By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
April 4, 2012
Your 6-year-old interrupts any conversation that doesn't include her. Are you giving her enough attention?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
If it's any conversation that doesn't include her, then the problem probably isn't that she's not getting enough attention but rather that she's got work to do in the patience and listening departments. This is not unusual, of course, because kids often have a hard time imagining life from others' perspectives, so gentle but firm counsel about waiting your turn (like you have to do in school, without the raising-hands part) is appropriate. And then when her 4-year-old sister starts interrupting her, you can point out in a not-too-told-ya-so kind of way that now she knows how it feels.
— Mark Caro
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. A flat, "Not while mommy's talking" or "It's Jimmy's turn to talk" or even "Please don't interrupt," followed by returning your attention to whomever is talking, teaches your child that this ploy won't work.
— Phil Vettel
More attention, by itself, isn't going to cure your child of bad manners, which are at the core of perpetual interrupting.
"We live in an instant gratification society: on-demand TV shows, what you want when you want it," says Mary O'Donohue, author of "When You Say 'Thank You,' Mean It … and 11 Other Lessons for Instilling Lifelong Values in Your Children" (Adams Media). "Life doesn't always work that way, which is why it's so important to teach our kids to be patient and respectful. Interrupting is very disrespectful."
Of course, so is ignoring your kids. But let's assume you're not doing that. Let's assume your 6-year-old is getting ample attention and just can't fathom why you'd have a conversation without her.
"Usually kids aren't trying to be rude or disrespectful, they just want you," says O'Donohue. "It helps to allow them to switch places and see how it feels."
She has hammered this particular lesson home with her own daughter during one of the family's frequent manners-based drills. "We try to turn respect from an abstract concept into something real ... that you can use in life, so it's not just, 'Be respectful!' as they head out the door."
"I tell my daughter, 'Today I'm going to show you what it's like when I'm not using respectful behavior,'" she says.
The drill goes something like this:
Mom: How was your day at school?
Daughter: We had a test in science
Mom: Oh! I went shopping today!
Daughter: OK, so I had this test…
Mom: And I found this great new bag!
"She knows we're doing this as an exercise," O'Donohue says. "But when I ask how it makes her feel, she says, 'It feels like I'm not important to you. It feels like you don't care what I have to say.'
"Then I ask her to tell me about her day and I just listen and wait and save my comments for the end. And I tell her, 'The first one is what it feels like to be disrespected. The second one is what it feels like to be respected. Which one do you like better?"
Her child, of course, likes "respected."
"So does everybody else," says O'Donohue, laughing.
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