“Don’t you think the city council ought to expand Maple Street to alleviate the rush hour traffic?” demanded a booming voice a few yards away from a group engrossed in conversation.
The lady who was in mid-sentence immediately stopped. The other women looked at each other, then stared at the gal who had interrupted.
They had been discussing swimming lessons for their children. The comment was so disconnected. And loud. No one was quite sure how to react.
If a child had interrupted the conversation, it would have been understandable. Children are still learning social graces. When adults do it, though, as in this example, it can seem awkward and rude.
Yet how many of us parents interrupt our own children without a second thought?
People interrupt for many reasons. They may want to…
· Get their point across.
· Feel like they’re a part of the group.
· Feel excited about what they want to say.
They may not even realize they’re interrupting. That can certainly be the case when talking with a child.
Admittedly, when it comes to conversing with kids, parents sometimes tune out. Like the time you were more focused on the crumbs clinging to your child’s cheek than on what she was saying. Or the time you were mentally reviewing the day’s to-do list and only heard part of your child’s chatter.
It’s also easy to fall into an “I know what you’re going to say before you say it” mode, which leads to interrupting and not letting your child finish.
Sometimes we interrupt on purpose to hurry things along when the conversation is taking longer than we’d like.
And we can be quick to correct midstream, even when the correction could have waited. That can shift the focus and even abruptly end the conversation.
Kids get the message loud and clear: Their parents are not listening, and their opinions don’t matter.
Unnecessary interruptions are frustrating. They show disrespect. At times they convey that the listener has missed the point.
And if you habitually interrupt, your child may start withdrawing from sharing with you to avoid the frustration that inevitably results.
The first step is to be aware of your behavior. Be honest with yourself: Do you talk more than you listen? Do you interject comments that turn the attention to yourself?
Also, take note of how you’re coming across to your listener. Instead of viewing you as witty or wise, your child may wish you’d talk about yourself less and listen more.
Mentally remind yourself to listen, listen, and listen some more. Reinforce this with a physical habit such as biting your tongue, pursing your lips, tugging your ear, etc.
If you notice yourself interrupting, stop, apologize, and ask your child to continue.
Then actively listen. This means paying attention to what the other person is saying, rather than thinking about what you want to say next.
Set down your phone. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Show that you’re engaged in the conversation and not distracted.
When you do speak, take a deep breath and pause for 10 seconds first. That gives your child a chance to continue if she isn’t quite done. And she might pleasantly surprise you: Her train of thought may go in an entirely different direction than you’d anticipated.
Interrupting your child can be a difficult habit to break, but it’s important for building mutual respect and effective communication. It will go a long way toward enriching a healthy relationship with your child into adulthood.