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’!***