When Kids Interrupt

Your child needs your attention right now? Teach her to wait.


“I’ve told my child to say ‘Excuse me’ when I’m talking to someone else. Now she thinks she can interrupt me as long as she says it—and she does so constantly. She won’t even be interested in speaking to me until I pick up the phone or start chatting with another mom at the bus stop. Then it’s almost like she’s going to explode if I don’t turn to her pronto.” —Courtney G.; Edwardsville, Illinois

We can most likely blame evolution for this type of rudeness, says child psychologist Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. Your child’s excessive interrupting goes back to the Stone Age: Cave kids left alone could get snatched up by predators, so the ones who called out for Mom or Dad as soon as adult eyes were off them were more likely to survive and pass on their genes.

Assuming there are no saber-toothed tigers in your nabe, you can try several things to short-circuit her behavior. “Prep your daughter before you get involved in a conversation,” says Dr. Markham. Tell her you’ll be busy for a few minutes. If she truly needs you she can say “Excuse me,” but she’ll still have to wait. Then come up with a signal to reassure her inner cave girl that you’re not going anywhere. You could squeeze her hand or place your head on her shoulder and hug her to you.

If she continues to interrupt, say, “I hear that you need me. Right now I’m talking to Mrs. Jones. I’ll be with you in a minute.” Then resume your chat. If she waits patiently, give her positive feedback (“I know it was hard to wait, and you did it. What helped you stay calm? Was it the squeeze?”). “She’ll be happy to know that you appreciate her efforts,” says Dr. Markham.

common deMOMinator

We asked you on Twitter: Does your kid bug you while you’re on the phone? Your answer:

another mom’s 2¢

“Try giving your daughter a task to complete. That’s what keeps my 8-year-old twin boys from interrupting me. I’ll say, ‘I’m talking right now. Can you please tell Justin we’re leaving in 5 minutes?’ or, ‘Justin, will you see if Kieran needs help carrying his soccer bag while I finish talking to his mom?’ Kids like to feel useful.” —Jessica L.; Greenlawn, New York