Teaching a Child to Stop Interrupting Conversations

Mother having phone call nudging daughter in sun
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The house is quiet. Your preschooler just had lunch and went to the bathroom, and is now happily coloring away. It's the perfect time to pick up the phone and make a few phone calls. Right? Think again. Any parent can tell you that the scenario described above almost always leads to one thing — the second you get absorbed in your call, you will soon find your child at your feet, tugging at your shirt, interrupting what you are doing.

What is it about preschoolers and interrupting? An interrupting child is certainly an annoyance, whether you are having a conversation with another person, trying to complete a simple task or yes, talking on the phone. The bad news is, while this behavior is something your child will eventually grow out of, it will take a while. The good news is, there are steps you can take to curb your barging baby and possibly even finish a conversation.

Why Kids Interrupt

Your child isn't being rude when she interrupts — she just doesn't know any better. "But I've told her many, many times that she needs to wait her turn when I'm talking to someone," you cry, exasperated. "How can she not know?" She truly doesn't.

Like many other "problem" preschool behaviors, such as lying, tattling, and temper tantrums, interrupting has a lot to do with immaturity.

There are a few reasons why preschoolers interrupt:

  • Children in the three to five age range are just starting to figure out that there is more going on in your life than just them. And that sometimes you (gasp) do things without their input or knowledge.
  • Your child may have truly forgotten what you told her. Short-term memory is still developing at this age, contributing to a short attention span.
  • An inability to understand how much time has passed. What seems like three hours to your preschooler when she's waiting to tell you something has probably only been about three minutes.
  • Not knowing when something requires an interruption. Because to your little one, the picture of the flower she just drew is important enough to stop you from talking on the phone. So is the fact that his older sister hid his favorite toy car.
  • He may have something very exciting to say!

How to Stop a Child From Constantly Interrupting

So now that you know why your preschooler interrupts, does it make it any less annoying? Of course not. There are ways, however, to help them understand that while what they have to say is indeed very important to you, sometimes there are other things you need to take care of first.

  • Ignore the interruption. This one is hard because, in the beginning, it's just likely to make your child louder, but he will soon learn that if he interrupts, he won't get the attention he is looking for.
  • Plan to be interrupted. If you have a task or a phone call that you know will take ten minutes to complete, budget for 15 minutes and then assign something for your preschooler to do during that time — read a book, play with dolls, watch television. Set a timer and explain that she isn't to interrupt you (unless it is a true emergency) until the timer goes off.
  • Explain why you don't like to be interrupted as many times as it takes. Tell her that when she interrupts, it prevents you from doing something that you need to get done. And if she keeps stopping you in the middle of the task, it will take you longer to complete it, keeping you away from whatever it is she wants you to see or hear.
  • Don't let your child get past her first word. When your preschooler interrupts you, simply stop her from talking and tell her that you can't help her right now but as soon as you are finished — talking on the phone, writing a shopping list, etc — you will be happy to assist her. Stick to it.

As your child matures and learns more about taking turns, she will be less likely to interrupt you.

When you make it through a phone call or conversation without your child interrupting, be sure to praise them. Tell them how much you appreciate that you were able to do what you needed to.

Ultimately, the key to dealing with a child who interrupts is to be patient. As she learns that the world doesn't revolve around her and as you understand she isn't doing it to drive you crazy, the problem will eventually work itself out.

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