Parenting with fewer interruptions



After a busy day with the kids, wanting to have a short phone conversation with a friend or to take a quick shower seems reasonable. Yet we all know how that goes. As soon as you turn your attention away from the kids and onto something else, they suddenly seem to be in great need. The kids find you and interrupt until you address their need, which most likely is something trivial.

What can we parents do so we can divert our attention elsewhere for a few precious moments?

Blue Springs mom Jennifer Engel says she sets expectations for her young children when she needs to make a phone call. She finds it works best when she tells them in advance whom she is going to call or what she plans to do. She simply explains her plans and tries to provide the kids with the reason she is turning her attention elsewhere. She says this method is generally successful, and if her children do not respond as she wishes, she addresses what she would like them to do in the future.

Jill Molli, a master instructor with Conscious Discipline, says that truly mastering the skill of not interrupting takes until adulthood developmentally. “(Children) don’t have the impulse control skills or the awareness to realize you are doing something else,” she says.

What that means is the real goal becomes increasing a child’s pause button, and this is primarily achieved through connection with the child. “The more connected you are, the more willing kids are to pause and help with impulse control,” Molli says. “Parents who play face-to-face social games with their children will have children who interrupt less.”

Molli also says modeling the kind of demeanor we wish to see in our children is essential. “It helps if parents can notice when they are in an upset state and find a way to regulate themselves,” she says. If we want our children to respond in a calm manner, we need to respond in a calm manner when they interrupt us.

Additionally, she says using language that notices and acknowledges the child is important. For example, if a child is tapping you as a way of clamoring for attention, tell the child you noticed him tapping and describe why it was difficult for you to respond immediately. Then explain what you would like for the child to do instead. If you are in the middle of a conversation, you might suggest he come and stand at your side quietly until you are able to address him. This works because not only does a child need to be acknowledged, a child needs to hear what he is supposed to do instead of just hearing what he is not to do.

Molli also suggests asking the child to be of service and giving her a task or chore. She says children have a sense of accomplishment when they complete a task, plus the task keeps them occupied with something productive and extends their attention span.

Perhaps most importantly, if a child is active in play, she effectively can override her developmental attention span and stay engaged longer in what she is doing. A child generally has a minute of attention span per year of age, but interactive play often can increase this attention span to that of an adult—even if the child is faced with distractions.

Overall, we can work to increase the length of children’s general attention spans, as well as motivate them to focus their attention on goals we select. With some effort, parents can manage to engage with other aspects of life while still giving their children the attention they need.

For example, Lee’s Summit mom Rachael Fields works from home and often has to tend to work when her 5-year-old daughter is also home. She continually reminds her daughter of when she will need to make a phone call, giving her warnings in advance. Then when the time comes for Rachael to do some work, her daughter goes to her room and plays by herself.

Additionally, Rachael says she has explained to her daughter how she needs to work to make money for necessities. As a result of such practical conversations, her daughter understands the importance of being quiet during those times. Rachael also has trained her daughter to come up to her very quietly if she truly needs something and wait until she is able to acknowledge her.

Connecting with our children

  1. Connection is one of the most important ways to build impulse control in children. How can you strengthen your sense of connection with your kids? Here are four tips.
  2. Make eye contact. When you talk to your child, let him see the conversation is important to you.
  3. Use physical touch. Hugs are a vital part of showing affection, and they are good for everyone’s health.
  4. Your presence is important. When children know you are there, it builds a sense of security and confidence in them.
  5. There is power in playful situations. Playing with your child helps you relate to her and increases her attention span.

Source: Jill Molli and Conscious Discipline

Allison Gibeson is a freelance writer and mom from Lee’s Summit.

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