A Genius Way to Teach Your Child Not to Interrupt

Toby is a chatty Cathy, which I adore, but now and again it drives me a little bats. When I’m talking to a friend at the park, or catching up with Alex after work, he will stand next to me and say, “Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama…” It’s not unlike this:

When I tell him to wait a second, he gets really wounded and will often even burst into tears. Blarg! Sweet boy! Still, it’s maddening!

So, last week, I was thrilled to stumble across this brilliant advice:

I was chatting with a friend one day when her 3-year-old son wanted to say something. Instead of interrupting though, he simply placed his hand on her wrist and waited. My friend placed her hand over his to acknowledge him and we continued chatting.

After she had finished what she was saying, she turned to him. I was in awe! So simple. So gentle. So respectful of both the child and the adult. Her son only needed to wait a few seconds for my friend to finish her sentence. Then she gave him her complete attention.

Such a simple gesture, and so respectful of the child and yourself and the person you’re speaking with.

We tried it this week, and Toby loves it. He’s proud of himself for waiting and psyched to know a secret code. I’d highly recommend giving it a try!

P.S. Six words to say to your child, and why you should make your home a haven.

(Photo by Nicki Sebastian for Cup of Jo)

  1. Jackie says...

    I will be trying this out. Thank you!

  2. Trying this with my 2 and 3 year olds! We have been having this problem, especially with our Chatty Cathy 3 year old, and I have really been struggling with it. Absolutely genius.

  3. i will try it with my 7-years-old daughter in this evening :) thanks

  4. This sounds wonderful! Definitely going to try it when I have kids. I remember once when I was a child, my mom was catching up with a friend while I was desperately seeking her attention, repeating “Mamma, Mamma, Mamma” over and over again. She eventually turned to me and said, “you’re so impatient!” I had no idea what impatient meant, but I thought it sounded so special and grand!

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  6. What a good idea! I will have to give this a go. I am totally sick of ‘mummy look’ ‘mummy look!!!’, over and over again!

  7. Great advice! We are expecting our first child in August, and this is something I will definitely remember for the future!

  8. I love this! Definitely going to try it. We taught our two year old to say “excuse me” and let’s just say it back fired.. because instead of saying it once, he just repeats it like Stewie just did on Family Guy! :P

  9. charlotte says...

    This is an age-old Montessori technique!

  10. I love this so much! Thank you for sharing. My little guy is just 10 months old but it’s never to early to store up handy bits of wisdom for the future. He’ll be interrupting me soon enough.

  11. anne says...

    This is genius!! I’m trying this week!!! Merci merci beaucoup!

  12. Susan says...

    After reading this article I thought I’d try this technique with my four year old (who loves to say ‘Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me’ until you stop talking, by which point he’s often forgotten what he wanted to say!) and it really works! It’s almost become like a little game for us, our secret code, and we make eye contact and have a little giggle while I finish my conversation and then prompt him to go ahead and talk. Thank you for such a sweet and simple tip :)

  13. I love this idea! Not quite sure my 2 year old is old enough to understand how to do this yet, but definitely worth a try!



  14. This is brilliant! My daughter is 6 and does this all the time. definitely trying this! Thanks :)

  15. I read this blog entry when it posted, and that same night I explained to my 3-year old daughter what she should do next time she wants my attention and I’m speaking to another person. Not sure if she digested it or not at the time. Two days later, she was talking to my husband, and I interrupted. She looked at me and said (no joke): “Mommy, I’m talking to daddy. don’t interrupt me. if you want to talk, put your hand on my hand!” I cracked up.

  16. My parents did this with me. I think it started when I was about three. I still do it sometimes even though I’m twenty :)

  17. My husband just showed that Family Guy clip to my 2YO the other day. And then laughed hysterically when the boy started saying it. Le sigh. Anyhoo, I really love this. My oldest always wants to chime in and loves to talk to adults too, and this solution almost brought tears to my eyes. Adding it to my list fo sho.

  18. Learned this from another teacher at my school last year, and it is AWESOME! The child feels respected and acknowledged. Waiting for the appropriate time to chime in becomes so much easier for them when they’re reassured that you’ve heard them.

  19. Oh my gosh! I love this, almost in tears over how beautiful this concept is.

  20. Love this advice! Such a great idea and saves a lot of frustration for both parent and child – will try this with my nephew once he’s older.

  21. Lo says...

    I was (and still am) a sensitive person, who would also be easily hurt by feeling less-than-acknowledged. This sounds like such a nice idea! Toby is lucky to have a mama like you who sees how sweet he is and tries to nurture that. My mom did and still understands that side of me and it can make a world of difference. :)

  22. Fabulous advice!!

  23. When I try something like this my son usually forgets what he wanted to tell me – he lives in the now! His face falls and he is so upset that I do not want to hear what he has to say. To tell you the truth I’d prefer to hear what my kid has to say – aren’t adults in a better position to hold their thoughts for the 20 seconds my kid/your kid is asking for?
    I think if you don’t want to hear what your kid has to say they will just find someone else who does.
    Sometimes I ask my kid for a couple secs – but most of the time I look at my adult frineds and say “hold that for two secs please”. As my kids grow they learn to wait – but little people, they live in the now and that is an amazing place to be.

  24. This is a fantastic strategy and is often used in Montessori schools. It really lets little ones feel empowered and heard.

  25. My mom did this with us. Except we were just supposed to stand next to her, no touching necessary. And after a few minutes, she would turn and say, Yes?

    Everybody thought we were the most polite kids ever because of that.

  26. I love this! My husband and I were just talking about this yesterday! We were at lunch with our baby girl and were sitting near a few adults with one child, probably about 10 years old. At one point, the woman snapped at him, “Don’t interrupt me while I’m talking!” It sounded so abrupt and mean. I told my husband that even though interrupting IS annoying and that it’s inevitable you’ll lose your patience with your kids (ours is only seven months), I just always want to remember that she’s a little person and deserves the same kindness and courtesy that I expect. This tip seems like a great way to teach good manners and patience and it’s cool to have a little code between the two of you!

  27. I will have to remember this if I ever have a kid.

  28. We do this at the Montessori school where I teach. I works in a classroom like a charm.

  29. We do this at the Montessori school where I teach. It works in a classroom as well.

  30. I’m so trying this! Psyched!

  31. I do this exact thing with my chatty, 28 year old boyfriend…

  32. Ooo- very good tip. As long as the child doesn’t treat your arm like a wet spaghetti noodle I think this has great potential.

  33. It’s always the simplest of things that hold the greatest power. This is great!

  34. Adding this to our parenting arsenal! Currently Luna is 2 so I don’t know if she’ll get it but she definitely knows more than she lets on! When I’m trying to catch up with my husband and she realizes we are enveloped in conversation, she begins to talk & babble louder n louder to compete with my talking.

  35. Brilliant suggestion! You are very kind to share these lovely child rearing secrets with us all. Thank you!!

  36. Brilliant. Thanks for sharing.. we are dealing with the same situation with my talkative four year old. will try it.

  37. I love this so much. Thanks for sharing!

  38. Love it, I am with Mims my son is 15 and maybe too late, but I can try!! (getting him to stand there and touch me will be a giant step at this age!)

  39. We have loved this and our 3 yo feels empowered. Currently we’re just teaching her NOT to do it at supper/when out to eat. She would otherwise get up 20 times and walk around the table and stand patiently by our side…. Now she’s also having to learn that sometimes you just have to wait until people are done. Period. Life skills can be hard for little people! ;)

  40. Interesting! My parents always taught my sister and me to say “excuse me” and then wait for the adults to bring us into the conversation/acknowledge us. But my sister took it too far – she’d often say “excuse me!” and then barge into whatever was going through her 4-year-old brain (and of course, she had to voice every thought she had, too.)!!

  41. Love this. Thank you!

  42. @Joanna Great tip. Does it happen to you the other way as well? When you ask your kids something or ask them to do something, they’ll say just a second or ignore you until you repeat and repeat and repeat? They do the same thing to me as I’ve been doing to them all along!

  43. Joanna, I completely agree! Since moving back to the U.S. I’ve stopped doing this to other adults – it feels too weird. But I’d love to teach this to my kids someday (6 weeks until we get to meet our little one!).

  44. What a great idea. Thanks for sharing.
    I love that Simpson episode. That is my friend’s ring tone for her mom.

    Hope you had a great weekend.

    Instagram: stylishlyinlove
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  45. My sister did this with her then small child. It also worked brilliantly for her! Now her daughter is 14 and won’t have a full conversation with her!!! Haha! Amazing how every stage has its own unique set of challenges. So great that we mothers can learn from each other! I’m currently in the diapering and pregnancy phase. When I think it’s so tough, I look at my sister with her now moody tween and don’t think I have it so bad! Haha!

  46. My mom taught us the concept she invented of “grown-up time” (= when she was with her friends), explaining that grown-ups also had moments when they wanted to be alone just like kids sometimes! and we knew never to interrupt when she was with her friends, it worked really well too :)

  47. Thanks so much for sharing this! Definitely tucking this one away for future!

  48. Its the Monessori way! I’m thankful my kids learned this at school. We’ve used it at home too.

  49. This is so sweet and polite! I have a 2.5 year old and I start implementing this straight away! Let’s hope it takes! :) Thank you for sharing.

  50. So sweet and simple, what a wonderful message! Thank you for sharing!

    I loved running into you and your sweet boys on Saturday at the park, it was such a treat meeting you!!

  51. Elisabeth, that is fascinating!! in the US, it seems like that would feel awkward since people don’t really touch each other here as much. so fascinating.

  52. Yes! I’m struggling with this exact thing now. I’m thrilled to try this out. Thank you!

  53. i love that some of you did this growing up! i had never heard it before.

  54. Oh I love it! Simple, beautiful, brilliant!

  55. That’s what we did all growing up! I don’t know if my parents read about it somewhere, or if it’s just what worked best with us. My parents are well-known public figures in my hometown, so we learned really early on to just put a hand on their arm (tug gently to remind them you’re there if you’re anything like we were), and wait to be acknowledged. I didn’t know it wasn’t commonly done! It’s actually still what I do with my parents when I go home. Bonus: it’s a classy way to interrupt/join conversations without looking awkward. hooray!

  56. excellent tip! my 20-month old totally needs this, but i’m not sure he’d get it yet. will definitely have to try…

  57. That is so cute! I love how respectful it is for everyone involved. You aren’t teaching him that he is the center of the earth, like some parenting, but about mutual respect! <3

  58. THANK YOU! i can’t wait to try it out!

  59. This is what I grew up doing! :) Need to start with my 3 year old as we’re just encountering the issue.

  60. This is such a great practice! I wish I had known about it when my granddaughter was younger…she used to drive us crazy! She’s almost 10, so has more patience now. But…I think her brother could still use this method with us…I’ll try it out!

  61. This is what my mom did for us growing up, too! So sweet. I hope to use it with my little boys, too.

  62. Great tip! As with all your other motherhood posts, I’m mentally flagging this one to remember when I have kids :)

  63. I love this for my son! Now I just need a trick while we’re in the car and I’m trying to talk to my husband (both in the front seat?) :) Planning to use this at home though!

  64. I am definitely going to try this!

  65. This is very common in Montessori classrooms!

  66. Oh my gosh this is genius!! My oldest is a Chatty Cathy, too, and that clip is what I always think of. My husband thinks it’s hilarious. Me? Not so much. But I’m definitely going to try this technique. I’m also working on teaching both my sons not to interrupt one another, which is a whole other battle. I find myself almost rushing along whoever is speaking because the other one is getting anxious that he can’t put in his two cents before he forgets it (which, watch out if that happens – melt-down city!)! It’s kind of a hot mess. Wonder if this would work on the two of them as well to teach them to take turns speaking (kind of like raising your hand in school)?

  67. This is a great idea!! I’m sure my mom wishes she’d known this while I was young…seems I always had something to say!!! :)

  68. My parents did this with my siblings and I growing up! We called it the interrupting rule ��

  69. i so wish my son (and myself) were ten years younger..he is 15. I woudl have loved this advice back then. If only you could fast foward and rewind parenting. By the time your kids are teenagers my son will hopefully be successfully launched into adulthood and I’ll be dope slapping myself over some brilliant cupofjoe tips on parenting teens.

  70. I often have this with my four year old and I hate myself for constantly saying hang on a sec. I can’t wait to try this out with my boy, thanks for sharing! x

  71. My parents taught me this growing up, except we placed a hand on their shoulder!

  72. Awesome! I love that. I have distinct memories of having to put my hand on my mom’s shoulder if I *really* needed her when she was on the phone, and then waiting for her to acknowledge me. (My mom was pretty awesome with boundaries!)

  73. That’s genius! I have to try this with my daughter. She’ll love our “secret code.”

  74. Such a great idea and how cute that he sees it as a secret code!

  75. Really such a great idea. Love the “secret code” approach too. :)

  76. This is taught at Montessori schools as well. Such a sweet idea.

  77. Brilliant! Such a sweet gesture.

  78. It’s funny to hear this trick because when we lived in Morocco, this is how you interrupted all conversations. If you wanted to speak to an adult who was talking to someone, you’d gently put your hand on their forearm and wait. Then, at a convenient break, they’d acknowledge you. If you didn’t put your hand there, the conversation would just continue. I always loved having this as an option! It seemed so much more polite and unobtrusive.

  79. Jo says...

    Ooh. Thanks, Joanna. I’m so going to try it out today. I think making it out to be a secret code is the…secret! :^)

    What’s been working for me and my boys is just the usual, so to speak, which is saying “excuse me” and waiting for a few more seconds till I give them a go for them to talk. (But you’re right, there are times when they’re totally antsy to get my attention, my boys start chanting “excuse me”/become fidgety and it’s drives me nuts as well… Oh gee.)

  80. I read that same advice not too long ago and also thought it was such a wonderful idea!

    Will definitely implement it once my little guy is talking and comprehending.

    Love when you share parenting tips/advice.



  81. I love this! Thank you for sharing!

  82. dc says...

    That’s brilliant!