Interrupting Porter – Child Behavior Problems | Teaching Self-Government

Interrupting Porter – Child Behavior Problems

Child Behavior

I don't know a parent who wouldn't say, “My child is so smart!” We all recognize the intelligence our children possess. But, what about when they just can't stop themselves from blurting out all that intelligence when Mom is on a phone call, or when adults are having a conversation? Interrupting is a sign of a thinker. Smart people interrupt. But, the timing is off for a the comment so it becomes rude and disrespectful.

I am a recovering interrupter myself. Active thinkers have a hard time learning to keep all their great thoughts inside until the right time.

My father used to always say, “There is a time and a place for everything, but this is neither the time nor the place.” He told me this so often that I found that I learned to ask myself, “Is this the time or place for me to comment?” It was a good childhood social lesson in self-government. Thanks Dad!

Interrupting Porter: A True Story

While talking on the phone one day, I said to a friend, “We just finished lunch, so now...”


“No we didn't!” said Porter. “We were done with lunch about a half an hour ago.”

I didn't pay any attention to Porter because he was interrupting into a conversation which wasn't his. I assumed that if he wasn't answered he would stop blurting into my conversation. I was wrong. A couple of seconds later he said, “Mom, we didn't just have lunch, it was a half an hour ago.” He obviously expected me to correct the statement previously made.

Have you ever had a child do this?

Porter, age eight, saw a problem with my statement to my friend on the phone, so he interrupted with his version of the story.

I'm so glad Porter is so concerned with telling the truth, but he didn't consider that my concept of time and his concept of time could be different. “Just” to me is anything that recently happened. Obviously Porter feels it means the minute before the current moment. I'm sure my definition of “recently” probably wouldn't match his either.

However, understanding each other semantically really isn't the issue here. This is a boundary issue.

Healthy Boundaries

It is very common for children to have boundary issues from time to time. Childhood is in fact a boundary experimentation period. If more parents understood this they would probably do better at teaching and correcting boundaries as well as at setting an appropriate boundary example. However parents model boundaries at home and in social settings is generally how children will learn their boundaries for adult life as well.

Interrupting is a common social boundary line to cross. It happens because we value our own intelligence above the intelligence of another at a point in time. We stop listening and understand and start preaching, bossing, and blurting. I spent years doing this. I don't know how many times friends brought to my attention that I had interrupted. It took deliberate action to govern that rude habit; but I did.

Interrupting is probably okay for a heated political debate because of it's aggressive and controlling feeling, but it is disastrous for relationships. The people who try to communicate with interrupters end up seeing the interrupter as controlling and annoying to be around. Learning to stop interrupting is a great social skill to teach children. But, do it gently.

Boundary lines are generally healthy to have. Each boundary is a no answer of sorts. If a person is talking, that means 'no, it's not your turn yet.' When we observe appropriate social, physical, emotional, and sexual boundaries we are happier because all people concerned feel safe, respected, and valued.

How To Stop Someone From Interrupting

The first time Porter interrupted me I didn't pay any attention to it and assumed he would see that the behavior wasn't appropriate. But, that didn't work. Why? Because he didn't get the chance to analyze what the behavior looked like and what effects it had. Analyzing a behavior with a child is the first step toward self-government.

When the interrupting behavior happened again, I stopped talking to my friend on the phone and did a proper correction. I described his behavior and explained that what he should have done was wait until I was done talking on the phone, because interrupting someone on the phone is a boundary that should only be crossed in emergencies. I also explained that correcting a parent needed to be done appropriately. Then I reminded him of the skill he already knew called disagreeing appropriately that was perfect for a situation where he felt the need to correct me.

After correcting Porter's behavior and ending my phone call, we practiced the situation again in a role play. But this time Porter waited and then disagreed appropriately with me about the time comment. Then he said, “Well, I don't really think the time would be important enough to stay and wait until you were off the phone.”

Porter didn't earn any negative consequence this time. I just corrected him as a pre-teach and explained what the consequence would be in the future. I wish I could say that he never interrupted again, but that wouldn't be the way people learn. He interrupts occasionally, but now we have a plan for how we will correct the situation, what the consequences will be, and the right way to disagree with Mom.

Our children really are smart! Each new child behavior shows us just how smart they are. Their intelligence also makes them capable of governing their behaviors. And, once they can govern themselves they will have a power that will prepare them to use their intelligence to live their life's mission. Knowing healthy boundaries and self-government is power for life.

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