Parents Guide to Ending Interrupting Behaviors, For Good

There you are, that important call is finally coming in, you say “hello” and that is the moment your preschooler runs in with the most “importantest” story about how they just found their old Yoda lightsaber and they are so happy to have found it and they need you to play lightsaber sword fight with them right now! 

The frustration you feel burning inside of you is perfectly normal. Once you have a plan on how to deal with this, however it can get better.  You can teach your preschooler how to wait and stop interrupting if you consistently use the steps as follows:


Set up what you are going to be teaching. In teaching your preschooler any new task, you will generally have much better results if you prime them before the incident happens. This is what we do with fire and tornado drills in schools. Just use the same strategy here.

  • First, sit your child down and let them know what interrupting is and talk to them about why it is important to wait. Don’t spend 5 minutes giving a lecture, just a short phrase should be enough. “Interrupting is when we try and tell someone something when they are talking to someone else or are working on something.” “It is polite to wait for people so they can give you all the focus you deserve.” Simple.
  • Let them know that it is hard to learn how not to interrupt and that you are going to help them. Teach them the steps you are going to use below.
  • Relate with them that it is hard to wait sometimes. While they are waiting it is important that they have some ideas of what they can do while they are waiting. This could include taking deep breaths, stretching, twiddling thumbs, or grabbing and squeezing a stress ball. Just standing their staring will make the time feel like it takes forever.
  • Now that you have talked about the steps, practice it. First, you pretend to be your child and have them tell you to wait. Show lots of different things you may do while you are waiting to make it easier. Now, switch and pretend you are talking to someone on the phone and have them start to say something to you. Have them practice waiting then praise their effort. Make sure you are having fun during this process.
  • Bonus Tip if having them practice seems boring, grab a couple of their dolls or figures and have them practice instead.

The actual steps:

1. When they interrupt, let them know that you are talking to someone or in the middle of something and need them to wait a minute and then you will be able to listen to them. For a visual cue, I like to gesture like I am grabbing a thought out of the air then hold it to my head to show that I am holding onto my thought so I don’t forget it.

2. After a moment has passed and you can find a pause in what you are doing , let them tell you what is on their mind. This is where I find the most mistakes. Parents genuinely expect to come back to their kid, but forget. It isn’t intentional, but it teaches kids that if they do wait, they may not be able to say what is on their mind. At this point, interrupting is more beneficial than waiting. We want to change that.

  • Initially, I wouldn’t ask them to wait more than a 5-15 seconds because the goal in the beginning is to teach them that when you ask them to wait you are, in fact, going to give them a turn and they get rewarded with undivided attention by waiting.
  • Let them know they did an awesome job at waiting and link the praise with some form of body contact (high five, fist bump, hug). Physical contact is one of the best rewards a parent can give.
  • As you continue to use this strategy, you can have your child wait a little longer. The main trick is to make sure you don’t forget about them and they get their chance to tell you what they are so excited about.

With consistency and praising their effort to wait despite how hard it can be, you will eventually find that your child will master the skill and will be able to wait for longer and longer times.

It is important to note, sometimes kids may have something very important to tell you and they should interrupt you (for example, a broken window, Someone is at the door, their sister is about to cut their own hair, or a medical emergency). In those cases, you will need to give your child the vocabulary to let you know that it cannot wait. If they tell you it is important and it turns out it could wait, first be thankful that everything is okay, then stay calm and teach them why this is not considered an emergency. Just remember, short and sweet statements are the key, not long-winded lectures.

If you need some additional support with trying to implement these strategies, I would be happy to help. Please call me at 513-646-9708 or email me at [email protected].