• Help Your Toddler Learn to Share Not Just Toys But Your Attention, Too!

    Your toddler needs to learn how to share your attention as he grows up to be more independent.
    by Rachel Perez .
Help Your Toddler Learn to Share Not Just Toys But Your Attention, Too!
PHOTO BY DragonImages/iStock
  • Every parent of a toddler can recall MANY instances when her child interrupts her when she's talking to another person, even when she's on the phone or online. It can be annoying, to say the least, for the mom and the person she's talking to who may be polite to say so. 

    Interrupting is a typical part of a child's development. Young tots are at a selfish stage where they are the center of the universe, or in this case, their parents' life. In short, they don't like sharing your attention. Since they arrived in your life, you've been attending to their needs and have grown to expect that you will drop everything the moment they shout your name, says psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Alex Packer.

    "[Toddlers are] going to interrupt. They’re simply not coherent enough to not interrupt, because their brains are going in all different directions," Gloria DeGaetano, founder and executive director of the Seattle-based Parent Coaching Institute. 

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    You can teach your toddler to stop interrupting your conversations with this straightforward three-step technique. 

    While it is typical for toddlers to interrupt, it doesn't mean you let them do it. They need to know from you that it isn't good manners to interrupt two people talking,  and he needs to wait, which will be the hardest part for him.

    You need to stop thinking about you.

    If you have found yourself apologizing all the time for your child's interruptions, stop. You can't see this as a result of your "poor" parenting (you know, that you couldn't control your kid). You're not a lousy parent just because your child needs your attention all the time. 

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    Getting interrupted more times than you can count with your fingers can be upsetting, annoying, and frustrating, sure. Accept those feelings and understand that they will eventually come to pass. They will not help you teach your child to wait before butting in your conversation.

    Model taking turns speaking and listening.

    We've said it again and again: kids learn more from what they SEE you do than what you TELL them to do. Modeling good behavior works best if it's done consistently, so always take the opportunity to talk with your child to practice this skill. 

    When talking to your little one, let him finish expressing his trail of thought, even if it takes a minute or two (or more!) to find his words. You need lots of patience. If you want to help your child construct his sentence by asking him some questions, say "excuse me" before doing so, so he learns a polite way to interrupt. 

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    Practice your agreed upon hands signals.

    There will be instances where you will need to attend to your tot even if you're in the middle of something. Fair warning, your toddler may perceive even the littlest of things still require your immediate attention, so be precise on what's urgent (for example, need to go potty) and what's not (for example, need to drink water).

    Then, agree on hand signals. It could be raising one's hand, lifting a pinky finger, or tapping you on the shoulder or thing twice or three times if it's a real emergency. You can also make ready-made cards with drawings that your child can just hand you to tell you what she needs. 

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    One mom's perfect suggestion was for the child to put his hand on your arm or shoulder to let you know that he needs you and does so without being intrusive or rude. By placing your hand over your tot's, you are acknowledging his need and tells him you will be with him shortly. 

    Don't take too long though. Toddlers do not have the patience to wait a very long time. Once you're aware of the signal, pause your conversation as soon as you can to listen to what your little one has to say. Make sure to let your toddler know you appreciate that he remembered your hand signals instead of interrupting.

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