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Quick Tip

How to Handle Impulsive Interruptions

Does Your Kid Interrupt You?

As we all know all too well, impulsive interruptions are a big challenge with our kids.

We're talking with someone, or doing something, or trying to focus on just about anything, and they decide they need our attention -- now! So what do you do? You get tired of repeating yourself, and you just want to finish your sentence, right?

Hand on the Arm Strategy

Here's a strategy that works like a charm for kids of all ages (starting at about 3 and going up to any age. It even works with teenagers, and my 20+ year old has been known to use it!). This trick shows respect for everyone, and manages to keep things from escalating.

It's a Simple Process

  1. When your child approaches and wants to say something, teach her to put her hand on your arm to get your attention. Gently, simply.
  2. Gently put your hand on her hand. This acknowledges her respectfully and sends the message that she'll get your attention soon.
  3. Find the quickest stopping point in your conversation (or activity) that you can. Simply say, “Excuse me,” and turn your attention to your child - briefly! Giving your child quick (and brief) access to you will help her learn to wait more patiently.
  4. You don't have to engage whatever your child wants, yet. Just listen to a quick summary of what she wants to tell you. (It's okay to remind her to bottom line it or make it quick.) Make it clear that you want to be responsive, and that there are other things going on that require your attention, too.
  5. After you hear what she wants, ask her to wait for a moment, and remind her that you'll get right back to her. Again, this gives her practice in waiting in small doses, with clear expectations.
  6. Turn back to your original activity -- continue talking or whatever you were doing. Try to find a time when you can stop a little longer.
  7. This time, as soon as you can comfortably do it, turn your attention back to your child. You have two choices: either address the issue if it can be resolved quickly, or set up a clear time when you will be available to address her need or concern. Don't handle it at the moment if its not urgent, or quick.

I know this sounds complicated, but it's really quite simple. The key coaching concepts that you're using here are:

  • Anticipate that interruptions are going to happen. (Set Realistic Expectations)
  • Agree in advance on a way to handle them together. (Communicate Clear Expectations)
  • Show your child that you intend to be attentive to her needs  by putting your hand on hers. (Parent Positively and with Compassion)
  • Teach your child to wait patiently by gradually increasing the time she waits. (Progress not Perfection)

It is amazing how often I hear from parents that this little trick has shifted the dynamic in their relationship. It's not that it will stop impulsive interruptions completely, but it will give you both a way to handle them that is respectful and effective. AND, best of all, it will raise your child's awareness to her tendency to interrupt, and help her take responsibility for managing it over time.

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