5 Steps for Helping Children with ADHD Stop InterruptingBy Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.
Children with ADHD are constantly being told to stop interrupting their parents, teachers and friends. In fact, interrupting others during conversations or activities is a hallmark feature of ADHD. It’s something that happens so automatically that children with ADHD are often unaware when they interrupt someone or have done something that others find annoying. This lack of awareness coupled with a tendency to act without thinking means that telling a child with ADHD to “stop interrupting” won’t change their behavior. Instead, children with ADHD need support from their parents to change their habit of interrupting.
Here are five steps that you can start taking today to help your child stop interrupting:
- Have an empathetic conversation about interrupting. Children with ADHD are rarely annoying or rude on purpose, and they often lack insight into the effect that their behavior has on others. During a calm moment, talk to your child about how their ADHD causes them to interrupt others and the effect this has on their relationships. Let your child know that you realize it’s not something they are doing intentionally, but that it’s something you want to work on together.
- Begin by practicing for 30 minutes each day. Select a 30-minute block of time when your child can practice waiting patiently instead of interrupting. Be strategic about the time day that you choose. You want to aim for a time when your child tends to interrupt you or other family members often, but not a time when your child is typically cranky, hungry or tired.
- Set clear expectations for the 30-minute period. Describe your expectations for not interrupting during the next 30 minutes. Be specific. What does not interrupting or waiting patiently mean in terms of when and how your child speaks to other family members? How will they know when it’s a good time to start talking? Is there a signal you will give them when it’s their turn? When they feel the urge to interrupt, what should they do instead? For example, you could suggest that they write down their question so they don’t forget it, focus on what other people are saying, or wait patiently until others are finished speaking.
- Reward your child when they go without interrupting or stop themselves after one reminder. Changing an impulsive behavior is hard, and rewards can go a long way toward helping your child stay engaged and motivated during the process. Reward your child when they go for a full 30 minutes without interrupting or stop interrupting when given just one reminder. There are many ways to build a simple and sustainable reward system that will work for your family. For some ideas, check out Huntington’s previous posts on using marble jars, quick and easy rewards and behavior charts to motivate your child.
- Encourage your child to practice at other times of the day. When you see your child making progress during their daily practice period, start encouraging them to apply their strategies for not interrupting at other times of the day. Look for times when your child waits patiently instead of interrupting, and then praise them for waiting their turn. When your child does interrupt, give them one reminder not to. If they stop, praise this behavior as well. Over time, they’ll gradually become more successful at catching themselves when they are interrupting, and they’ll stop interrupting as often (even when you’re not around).
For children with ADHD, interrupting others is a difficult behavior to change. However, it can be done with a little help and support at home. Keep in mind that it’s unlikely that your child will stop interrupting completely. If they can begin to interrupt less throughout the day and wait patie
ABOUT DR. MARY ROONEY
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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