Why kindergartners interrupt
It can be one of the most humiliating experiences in your life: You're on the phone with your boss when your kindergartner bursts in and asks, "Mom, can I go outside?" You calmly reply, "Mommy's in the middle of an important call right now, honey. Please don't interrupt." Nonetheless, he persists: "But Mom, I want to go outside!" You're less calm now: "Not now, honey. I'm on the phone," you say through clenched teeth. Just as you're about to pick up your shredded dignity and carry on the conversation, your kindergartner shouts at the top of his lungs, stomping his feet for punctuation: "MOM! I SAID I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE!"
If this scenario rings a bell, you're not alone. At age 5, your child has only recently learned that the world doesn't revolve around him – but he doesn't always remember that lesson. As his short-term memory improves and he becomes less impulsive, your kindergartner will gradually learn how to hold that thought (if only for a few minutes) while you wrap up what you're doing. Even so, he may still lack the critical-thinking skills required to decide when and how to cut in. Among the questions he's grappling with when he wants to get a word in: Is it okay to interrupt when I'm hungry? When I need a tissue? When the sink is about to overflow? When the house is on fire? Understandably, these skills take time to develop, so try not to expect miracles.
Of course, dealing with a kindergartner who breaks in when you're chatting with a friend or scheduling an appointment is exasperating – but the habit can be conquered. While you guide your youngster through some basic lessons about good manners and waiting his turn, think of his behavior as a reflection of his worldview rather than as something he does to irritate you. In the meantime, try to save important calls for times when your kindergartner's fast asleep or at a friend's house.
What you can do about interrupting
Show him how it's done. Take advantage of your kindergartner's propensity to copy adult behavior by setting a good example. If you and your partner tend to cut each other off, work on ending that habit. You should also try not to interrupt your 5-year-old when he's talking to you. If you forget and step on his lines (or anyone else's), stop and say, "Sorry. I interrupted you. Go on." With a little luck, your child will not only absorb your good manners but your ease in graciously admitting to a mistake. You'll also make your job easier down the road if he frequently hears you say, "pardon me," "please," "thank you," "you're welcome," and "excuse me." It may take time, but using these words will eventually become second nature for him.
Make a game of it. By now, your child has probably learned how to take turns. Draw on this skill to teach him to wait until the other person has finished talking to speak his peace. This simple game will give him a better handle on the stop-and-go pattern of conversation: Kneel or sit so you can make eye contact with him. Ask an open-ended question about something he's passionate about, such as, "Why do you like playing baseball so much?" Listen carefully as he answers. Prompt him gently if necessary: "Are you finished? Okay, now it's your turn to ask me a question." If he interrupts your answer, touch your finger to his lips and finish what you were saying. Then say, "It's your turn now," and let him continue the conversation. If he stalls, ask another question. He may still be a long way from making polite dinner-party conversation, but at least you'll reinforce the basics of conversational give-and-take.
Get phone-smart. Your kindergartner acts up when you're on the telephone because he sees the phone as a threat – it takes away your attention, which he wants for himself. He might feel less threatened if you invite him to pick his own activity while you chat. Ask, "Would you like to get a book or a toy while I'm on the phone? Or would you rather sit at the table and have some milk and a cookie?" Offering him a choice makes him feel that he has some control and makes it clear that you haven't forgotten him. Keep the choices simple, though. If you ask, "What would you like to do while I'm on the phone?" you might be setting yourself up for a no-win negotiation.
If that ploy doesn't work, try redirecting his attention. Suggest that he ride his scooter in the driveway (while you watch), kick back with a short video, or play an educational computer game.
Read and teach. Reading books together and talking about them is always a good way to get an idea across. Try these: The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners by Stan and Jan Berenstain, The Bad Good Manners Book by Babette Cole, Manners by Aliki, It's a Spoon, Not a Shovel by Caralyn and Mark Buehner, What Do You Say, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin and Maurice Sendak, and – a great choice for irrepressible girls – Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes.
Hang in there. It'll probably be a few years before your child prefaces his interruptions with a courtly, "Excuse me, I have a question." Even so, remind yourself that he's doing well to learn that interrupting is generally frowned upon – and that when people do need to cut in, there's a polite way to do it. If he can put these principles into action most of the time, you have reason to heap on the praise. In the meantime, try to remember that you're introducing a principle rather than achieving a goal. Try to have some perspective, too: Believe it or not, the time will soon come when your youngster hardly seems to notice your existence – and you'll fondly remember the days when he couldn't bear even a moment without your attention.
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