Judging from reader response, my recent column on children interrupting conversations -- or I should say, parents letting children interrupt conversations -- struck a resonant chord with a lot of people. A number of folks took the opportunity to simply vent, but others were kind enough to share their methods of preventing or stopping this odious problem. The following contribution, from a mother of four, is of special practical value, so I pass it along in the hope that more parents will get the hint.
"Before I had children of my own," said mother writes, "I could never understand why certain parents allowed their children to freely interrupt adults who were talking to one another, whether on the phone or person-to-person. My sister-in-law, for example: When I'm on the phone with her, she repeatedly stops talking to me and begins talking to her now 7-year-old son! I feel like I'm being abruptly put on hold every two minutes or so. I also have a friend who can't seem to figure out who she's talking to when I'm over at her house -- me or her 6-year-old daughter.
"With my own children, I made sure this would not be a problem. Since none of them interrupt, I thought you might be interested. Here's my method:
"When the child is 2 years old or, in some cases, even younger, I begin staging pretend practice sessions. I pretend to be talking to another adult, and the child pretends that he or she wants to ask me for a glass of water.
"While I am 'talking' to my imaginary friend, I have the child walk into the room and stand in a certain area. I'm very specific about where he should stand (about 8 feet away). I tell him that he is to stand quietly until I recognize him, at which point I turn and ask, 'Can I help you?' At that point, he is to say 'Excuse me' before making his request. (Notice, folks, that this mom teaches that "excuse me" is not for the purpose of interrupting, but is reserved for after one has been recognized.)
"We do this a few times and each time, I tell him what a good job he did waiting for Mommy to finish talking, that it took a lot of patience to wait that long, and that he is very grown up and has good manners. We hold practice sessions of this sort every day for a week, and each time I wait just a bit longer before I recognize the child. At the end of the week, a 2-year-old is able to wait almost a minute!
"After this, if the child forgets and interrupts an adult conversation, I have no trouble turning to him and saying, with a stern tone and an equally stern look, 'You do not interrupt and you know it.' Typically, that jolts him into silence, and he waits while I continue my conversation. After a minute or so, I turn and ask, 'Now, can I help you?' Sometimes, however, I don't have to because the child has forgotten what he wanted and left the room.
"If interrupting does occur, we hold another practice session later. I've never had to punish any of my kids for interrupting, as it has only happened once or twice with each, and my response was enough for them to remember next time that it is not allowed.
"You should do a column on kids touching things in stores. I actually had a mother recently tell me that it's important not to discipline your child for touching things in stores. Her 'reasoning' was that the very children who have a strong desire to touch and feel things are very creative people, and if you deny them the privilege of touching everything they want in the store, then you are stifling their creativity.
"All I can say is my kids are very creative, but they don't touch things in stores."
It's encouraging to know that there are parents out there who realize that the best discipline is preventive, that preventive discipline not only prevents misbehavior but prevents punitive discipline, and who don't use psychobabble as an excuse for misbehavior.