Interrupting others: A bad habit or a developmental stage?

What can you do when a preschooler continually interrupts?

It is common for preschoolers to interrupt a conversation. Young children tend to be more self-centered and believe that the world revolves around them. When they have something to say it is hard for them to imagine that their thoughts aren’t as important as those of others. Preschoolers are used to having the full attention of the adults in their life and are not particularly skilled at waiting to tell their story.

There are many ways that you can assist a young child in learning that it is not polite to interrupt someone who is speaking. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following tips for parents and caregivers that can assist with short circuiting the annoying habit of constant interruptions.

  • Give the behavior a label. Let your child know that he has interrupted a conversation with a non-judgmental statement; “Eric, I am speaking with your Grandma right now. Please do not interrupt me.”
  • Model good listening skills. Make your own communication a respectful give and take so your child learns that there is a time to talk and a time to listen. Children are mimics and will copy your behavior.
  • Let the child know when it is OK to interrupt. It is important that you let the child know that an interruption is acceptable if there is an emergency to report. Be clear about what an emergency might include; someone is hurt or there is a dangerous situation.
  • Teach manners. A preschooler can be quick to learn the words “excuse me” or “pardon me” when he needs to step into an ongoing conversation. Assist her by reminding her that “I’m speaking right now. What I’d like to hear is, excuse me mom, I need to tell you what happened in preschool today.”
  • Be patient. Preschoolers are still perfecting their language skills and may be thinking faster than they can speak. Give your child time to process his thoughts and put them into words.
  • Redirect the child’s attention. When you need to focus on a conversation or activity, be prepared with a “fidget box” of quiet toys that can occupy the child while you are on the phone or having an important conversation. Calculators, an old phone, paper and writing instruments, and soft toys can be a great start for your family fidget box.
  • Explore children’s books about characters that are patient or impatient. Discuss what the main character did that was good or what he could do differently next time. Use books, movies and real life to highlight good examples of waiting your turn. Your local librarian can recommend several books that may assist you. My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook is a story about Louis who is continually getting into trouble because his mouth “erupts” all the time.

When we express approval and give positive concrete feedback to children for acceptable behavior, we increase the likelihood that they will follow directions in the future. Make your child feel important. Get on your child’s level, look into her eyes and explain that communicating includes talking as well as listening. Let your child know what you expect. Remind her that it is important for one person to talk at a time so important information can be heard. When your preschooler is insistent about speaking right now, let him know that you will hold his hand until it is his turn to talk. Often just acknowledging that the child has something to say can help him wait for a short time. Don’t let interruptions become the only way that a child gets your attention.

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