How to get your kid to stop interrupting!

Waiting for their turn to speak can be difficult for kids. Learn how to help your child master this skill!

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Ever tried to hold a conversation with another adult, only to find your mini-me constantly calling for your attention, or trying to pull you away?

Maybe this is a common scene at the dinner table where all three of your kids are fighting to get a word in ― each one interrupting the other, so they end up quibbling.

Interrupting is common in children, because they forget that someone else’s need may be more urgent than their own. Since they often live in the moment, when they feel the need to say something, they need to say it right then and there!

Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre, says that kids interrupt for various reasons, “It ranges from being excited, to trying to grab attention or control and trying to have their say, to having poor social skills”.

Poor social skills include not being able to take turns, being rude and disrespectful to others, or a behavioural disorder to “not care what others have or wanting to shut others up”.

Younger kids and toddlers in particular, feel the need to participate in our conversations, and want to show us that they “belong”.

Since one of the main reasons that kids interrupt is to get their parents attention, it’s important for them to know that you’re there when they need you.

In addition, kids from a more talkative family may be more likely to interrupt. Children with conditions like ADHD also tend to interrupt more, because they have more difficulty controlling their impulses. They may not even realise that they are interrupting, and that their behaviour disturbs others. Koh adds that it’s not a good thing to interrupt, as it can reflect how others see the child.

You might have already tried time and time again to teach junior when he can interrupt (in an emergency) and when it’s not (when he’s bored, for instance), but instilling proper behavior isn’t easy.

Also, constantly interrupting can become a habit if the behaviour is not corrected, says Koh. “Many children these days have more authority, and parents tend to give in. So, they may become more daring ― and such behaviour can spread to other social settings and in schools,” he says.

Here are ways you can teach junior not to interrupt.

1. Reassure them that you are there

Since one of the main reasons that kids interrupt is to get their parents attention, it’s important for them to know that you’re there when they need you.

Let them know which situations are deemed to be emergencies, and those that aren’t. Tell your kids that if they need you, you’ll be there for them. For example, if someone is sick or hurt, like if a sibling has fallen down, you want to be interrupted. It’s important that they not fear getting into trouble like being scolded when they interrupt you if they truly need you.

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2. Use games and books

Teach your child that it’s important for them to listen and wait for an appropriate time for them to speak. Doing this shows respect to others and for what others are saying.

For younger children, a ball game can instill turn-taking, Koh suggests. “Play a simple game, where whoever holds the ball can speak and pass it on after each sentence.”

Another way to teach junior not to interrupt is to use books and stories. They are plenty stories which will help you bond with your child. One book that teaches kids the value of respecting others by listening and waiting for their turn to speak is Julia Cook’s My Mouth is a Volcano.

3. Hand-on-arm signal

One simple way to encourage your munchkin to wait their turn to speak is the hand-on-arm signal.

Teach your child that if you are having a conversation with another person, or if you are on the phone, and if she wants to talk to you, she needs to place their hand on your arm. You will acknowledge her by placing your other hand on her hand. When you do this, it means that you know she wants to talk to you, and you will be with her soon.

Mum of two Clara Lim, says that this method works wonderfully for her. “I slowly saw my girls becoming more patient. They know that when I place my hand on theirs, they will soon be attended to.”

Offering plenty of praise is a wonderful way of providing positive attention for good behaviour, and a great way to set good habits in the future.

4. Use reminder signals

“For older kids, you can teach the skills [to not interrupt] and discuss the effects it has on themselves and others,” notes Koh.

Of course, they will need time to be able to control their urge to interrupt. So, let your child know that when you use a certain signal ― perhaps when you place your hand on their shoulder ― this is a reminder to them that they should not interrupt.

5. Model behaviour

One of the most important things you can do as a parent, and together as a family, is to model the right behaviour.

The same applies when it comes to interrupting. If you often find yourself finishing your spouse’s sentences (as romantic as it sounds), your child may inadvertently pick up that trait. If older siblings often cut in when another family member is speaking, and you don’t point out that it’s wrong, it can escalate into a “competition”, where the child tries to be louder than others just to be heard.

6. Offer praise

When junior has been waiting for his turn to speak, point it out and thank him for behaving respectfully.

“When the child interrupts, use the sign. Then, once you have finished, turn your attention to the child and if the child is able to follow, praise the child,” Koh suggests.

Offering plenty of praise is a wonderful way of providing positive attention for good behaviour, and a great way to set good habits in the future.

Photos: iStock

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