3 Ways to Cure Your Child's Case of "Interrupt-itis"

Sapphire's first grader constantly interrupts when she's talking with another adult. "I keep reminding him not to interrupt when someone else is speaking, but it is a struggle."

Krista E. describes this struggle another way: "I have seen some kids who are awful for interrupting," she says. "But I've also seen some parents who are really inconsiderate of their kids. The poor kid will try to say something, and the parent will scold them for interrupting and will then proceed to yammer on with his or her friend, either on the phone or in person, for the next half hour or more, completely ignoring the fact that their child has something to say."

While most moms in our communities believe in taking a middle path in dealing with "interrupt-itis," there are some who take much stricter or much more lenient approaches. Afrikka S., at the strict end of the spectrum, says: "Parents should establish [that] when adults are speaking [the kids] should not be involved at all. 'Speak when spoken to' is a rule that should start young."

At the lenient end of the spectrum are those who believe that a child's pleas should be paid attention to and not considered interrupting. As Rebecca G. explains, when her son says "Mom, Mom" while she's speaking with someone else, she stops to answer, explaining, "I don't believe in ignoring him."

Mel H. neatly describes the challenge parents face around interruptions when she points out that while "interrupting is very disrespectful . . . so is ignoring your kids." Here, readers share three strategies for teaching kids to politely share air time with others.

1. Remind Them, Repeatedly, to Wait

Children often see the world only from their perspective and have to be taught to wait their turns. A reader named Cathy points out that this requires gentle but firm reminders "to be patient and wait." She adds that it's important to ask your child what he wanted to tell you as soon as you can and to then listen "with your full attention."

Bonnie is another mom who stresses that this important message has to be repeated many times. "I think kids should learn not to interrupt because it shows respect, and it will also teach them that when they get older, they shouldn't be interrupted either. Just keep telling them not to interrupt."

Deanna J. agrees that children can and should have manners and respect. "I simply say: 'Excuse me, I am talking first. I need you to wait until I am done and then you can ask whatever you want.'"

2. Model Good Manners

Many moms believe the key is teaching a child the proper way to get his parent's attention when the mom is speaking to another adult. As Latasha N. points out, it's rude to interrupt, but if someone wants to say something to you, even if you're in another conversation, it's rude to make that person (no matter their age) wait for an unduly long amount of time. She suggests teaching kids to "wait quietly until there's a pause in the conversation, and [then] say excuse me."

As with Cathy's method, there's an important caveat: "I taught that rule to my nephew and it worked," says Latasha. "But you have to give him full attention when he does it, or he'll think it doesn't work and go back to being a pain."

It's also important to be strategic about how you are teaching a child to not interrupt, says Mel H., who learned the hard way. "With my daughter I tend to yell, which I don't actually mean to do, it's just you can only keep talking over someone for so long. But . . . now, when she speaks and my husband or I say something back, she yells: 'No, I was talking to daddy.'"

Lorelei H. agrees, adding: "You don't want to overreact to the rudeness because doing so might actually reinforce the behavior by providing the spotlight the kid's trying to hog." In other words, you have to show your child how to be patient by being so yourself.

3. Make Exceptions For Emergencies

Many moms, including Sharon G., recommend teaching a child that he can only interrupt if it is an emergency, like having to use the bathroom. "My children have learned that the only way they can interrupt is if it is important," she says. "It's a rule they have picked up pretty quickly."