Reader Question from Rita:
All 3 of my children ages 5-8 have been told that when I am in a conversation with another adult that they should wait politely and NOT interrupt. They all have their moments when they interrupt, and I have a signal that I give them to let them know I know they need my attention yet I can’t discuss what they need at that moment, but they are so impulsive they disregard me and then I have to speak to them in a more stern manner. It feels embarrassing and frustrating.
We have experienced this with everyone of our children at one point or another. It sounds like by giving them a signal to let them know you heard them, you are eliminating their excuse that you are ignoring them. My suggestion is that when they come and would like to speak to you, after you give them the signal, if they wait patiently, it’s best to take the very next break in a conversation to address the child. That way you have shown that the adult has the priority but you are also not expecting your child to wait longer than is plausible for their age. Clearly as they get older the waiting time should be longer but you do want to be careful that the outbursts are not happening because they are exasperated from having to wait past their ability.
Sometimes I found it helpful to either hold the child’s hand if they were wanting to speak to me, or even take them on my lap if I was sitting down. This conveys further that you are paying attention to them and also gives them a bit of contact with you that may enable them to wait a little more patiently. Obviously if they are rudely continuing to interrupt, the only response that I found affective was to deal with the child immediately, not to answer their question or listen to their story but to give a consequence for being rude and disrespectful. Yes, I too found it embarrassing when this happens, but the adult is able to wait. Consequences for a child cannot wait too long, or the clear relation between the action and the consequence gets muddied.
One other thing that you may want to keep in mind: often the situation will dictate your response. For instance, being disturbed while you are watching your children play is different than being interrupted while you are having an official meeting or quick interaction with a child’s teacher. In the first situation, a quick break the conversation to hear what your child wants to tell you is not inappropriate (if they say something like, “excuse me Mom and Mrs. so-and-so”) because of the setting. The second situation is one in which an interruption by a child would take valuable time and could take away from you giving or receiving pertinent information. It would be helpful to clarify for your children the difference between settings.
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