions. As with all manners, you must instruct the kids how to do this with role playing and repetition. Especially in the beginning, go over your expectations and have them show you what they’ll do if you’re on the phone or conversing in person. Making it fun and like a game will help reinforce the instruction.
Fourth, follow through with your plan. If a child comes up to you talking when you’re on the phone, practice ignoring him by moving to another room and closing the door. If he persists in following you, end your conversation and deliver consequences for the disobedience (and remember, interruptions are a form of disobedience). You have to be the one to enforce the no interruptions rule.
Ask people with whom you talk on a regular basis for assistance in reminding you about your new rule. My husband is good about telling me when I’m allowing the kids to interrupt our conversation.
Fifth, do periodic checkups. Once the kids get the hang of the rule, you might have to revisit it every so often to make sure of consistent compliance.
Remember that teaching new things like no interruptions takes time, and things might get worse before they get better, but your children can learn how not to interrupt. Your family, friends, teachers, neighbors and acquaintances will be very glad you took the time to do so.
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