Strategies for Teaching Kids Not to Interrupt

Don't let your child interrupt your conversations.
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Whether you’re listening to your friend tell you about her day, or you're sharing a story with your grandmother, it can be hard to hold an entire conversation without getting interrupted by your child.

Your child may think to wait for his turn to talk lasts an eternity (even if it's only three minutes). And his impatience may cause him to insert himself into the conversation.

While you can't expect your preschooler to sit quietly through an hour-long tale, teaching kids not to interrupt is an important social skill. Children who understand how to politely enter into a conversation—instead of talking over people—will likely be more successful in developing and maintaining relationships.

Why Kids Frequently Interrupt

Kids often interrupt adult conversations because they’re bored. If you’re talking to someone else about adult topics and your child isn’t involved in the conversation, he may frequently interrupt as an attempt to amuse himself and gain attention.

Sometimes kids struggle to wait their turn to talk because they’re impulsive. They may tend to just blurt things out without even noticing that other people are talking. As a result, they may tend to talk over people rather than wait their turn until they learn better impulse control.

There are also kids who just don’t recognize social graces. They may be completely oblivious to the fact that asking you a question while you’re talking to someone else is rude. They may require some education and coaching to help them learn to avoid interrupting when others are talking.

Role Model Appropriate Behavior

One of the best ways to teach your child not to interrupt is to role model appropriate conversation skills. That can be tough if you've got a child who can't stop talking sometimes.

If you’re guilty of interrupting your child when he’s talking, he’s going to learn that it’s OK to talk over people. Show patience and be willing to wait your turn while your child is talking. 

There will certainly be times when you’ll need to interrupt your child (especially when his chatter seems to be a stalling technique that delays his chores). But treating your child with respect and waiting for your turn to talk in most situations will help him learn that it's not OK to interrupt.

If you do have to cut him short—like he’s in the middle of a long story and you need him to put his shoes on so you can get out the door—do so kindly.

Instead of just cutting him off, say, “I’m sorry to have to interrupt your story right now, but you need to get your shoes on so we can leave.”

If a long-winded tale seems to be a stall tactic to put off doing something like going to sleep, make it clear that you want to hear the story but you can’t hear it right now. Say, “I’d really like to hear the rest of your story but right now it’s time for bed. You can tell me the rest tomorrow.”

Establish Rules About Respectful Behavior

Make sure your child understands that interrupting can hurt other people’s feelings and that it’s perceived as rude. Explain how waiting for your turn to speak shows respect. Create a household rule such as, "Show respect to people when they are talking."

It’s equally important to discuss exceptions to the rule. Don’t tell your child to “never interrupt.” There certainly are times where interrupting is appropriate—like if the house is on fire.

Explain potential times where it is OK to interrupt, such as if there is a safety issue.

Teach Your Child What to Do Instead

Simply telling your child to wait for his turn may not be effective. Young children usually don’t have advanced enough social skills to recognize a lull in a conversation where it may be appropriate to insert themselves.

So rather than telling kids they have to wait until you’re done talking, create a plan to show your child appropriate ways he can get your attention.

If you’re in the middle of an adult conversation, and he wants to ask for permission to go outside, what should he do? Maybe he can give you a signal that he has a question by placing a hand on your leg. Then, when there’s a pause in the conversation, you can turn your attention to him.

Don’t Allow Interrupting to Be Effective

If you always stop what you’re doing to give attention to a child who is interrupting, you’ll reinforce that interrupting is the most effective way to get attention. So make sure that when your child interrupts, you don’t automatically give him the response he is looking for.

Provide a gentle reminder such as, “You are interrupting our conversation and that’s rude. I will answer your question in a minute when it’s your turn.” 

If your child continues to interrupt after a warning, ignoring may be the most effective response. Show him that interrupting won’t work. Time-out is another option if he continues to interrupt repeatedly.

Offer plenty of praise when your child refrains from interrupting. If you notice he’s patiently waiting his turn to speak, point it out and thank him for behaving respectfully. Providing positive attention to good behavior can prevent him from interrupting.

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  1. Tullett AM, Inzlicht M. The voice of self-control: Blocking the inner voice increases impulsive responding. Acta Psychologica. 2010;135(2):252-256.

  2. Tarullo A, Obradovic J, Gunnar M. Self-Control and the Developing Brain.

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