You’re having a catch-up phone conversation with a friend. She’s sharing the nitty-gritty details of her life when your 3-year-old decides he wants to share the nitty-gritty details of his life.

“Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.”

You try to shush him, but there’s no stopping the intentional mission of…The Interrupter. With a hint of frustration, your friend asks, “Is this a bad time?”

And you have no choice but to say, “I’ll call you later.”

As you think about how to tell your 3-year-old that it’s rude to interrupt, he announces, “I made this car go!” He interrupted your conversation to tell you he rolled his car on the floor… Ack!

Okay, so your child is 3. Developmentally, he is far from skilled in impulse control. And although he has likely observed you talking with other adults – a phone call looks different. Only hearing one side, a young child may not understand that you’re having a real conversation. Without another adult present, ‘The Interrupter’ thinks he has you all to himself.

It may also be important to know that a child lives in the present until about age 7. This means that young children are enthusiastic about what they want to share…in that moment. After a minute or two, a 3-year-old will not remember what he wanted to tell you, and his excitement will have faded. We want children to be respectful, but we don’t want to squelch their enthusiasm.

young boy

So, whether you have a toddler barging into your phone conversations or a 6-year-old butting into every conversation, here are 3 helpful hints for walking through this stage of development with your enthusiastic interrupter:  

  • Be the example. Young children learn social behaviors by observing the world around them. Avoid cutting off your child when he is speaking. If you do interrupt him, say you’re sorry for interrupting and ask him to continue.

  • Plan for phone calls. Take care of your child’s needs before your call, and let him know you’ll be having a conversation with someone who is not in the room. Give your child a couple choices of what he can do while you’re on the phone: “Would you like to sit next to me and play with the puzzle, or would you like to sit at the table and have a snack?” Then limit your time on the phone.
  • Teach your child a signal he can use instead of interrupting. A nifty trick that works well when consistently used is to have your child place his hand on your arm when he wants to talk to you. You then place your hand over his to show you’re aware of him and will soon turn your attention to him.

small boy

Like most stages of development, The Interrupter is only in it for the short haul. With a little role modeling and advanced planning, your child will learn the skills that allow him to wait his turn instead of becoming…’The Interrupter’.

Cheryl is a seasoned educator and writer, having worked in the field of education for over 25 years. Cheryl has taught high school and college courses and has also served as an elementary school principal. Most recently, Cheryl retired from her full-time position as Manager of Teacher Preparation for the corporate offices of KinderCare Education in Portland, Oregon. There she developed training for over 25,000 early childhood teachers that KinderCare employs nationwide.
Cheryl and her husband now reside in Boise, Idaho, where she is a mom; a grandma; and an active author, speaker, and early childhood consultant. Having suffered the loss of a child three years ago, Cheryl’s passion is to use both her personal and professional experiences to provide hope and inspiration to families and teachers working with young children. She believes that the best vehicle for helping children… is to look through their eyes.

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