Interrupting

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Question:

My husband and I came to one of your seminars in February. One subject you didn’t touch on was interrupting. Our 4 1/2 year old does it all the time. How can we stop it? It drives my husband and me crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks

Lisa

Answer:

Hi Lisa,

Following is an excerpt from the book "Positive Discipline A-Z." You'll see why this is such a helpful book. This excerpt demonstrates the format the covers just about every discipline challenge you can think of. You can even read the suggestions with your 4 1/2 year old and decide together on a solution that might work for all of you.

Interrupting/The Pest

“I can’t get on the phone or talk to a visiting friend without constant interruptions from my three-year-old. I have told her a hundred times not to interrupt me, but she still does.”

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Children often come to the mistaken conclusion that their belonging and significance are threatened when their parents focus on something or someone else. It helps to understand that this is normal and to deal with the threat in respectful ways instead of increasing the threat through anger or punishment. The more the child demands, the more parents--and teachers--give them attention, be it positive or negative. In fact, children who are pests often receive too much attention--not too little. No amount of attention can fill the hole for children who believe they do not belong unless they have constant attention.

The longer this problem persists, the harder it is to retrain yourself and your child. Therefore, it is extremely important to start early, in infancy, setting your limits of attention giving and sticking to them. You also need to give your kids opportunities to find belonging through cooperation and contribution. When you respect yourself as well as the kids, you’ll know it’s okay to have time to yourself and that your children can figure out how to entertain themselves. They won’t die from lack of attention.

Suggestions

  1. When a friend comes over, say to your child, “I would like to spend five minutes with you without any interruptions from my friend. Then I would like some uninterrupted time with my friend. You first, then my friend.” (Let your friend know in advance what you would like to do and why--to help your child feel loved and to learn to respect your time, too.)
  2. For ages two to five, say, “Would you like to get a book or toy and sit next to me while I’m on the phone?” For ages five to eight, say, “I want some time on the phone or with my friend. What ideas do you have to keep yourself busy for ten to fifteen minutes so you won’t need to interrupt me?”
  3. Tell your child, “It is a problem for me when I’m interrupted while talking on the phone or visiting with a friend. Would you be willing to write this problem on the family-meeting agenda for me, or should I?”
  4. If your child has been waiting all day to play with you, when you come home from work ignore the chores and spend fifteen minutes having fun with her or ask her to work with you.
  5. Spend time with your spouse and other adults while your children are around. This lets them know that they will get some of your time, but not all of it. If they interrupt, move to another room where you can put a door between you and them or ask them to play somewhere else.
  6. Let your children know that you hear them interrupting but you choose not to respond when you are busy doing other things. One way to do this is to use a non-verbal response such as putting your hand on their shoulder while ignoring their demands. This lets them know you care about them even though you won’t respond to constant demands.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

  1. If your child is being a pest, plan special time with him/her where he/she has you all alone. When she bugs you, say, “This isn’t our time to play. I’m looking forward to our special time at 2: 00.”
  2. Set up places where your children can play safely and entertain themselves. Let your children know that you still love them when you are busy with a friend or another child, but it is not time for you to be with them. Try setting a timer for the amount of time you need to spend uninterrupted. If they can’t handle that, ask them to play in their rooms and try again later.
  3. Let your children know when you are available for certain activities, such as, “I’m free from 7:00 to 9:00 to help with homework.” “I will be happy to make library runs on Monday and Thursday after school.” “I’d like to read the paper first and then spend time hearing about your day.” Then act like you mean it. Keep control of your schedule.
  4. Wait until small children are sleeping to make phone calls. For ages three to four, let your child help you put some favorite toys in a box. Label this the “phone box.” Plan ahead with your child to keep herself busy with the phone box while you are on the phone.
  5. Have a junk drawer near the phone. There are all kinds of interesting throwaway things you can put in a junk drawer. Let your child explore the junk drawer when you are on the phone.
  6. Discuss the problem at a family meeting and get everyone’s ideas on how to solve the problem.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that they are loved and important even when they aren’t the focus of attention. They can take care of themselves while respecting their parents’ desires to pay attention to other people or things. They can experience the concept of give and take. They can entertain themselves. They will feel better when satisfaction comes from within instead of having to constantly seek attention from others.

Parenting Pointers

  1. Since this problem requires so much concentration and commitment on your part, make sure you have a plan and then follow it consistently until your child learns that you have a right to uninterrupted time.
  2. Anytime you have a recurring problem, you will be most effective if you deal with the belief behind the behavior (help the child feel belonging and significance) and take time for training.
  3. You do a real service to your children if you help them correct their mistaken notion that they only count when they are the center of attention. If you do this while your children are growing up, you can save them years of rejection and isolation as adults.

Booster Thoughts

During one of our Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way workshops, we were doing a role play on effective ways to help children with the mistaken goal of “undue attention.” The group who planned the role play chose the behavior of interrupting while Mom was on the phone. In scene one, the person playing Mom portrayed ineffective ways to handle this situation. She scolded the person role playing her 3-year-old daughter. In the second scene, Mom portrayed an effective method as follows: Mom said “excuse me” to the person she was talking to on the phone. Then she took her watch off her wrist and handed it to her daughter, saying, “Honey, please take my watch and tell me when the second hand (she showed her which one) goes all the way around and reaches the twelve at the top two times.” Then she started talking again. Her little girl watched the wristwatch intently. When her mother hung up the phone, her little girl said, “Mommy, Mommy, you had more time.”

This role play portrayed an excellent way to redirect the child and to show her how to get attention in a helpful way. Another participant had an equally effective but different method. She put her finger to her lips, lovingly patted her child, and kept talking. First the child tried interrupting more. Then he stomped his foot and shook his fist. Then he found a toy and started to play.

In the classroom, teachers have found that an agreed upon non-verbal reminder works wonders. One teacher had an agreement that whenever one of the kids talked out of turn, she’d hold up a finger. She never got past three fingers before he stopped interrupting and waited his turn.