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Why 2-year-olds interrupt
You're on the phone with a colleague when your child tugs on your sleeve and bleats, "Mommy...Mommy!...MOMMY!!"
When will he learn not to interrupt? Unfortunately, it will be a while — a 2-year-old thinks that the world and everything in it (including you) exist for his benefit. In addition, his short-term memory isn't well developed, which means that his impulse to say things right now, before he forgets, actually has a physiological basis. As a result, the very concept of interrupting makes no sense to your child. He can't grasp that other people and activities sometimes require your attention or capture your interest. When you focus on something other than him for a moment, he might actually perceive it as a threat.
Tolerating a 2-year-old who cuts in every time you're chatting with a friend or scheduling an appointment is exasperating, but if you keep his worldview in mind, you'll realize that he's not purposefully trying to irritate you. Don't worry, though, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. By the time he's 3 or 4, your child's short-term memory will be more developed, and he'll begin to understand what an interruption is and what you mean when you say, "Mommy's busy right now." So look forward to the time when he'll be able to hold that thought (for a couple of minutes, anyway).
What you can do about interrupting
Your best strategies are to limit situations that'll tempt your child to bust in — and to divert his attention when he does interrupt.
Pick the right place. Try asking friends to meet you where your child can play while the adults chat. A park with a sandbox is ideal — though your backyard might work fine, too.
Tag team. If you and your partner are getting together with another family, one possible solution is for the dads to watch the kids while the moms socialize for a half hour — then switch roles.
Read and teach. Get cozy with your 2-year-old and help him learn about polite behavior by sharing books like The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners by Stan and Jan Berenstain, The Bad Good Manners Book by Babette Cole, Manners by Aliki, and What Do You Say, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin and Maurice Sendak.
Get phone-smart. Rather than trying to finish a sentence when your 2-year-old is just inches from the phone (go ahead, just try), save your telephone time for when your child is sleeping. Or let him watch TV or a favorite video while you talk for a few uninterrupted moments. If TV isn't your thing, try redirecting your 2-year-old's attention. You might want to keep a box or drawer of special toys or art supplies that he can use only during phone calls. Other ideas are to fill a sink with water and plastic cups for him to play with (as long as you can watch) or offer a toy phone so he can talk with an imaginary pal.
Getting a cordless phone helps, too, because it enables you to move to a quieter room while you watch your child through an open doorway. On a pleasant day, you might try taking both the phone and your 2-year-old into the backyard, where he should find enough to do to grant you a few moments' peace. If your child isn't the squirmy type or if he's in a placid mood, holding and cuddling him while you chat might work; it will reassure him that he's important to you even when your attention is focused elsewhere.
Show him how it's done. Two-year-olds are notorious copycats — take advantage of this by setting a good example for him. If you and your partner tend to cut each other off, work on ending that habit. You should also try not to interrupt your 2-year-old when he's talking to you. If you forget and cut in on him (or anyone else), stop and say, "Sorry. I interrupted you. Go on." With a little luck, your youngster will not only absorb your good manners but also your ease in graciously admitting to a mistake. You'll also make your job easier down the road if he frequently hears you say, "pardon me," "please," "thank you," "you're welcome," and "excuse me." Although he may not yet understand why manners are important, he'll sense that they're something of value because you do.
Hang in there. It's easy to feel discouraged when your child butts in for the fourth time while you're having a heart-to-heart talk with a friend, or when he waves a piece of toast in your face while you're winding up an important business call. Don't give up. It won't happen overnight, but it's important for your 2-year-old to learn that interrupting isn't okay. Knowing how to participate in polite, give-and-take conversation is an important step toward developing social skills.
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