Teaching kids not to interrupt

Tired of being interrupted.
Tired of being interrupted. Photo: Getty Images

One of the big frustrations of being a par … sorry, hold on a moment … anyway, as I was saying, one frustrating part of parenti … hang on … okay, where was I?

If those fragmented attempts at sentences are similar to what's happening in your world as a parent, you're not alone. Many of us feel frustrated at a lack of completed conversations – or, let's be honest, even thoughts – as our kids interrupt us constantly.

While being interrupted is a part of life when your children are little, there comes a time when they can learn better habits. "Children from the age of 3 years can learn to wait and not interrupt," explains parenting expert and psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip. "They also start to understand the difference between urgent and non-urgent."

Beginning to establish some boundaries for not interrupting – or, at least, interrupting politely – is important as your child gets to this stage of understanding. Here are some ideas for helping that to happen:

Be a good role model

If you want to teach your child something, the best way to start is with your own habits. "Model the behaviour you want your child to follow," Phillip advises. "Be aware not to interrupt them or your family members or partner as if you do, your message to stop interrupting will not be understood and your child will simply copy your behaviour."

Give your child a chance to talk

Of course, it's important to give your kids an opportunity to have your undivided attention. That way, they'll know you're not always distracted from what they have to say. "Ensure you spend allocated one-on-one time with your child to talk, and this could be over a story, while colouring in with them, even over lunch or dinner," says Phillip. "Ask them questions, listen to their responses, and ask if they have finished speaking then answer or say what you want. This allows them to learn about respectful communication, listening and responding."

Use touch

The problem with teaching your child not to interrupt is that lesson often happens verbally, which interrupts the conversation anyway. Instead, asking them to touch you when they'd like to speak can be a good alternative. "Start by touching them when they are quiet and you are speaking, and release your hand when they speak," says Phillip. "If they interrupt, simply touch them gently on their wrist; you may need to place your finger on your lips to demonstrate quiet initially when teaching them this. They will quickly learn that the touch is a trigger point to remain silent."

Time to slow down

Kids are often in a rush to tell you things, so try to slow your child down if they're rushing in to interrupt. "Ask them to stop, take a breath and have them tell you only one or two things once it is convenient for you to listen," Phillip suggests. "If a child is over eight years old, ask them to speak in a maximum five word sentence. This makes them stop, think and slow down giving you time to finish your conversation and be ready to listen to your child. If the matter is less than urgent, ask the child if it was possible for them to have waited a few moments and not interrupt."

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