“Mommy…Mom…MOM…” My young daughter was pulling on my shirt and whining my name. I was on the phone trying to make an appointment. I closed my eyes so I could focus in on hearing the response in my conversation. Then I quietly placed a finger to my lips, looking sternly at my child. But she didn’t take the hint and persisted until I was able to hang up the phone and attend to her need. It wasn’t an emergency.
I sighed, realizing this child did not know when it was okay to interrupt Mom and my response had not been ideal. Her older siblings understood the ONLY time to interrupt Mom was when someone was bleeding, the house was on fire, or someone was at the front door. Otherwise, they knew to leave me alone when I was engaged with someone else, including a sibling who was orally narrating to me during lesson time.
The obvious need in this example is training. With this scenario, I’m going to write about the training aspect of the REST approach before we look at the IDEAL response. There is an easy way to approach the need for respect and to encourage your child to politely wait to speak to someone instead of interrupting.
Here’s how to train your child to wait and not interrupt:
During a peaceful time at home, have a friendly talk with your child about what it means to be respectful and polite. Discuss how important it is to wait and not interrupt others who are having a conversation. Make this discussion short—NO lectures!
Then explain to your child what to do when he wants to tell you something, but you are already engaged with someone else.
- Without speaking, your child comes to you and places his hand on your arm or your shoulder. This is a secret signal telling you he wants to say something or needs you in some way that is not an emergency.
- You continue in your conversation, but make brief eye contact with your child, nod, smile, or give a little wink indicating you acknowledge he is waiting for you. Then, if possible, gently place your hand on top of his hand.
- Allow your child to wait in this way until the conversation has ended or there is an appropriate pause to acknowledge him.
- Practice the secret signal with your child. Pretend you are on the phone, enlist a sibling to talk with you, or role play with Dad and Mom talking together to allow your child to practice the signal and waiting.
I have watched this approach work time and time again!
Whether you have trained your child or not, use the IDEAL response for on-the-spot communication when you are engaged in conversation and your child interrupts.
I – Respond Immediately
- You stop and…
D – Respond Directly to the Child
- Making eye contact briefly, touch her gently to get her attention. Your direct response ensures she knows she also has your attention.
- At this point, without interrupting your conversation, while still touching your child gently on the shoulder or holding her hand, with a smile, place a finger to your lips.
- Quickly return your attention to your conversation, and when it is appropriate, say, “Excuse me, let me check on my child.”
E – Response is Effective and Measured
- With a smile, playfully say, “Do you have a quick question for me? I am talking to someone right now.”
A – Response is Action-based
- If you see there is more involved than a quick question and answer, smile and say, “It is best to be respectful and not to interrupt Mom. Let’s have a re-do, and you wait while I finish my conversation.”
L – Level the response at the Behavior, Not at the Child
- After the child has successfully waited until the conversation has ended or has reached a reasonable stopping place say, “Good job being respectful and waiting for your turn! How may I help you?”
- Your child may decide to go play while waiting for your conversation to end. This distraction for him is good. Be sure to go to him and ask if he still has a need or request. Express gratefulness that he showed respect and let you finish your conversation.
If this is the case, making your response effective and measured AND leveling the response at the behavior, not at the child, is even more important.
- If the child refuses and the re-do is unsuccessful, first, remain calm. Do not let your emotions be controlled by your child’s behavior. The re-do you expected must have been more than the child can fulfill. At this point, state a new re-do in which the child can be successful. I think of it as lowering the bar, for it was set too high for that child at that moment. A second re-do might be to say, “Here, come sit in my lap while I finish my conversation.”
- Take time to give this circumstance additional thought at home, and work through REST. The real bottom line is we are not just trying to change behavior. We are nurturing relationships.
For additional information about how to practically apply REST, go to this post, When Your Child is Rude or Disrespectful, Use the IDEAL Response and REST Approach.
P.S. To learn the Why and How of using the IDEAL response and REST approach to transform the behavior of your children, download your free copy of the Homeschool Mom’s Survival Guide: Build Relationships and Overcome Behavior Struggles.