Dear Mama Drama:
I have two girls, ages five and seven, who are always interrupting my conversations. When I’m on the phone, talking to my husband, trying to pay the clerk in a store, etc., they always interrupt my conversation with, “Mommy, mommy…!”
I ask them to stop and wait, but then get hooked into talking with them about being patient and my conversation gets interrupted anyway.
Interrupting children are the frustration of many parents. Unfortunately, as you describe in your question, we unintentionally reinforce the exact behavior we want to extinguish with attention and lectures. There is hope, we just have to discipline ourselves to find success.
Start by having a conversation with you daughters about the interrupting behavior. Let them know you want to hear what they have to say, but you aren’t able to do that when they interrupt. Discuss how it is rude to you and the person you are talking with when they interrupt and remind them that they don’t want to be interrupted when you are talking with them either.
Next come up with a non-verbal cue for them to let you know they want your attention without interrupting. It could be placing their hand on your arm, gently tapping your shoulder, or something else you all come up with.
The next step is you acknowledging their cue without interrupting your conversation. You might put your hand on theirs or hold up your pointer finger indicating one moment. Then find a place to pause in the conversation and see what they need. If it is a short question, take care of it then. If it is something longer and you need to finish the other conversation first, tell them, “I want to give you my full attention, so let’s talk about that in a few minutes when I’m done talking with Daddy.”
Now practice. Do some role plays by talking with one daughter while the other one comes up and gives you the cue. Take turns with each girl and acknowledge each of their successes.
The discipline part for you is to remember to use the cue instead of telling them to stop interrupting you. If they forget to use their cue, give them a non-verbal reminder and continue your conversation. Ignore their negative attention seeking behavior and quickly acknowledge them when they seek attention appropriately.
This will take practice and a little time for you all to develop these more positive habits. Review your plan periodically (especially before making a phone call or going shopping) and celebrate your efforts and successes together.
Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.