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Why I Let My Kids Interrupt My Conversations

Interruptme_Katesurfs

A while back, I read this meme that said, “Stop your child from interrupting in 1 simple (and respectful) step.

I thought, oh wow, great! I mean, it’s so annoying when you’re trying to talk and your kid comes up to you and just HAS to tell you about the most unimportant and irrelevant thing! Ugh!

The method is to simply take the hand of your child when they want to say something and you’re having a conversation. You teach them not to speak until you’re ready, but you still hold their hand, letting them know that you will be available for them shortly. It seemed gentle enough, and I didn’t think it wouldn’t hurt to try it…

The next day, I was walking along with a friend and, inevitably, my 4 1/2 year old daughter, Margo, started to interrupt. I told her about our new ‘plan‘ and that it wasn’t nice to interrupt and how next time she wanted to say something, she should just take my hand and when I was finished talking, then she could talk. She looked at me as though she was confused and almost as if she wanted to cry, but I persisted because EVERYBODY was talking about how great this technique worked and how respectful it was.

I tried it a few more times that day and each time, as she clung to my hand, the look on Margo’s face was of despair. She did, however, patiently wait thirty seconds or so for me to finish my stupid adult conversation. But, the experience for me, was close to soul crushing.

When I finally acknowledged her and said, “Ok, now what was it that you wanted to tell me?” She would say, “Oh nothing… I’ve forgotten now.” Or, she might have told me, but the level of enthusiasm was much less than it usually was.

Was my daughter’s interruption really as important as my stupid adult conversation?

Actually, who has the better capacity to wait and be patient? An adult? Or a child?

How long does it really take to acknowledge a child when they want to tell you something?

A second or two? “Oh yes, I see!” or “Oh, that’s so cool!” And, then it’s over and they continue with whatever they’re doing. Then, you can continue with your adult conversation. Finished. Done.

But, when they’re hanging off your hand, it’s in the back of your mind that they want to say something to you and your attention becomes even more divided! I found it way more work to make her wait, than it would have been to just quickly acknowledge her statement or question and be finished with it.

I immediately ditched the idea of teaching her to not interrupt.

A child lives completely in the present moment until they are about 7 years old.

When they have an idea or something to say, they need to say it NOW! They don’t need to say it in 30 seconds from now, or in five minutes from now. Their enthusiasm lives in the present moment and when they need to express that enthusiasm, it needs to happen immediately. There is nothing wrong with that. Sure it’s a little chaotic sometimes, but I’d rather that than to squash their enthusiasm! And, just because you let a child bubble over with joy, talking when they are little, doesn’t mean that the child will never learn how to communicate pleasantly with the people around them. They will learn that skill in due time.

Obviously, the age of the child is significant. My nearly 5 year old can wait a few moments to tell me something if she has to, but NOT my 2 year old!

And, how will a child ever learn to be respectful and to not interrupt?

They will and they already are learning it just by watching the world around them.

If I’m talking to a friend, my husband or especially a friend who has children, I simply let my kids interrupt. I mean, what is it that we’re talking about that’s sooooo important? If I’m actually having an important conversation, then I tell my kids to just hang on a second, and they do!

Interestingly, when I’m talking to a stranger, or someone at a shop or a restaurant, my kids DO NOT interrupt. They just know not to interrupt. Although I haven’t ‘taught‘ them about interrupting, they seem to already know about it. (The phone is different, I think because they are not seeing the interaction, only hearing it from one end). They know that sometimes it’s ok to interrupt and sometimes it’s not. I think because I let them freely interrupt me *most* of the time, they are more aware of the times when I really can’t be interrupted.

And, sometimes everyone in the house comes at me asking questions and saying things at the same time and I just remind them that I cannot hear everyone at once and that they will have to figure out who is going to speak first. They need to figure that out. Natural learning at its finest.

I let my kids interrupt and I encourage their enthusiasm. They are not rude. They are not disobedient. They are enthusiastic and I am an adult, who knows how to wait. If kids learn by watching us, then I’m stoked. Really! They will know how good it feels to have your enthusiasm valued. They will know that I think what they have to say is important, no matter how ‘unimportant‘ or ‘untimely‘ it may seem to anybody else. And, one day, when they have something really important to interrupt about, I hope they won’t be scared to do it.

***Update: This post has become very popular and some people have become very upset or angry by what I’m saying. I’m NOT saying to ditch all common sense and let your kids interrupt like raving lunatics. DO teach them respect and social protocols, at an age appropriate level. But, there’s no need to enforce a rigid rule of non-interruption. If I’m at home, or with my close circle of friends, my kids can interrupt (most of the time). If I’m out and having a conversation that needs to be had, or is with someone whom I don’t know very well, then I ask my kids to wait. My kids ARE polite and ‘well behaved’!***

290 Responses »

  1. Well said, in normal life people interrupt conversations all the time and it’s usually based on social hierarchy, if your boss interrupted your conversation you wouldn’t tell him to wait until you have finished, or if you were at your favourite sporting event and your hero sports person came over and interrupted would you ask them to wait while your friend told you what they had to eat at lunch?
    If you let your 2 year old interrupt your “adult” conversation it’s because you respect them and it only takes a second to ask the person your talking to if they would excuse you while you pay attention to your child who could be just telling you they love your or that they have just eaten all the little white pills they found in your bag.

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  2. I totally disagree. A child needs to learn self control. If our children start interupting their teachers, Grandparents, etc. it is going to come off as very rude. And if we allow them to interrupt us, they will do it to other adults. I found learning to wait my turn a very valuable lesson. I grew up with five siblings, it would have been chaos if we were all interrupting each other.

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    • I wonder how many times you’re ill mannered and interrupt your child?…. hmmm? Plenty I bet.

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    • A child cannot learn self control, that’s why they’re a child. The confidence to interject, when appropriate, is necessary for any negotiations and decent conversations as an adult. Perhaps you’re mixing up talking over others, compared to interruptions or interjections?

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  3. I wonder how many of the people on here that think it’s wrong for a child to interrupt an adult conversation believe it’s okay the other way around. Seriously, I’d say to pay attention and see if you do it. I know I was taught to not interrupt as a kid, and I’ve told my kids not to interrupt. But then I find myself interrupting them all the time! Great article. I think we can all learn something from it.

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  4. I see the merit of both ideologies and that depends on the nature of the people involved. I let my children have my attention as they grew up. Now they are all older/adults they still interrupt. I have learned that with aspergus that understanding boundaries and seeing signs of when to start and finish is very difficult. I have had to explain to my older children why they mustn’t interrupt in public situations eg parent teacher night. They couldn’t see it for themselves, I had to show them. There is something to be said about physical proximity, hand holding/wrist holding, or an arm around the shoulder that provides re-assurance and validation. They know then you value them and recognise them and their turn is coming without either party’s feelings being trampled on.

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  5. Lazy parenting at its finest.

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    • “Lazy”, a negative label is what you see when you look at it through the eyes of pride. If you make a child wait while you finish your conversation it’s because you have an ego problem. Most adults want to look like they have their children under control in front of the person they’re talking to. But children are people too. Not trying to control another person, no matter their age, does not make you lazy or passive. Only someone with self-confidence can let their children interrupt. People with low-self-esteem try to make it look like they have self-confidence by being egotistical. But really, all they’re doing is overcompensating for what they don’t have.

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  6. Interrupting is something we all do, but shouldn’t. How will children learn this if it isn’t explained to them? I work with 5 year olds and they all think that what they have to say is the most important thing for me to hear.I only have one pair of ears!

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  7. How do they know when it’s ok and not ok. You keep saying “most of the time” but how do they know to differentiate?

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  8. Waiting 30 seconds is soul crushing? It will be even more crushing when your child has relationships later in life and uses the old “now I’ve forgotten” form of manipulation so common among adults. If the adults you choose to interact with are simply having stupid conversations you might want to think about that as a separate issue.

    As the parent of six kids, remembering what it is that they wanted to say comes with experience and respect for others. If a room full of adults are being inconsiderate perhaps our kids can show them the alternatives to interrupting, having some thing so much more important to say and seeing who can trump one another for the most obnoxious way of being heard. Give the ‘touch’ method a little more than a day or two and you’ll begin inhabituating when it comes to what truly is soul crushing and what is just good parenting.

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  9. As with most things it’s a matter of age-appropriateness and balancing out the needs of the parent and the needs of the child. But the earlier you start on teaching respect for others the better in my view.Letting kids interrupt cause it’s easier is a short-term solution. It doesn’t set them up well for school or being in group settings. I work with 5 year olds and there are some who have parents who have taught them to listen to others respectfully, indicate by putting their hand up that they have something to say and wait their turn. There are others that blurt out things. Yes, their faces crumple when they are corrected for their lack of respect for the classroom rules and others, but a crumpled face is worth it for the long-term goal of teaching them respect for others and some self-control. When they get it right and are praised the look of joy is also worth the effort of working through the process and a long-term goal.

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  10. I like it…great balance and a wonderful reminded of cherishing their enthusiasm!!

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  11. You don’t finish your stupid adult conversation. You finish the statement that you’re speaking at the time. Only a couple of seconds, not 30 seconds.

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  12. Not all adult conversations are “stupid.”

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  13. Teach them young ….I think it is the proper thing to do ….though fully understand that everyone has what they think is the right way!!

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  14. I had also read somewhere about the step suggested to ask the child to wait, I was going to implement it but after reading this post , I am again thinking how to go about it

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  15. Respect goes both ways. From around 3 years children can wait for short periods. Helping them to respect you and other adults is not a bad thing. Of course your child is important however, the person you’re talking wit is also important and so are you.
    I mostly disagree with this post.

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  16. I seriously disagree with your thoughts on this process, as a mother of two children and the oldest who politely raises his hand when he has something to add to the conversation, I think that it’s ridiculous to think your child is experiencing soul-crushing despair when asked to wait a moment for someone else to finish. What will you do when she has to go to school and has to wait her turn to add to a conversation?

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  17. This teaches children absolutely no self control! Children need boundaries and to know that it is not an all about me society! This is what’s wrong with the world today! It will not hurt a child to understand that they need to learn to respect others and not interrupt!

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  18. Katesurfs You R awesome! This is why I let my son interrupt – Unless, I am in a very important conversation. And I tell him too that if it is an EMERGENCY interrupt-interrupt e.g. I am burning something on the stove again 🙂

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  19. I don’t agree with what you are trying to get across here. People with mind sets like you are exactly the reason why children don’t have any respect anymore or act out. Children actually need to be made aware of that they can’t interrupt when the adult has an important conversation. The hand trick is a very nice one. You are sending the wrong message by letting your child interrupt you whenever he or she wants. They have to learn from a young age on to be respectful of certain things, the not interrupting is one of them.

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  20. By touching your child’s hand you are showing them you are emotionally available. I think the language you used in the first place set yourself up for a tumble.

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  21. Love this. Thank you!!

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  22. This seems like a personal story more than a educated parenting piece of advice. I agree that children should be allowed to interrupt. However, I really think it’s important that if you’re going to use your voice on a social platform in this way that you add more facts and less opinion. You have two kids? There’s millions in the world that don’t mimic yours, and it’s really important that you understand that and share that to less educated parents, unless you’re just making this up as you go like most people are. One technique I use, is called redirection; another is reinforcement (bribery is very different if you aren’t familiar with behaviorism)

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