My Child Keeps Interrupting

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie. My child keeps interrupting. Have you got any ideas about what to do with a child that interrupts all the time? I’m a foster mother, and I have a three-year-old girl that never lets me have a minute on the phone without her constantly pulling at me and interrupting. She shouts or screams if I leave her longer than a few seconds, and the only way I can get a chance to talk on the phone is to run to the bathroom, where she ends up banging on the door. I do play with her and spend time with her. Why can’t she let me have a minute to myself? Janet

my child keeps interrupting

Hi Janet,

Being a parent can make even the best of us want to run to the bathroom for a few minutes break, so I completely understand your point of view.That being said, I’m not sure how long you’ve been caring for your foster child, what kind of experience she’s had so far, or if she’s an only child, but learning to be considerate of others is a valuable skill.

Learning not to interrupt is a skill.

Behaviour like this is common in this age group as kids grapple with life seen only from their point of view. Many kids learn the polite phrases, such as “excuse me,” but still interrupt anyway.

My child keeps interrupting: It’s a cry for attention.

If you’re giving your little girl one-on-one attention, that’s great, as lack of that attention is often a contributing cause of chronic interrupting. Having said that, it’s not only a case of offering attention; it’s offering the right kind of attention. A cry for attention is because the child’s need for satisfying contact is not being met. So if you’re doing something special with her, ignore phone calls or texts during those one-on-one times and let callers leave a message.

My child keeps interrupting: Share your expectations.

To stop interrupting the rest of the time, explain to her that you’re no longer going to the bathroom and that you expect her to be polite and wait her turn when you are on the phone. Explain the difference between common interrupting, such as when she doesn’t want to wait, and a true emergency, like when she has her finger caught in the door!

My child keeps interrupting: Role play

Role-playing can help her understand the difference between a routine interruption and an emergency. It’s a lot of fun, too! After you’ve explained, though, I would set her up, as it’s important to show rather than tell. If you’re a good enough actor, you can pull this off yourself. If not, you might need the help of a patient friend or family member.

Here’s the parenting plan.

This is how it works. When she is not looking, use one phone to call another, like from one cell phone to another if you don’t have a landline, which many people don’t nowadays. Pretend there is somebody on the other end. If your acting skill is good enough, your little girl will start to cause a problem. Put your hand over the phone as if there was someone there, kneel down on her level, and tell her that you are on the phone and that she must wait.

Go on to say that when you are off the phone, she will have your full attention. Follow through. Pretend you are having a delightful conversation. If she continues to cause a problem, put your hand over the phone again, bend down, and tell her that if she cannot be quiet or stop pulling you, she will have to go to time out. Return to your conversation. If she still doesn’t stop, offer one more warning and then act. Take her to timeout and leave her there. If she comes out, put her back for a few minutes. You may have a lot of screaming going on, but at least you won’t have the stress of trying to deal with a “real person” on the other end of the line.

Make her wait.

Let her spend a minute per year of age in time out, but if she isn’t quiet when she comes out, repeat the process (including warnings). Let the “conversation” last just a couple of minutes over and above the time it takes her to quiet down. Then hang up. Thank her for being quiet at the end. Now give her your attention.

Keep repeating the process.

Spread the calls throughout the day, but don’t overwhelm her, and extend the program to the next several days if you need to, repeating the process over and over again.

Don’t worry, she will get the message. Just remember to praise her after a call when she does not interrupt, and if she behaves, scale down on the duration of the calls. Just throw in one longer one every once in a while to make sure she doesn’t revert. Believe me, it might take a few days, but it works! Just remember to warn everyone in advance so you can limit the number of real phone calls during your practice run.

Best of luck,


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