Discipline Strategies that Teach Kids Not to Interrupt

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Whether you’re listening to a cliffhanger of a story from a friend, or you’re getting some advice from Grandma, if your child has something to say, you’re likely to be interrupted. Waiting for a turn to talk can feel like an eternity to kids and their impatience often causes them to insert themselves into the conversation.

Teaching kids not to interrupt other people’s conversations 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

There will certainly be times when you’ll need to interrupt your child. Use each incident as an opportunity to role model how to do so respectfully.

If you’re guilty of interrupting your child when he’s talking, he’s going to learn that it’s okay to talk over people.

Show patience and be willing to wait your turn while your child is talking. 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 – be careful with the way you interrupt.

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

Talk to your child about the importance of respecting other people while they’re talking. 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.

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 okay 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, it can be more helpful to create a plan to show your child appropriate ways he can let you know when he has something to say without speaking over the person who is talking.

Develop a plan for how he can respectfully get your attention without interrupting the conversation. 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 and when there’s a pause in the conversation you can give him your attention.

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 to your child 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.” Make sure to turn your attention to your child in a minute and invite him to speak again.

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 for good behavior can prevent him from interrupting.

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