Interrupting the interruption
14 June 2019

Interrupting the interruption

I’m sure we all have an example to share, of when we’ve either been on the phone, at the shops, speaking to people in person, with your child also wanting your attention at the same time; “Mum, can I get this?... Mum, look at this…Dad, I want this…and it goes on and on.

In as much as ‘butting in’ (as some to refer to it) might seem the norm for children of a certain age, it is also quite reassuring to know that it can be curbed. Interrupting, just like some other traits for children in the preschool category and (possibly) upwards, happens in a phase that they should eventually grow out of.

It is also important to note that your child will interrupt you with something that he/she feels is quite interesting and important and can’t wait – which is everything, unfortunately.

We also need to bear in mind that little children are still getting to grips with their impulses and do not (yet) have that ‘setting’ within them to know when to stop/go within the conversation.

Sometimes, it might just be a case of them wanting to be a part of the conversation – you know, adding their ‘two cents’ – whether it is needed at that; point in time or not (bless ‘em!)

The good news is, we don’t need to wait for them to grow out of this phase. There are things we can do to ease them out of this habit.

Introduce respectful communication practices

Modelling what we wish to see and using language that we would prefer to hear, would be one of the most advisable ways to combat this situation.

If you don’t cut your child off mid-sentence, but allow him/her to complete what they wanted to say, express their line of thoughts, stories or ideas, your child would know to do the same when speaking to others.

If you were to give your child the ‘heads up’ before you did anything which involved him/her, they would also be more inclined to do the same when in a similar situation e.g. In the morning; instead of waking your child up at the actual time, you could advise that the wake-up time is approaching and you’ll be back shortly to get them up.

When you need to make a call or have an important conversation with a visitor, avoid trouble by letting your child know that you're about to phone someone or have a conversation. Estimate how long you expect to talk. Ask your child if he/she needs anything before you make your call or have your conversation with your company. Then do your best to keep to that time schedule, and periodically check in on them. Let them know if you’ll be taking a bit longer than originally planned and find out whether your child needs anything before returning to your conversation.

Secret Signals

This could be a hand in the air, a gentle squeeze or whichever signal/sign you agree with your child; almost secret agent-like. This is guaranteed to be a favourite if planned well.

Have a ‘special activity’ to hand

This could end up being one of the greatest innovations ever if put into regular practice. This will have to be tried and tested a few times to make sure you have the right tools to keep your child busy while you are trying to engage in a conversation – on the phone or elsewhere. There would need to be a portable version as well as one that could be kept in the house.

There would (again) need to be that conversation beforehand, so your child knows not to interrupt (but would be kept busy) while the conversation is going on.

Some ideas for you to use to keep your child occupied while you're on the phone or otherwise unavailable, could be: a box full of puzzles, crayons, colourful markers or other quiet toys nearby that they can only use when you have to make a call. Set snacks and drinks on an accessible level so they don't have to interrupt you for help.


While interrupting may come across as being rude, you don’t want to compound the issue by telling your child to, ‘shhh’ or be quiet. You could try a few other phrases instead:

  • “I’ll be with you in a minute”
  • “Is everything ok? Give me a minute”
  • “I understand. Please give me a few minutes and I’ll be right with you”

There are so many more that you can come up with in the circumstances, that would do a better job than those orders. And even though you might get your child to stop talking/interrupting at the time, your child still would not have learnt much from that experience. Instead of telling your child to be quiet, model how you expect them to behave, by using some of the advice above. This way, you will be instilling certain skills in your child like waiting, listening, taking turns and generally respecting others.

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