The Interrupt Rule

Dear Mamas,

This might sound like a silly question, but it’s driving me nuts and causing tons of conflict in our house: How do I stop my 2 kids (daughter, age 6 and son, age 4) from constantly interrupting my conversations? Whether I’m talking to my husband, a friend, or god forbid I’m on the phone, that’s their cue to need something … IMMEDIATELY.

It seems like I’m constantly saying, “wait a minute” or “Mommy’s talking, don’t interrupt”, and that just eggs them on until I find myself yelling. It doesn’t work, and it’s rude to the person I’m talking to. How can I break this pattern and teach good manners at the same time?

There must be something I’m missing!



Hi Jacqueline,

So glad you asked! We recently learned about a clever and effective technique for this very problem (which, by the way, is common to almost every family on earth). It does seem to be a universal law that whenever Mom gets engaged in adult conversation, or a task that requires focus for more than 30 seconds, little guys in the vicinity will be drawn like flies and buzz just as persistently.

Here’s how it works: When you’re in conversation with someone, either on the phone or in person, and your kids need your attention (we’ll leave the definition of ‘need’ up to you), teach them to silently and gently place their hand on your arm and keep continuous contact until you’re able to pause and turn to them. This technique has several benefits. It cuts out the noisy chatter (mom, mom, Mom, MoM, MOM!), helps develop patience, promotes nonverbal communication, and avoids the frustration that takes over when kiddos interrupt.

For reassurance, place your hand over theirs for the time it takes between first contact and your attention, and it will make the wait feel shorter and let them know they’ve been ‘heard’.

Such a simple and effective method! It will serve them well as they grow and not only teaches manners and respect, but offers another way of getting needs met in this crazy, busy world. Even better, it cuts down the yelling on your part and on theirs. Now if we could figure out a way to avoid the sibling clashes that always seem to break out just when you get on the phone, all would be well.

Good luck, and please follow up with feedback on how this works for you.

~ The Mamas


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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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