Written by: Dr. Rick Manista, Psy.D.
Working or parenting children comes with a single guarantee: they will interrupt you regularly. You might be on a phone call, be deep in conversation or trying to cook dinner, children will blurt out and seek attention without paying attention to the situation. Not only is this very annoying, it can become a hard pattern to break. Here are some strategies to help break that pattern.
Think with your eyes
Michelle Garcia Winner (2015) studied that one of the most important social skills is not eye contact, but eye tracking. When we notice what someone is looking at, we can guess what they are thinking about. This is the first step for perspective taking. Often, children are not paying attention to what we are looking at. Which is why they interrupt, they are not aware we are thinking about something else. We can teach them to “think with their eyes” and prompt them with: “What am I looking at?” “What am I thinking about?” To help build this awareness.
What am I reinforcing?
Usually when a child interrupts us, what do we do? We respond to them! And this teaches them that it is ok to interrupt us. We have to be aware of what we are reinforcing and not rewarding an interruption. We also want to be mindful of our family practices and see if that behavior is being modeled.
When the child is interrupting us, we can continue to look at what we are doing, make a stop sign with our hand and state “I am looking at ____. I am thinking about ____. I am not thinking about you now.” This helps reinforce the concept of perspective taking. We have to be aware of our tone of voice when using this strategy. If we do not use a gentle tone, the statement can be interpreted as a harsh criticism.
Another tool for our toolbox is. . . to make a tool box! Author Elizabeth Pantley finds creating a “boredom box” helps children handle boring moments. Different activities can be placed in there such as puzzles, coloring books, and toy figures. Giving children activities to occupy themselves will have them interrupt less.
Prepare as much as possible
One of the best strategies is to tell them ahead of time when you cannot be interrupted. Children like to have clear expectations in their environment. This makes them calmer, which results in better behavior (Haiken, 2019). By making them aware of what you are doing and how long it will take, they will have a clear standard on when they can talk to you.
Sometimes we need to interrupt
Unfortunately, sometimes we have to interrupt. Which can become confusing for kids! In times of emergency, we expect to be interrupted. This is an important lesson for children. An easy rule is we can be interrupted if there is a fire or someone is hurt.
Garcia-Winner, M. (2015, February 10). The four steps of social thinking. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=The Social Communication Dance The Four Steps of Communication
Haiken, B. (2019, January 1). Interrupting ages 6-12. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from http:// www.healthday.com/
Pantley, E. (n.d.). 7 positive ways to guide a child who keeps interrupting you. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from https://www.mother.ly/
Photo from: Pixabay
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles