‘Not now. I’m on the phone!’ Strategies for parents dealing with kids who need your attention NOW
We all know young children need lots of time and attention. But what about when you need to talk on the phone without interruption?
The first thing to remember is that your child isn’t trying to annoy you.
Children like to know things. They’re looking for information or help with something they’re doing. They may also want you to join in the fun of their activities. For some pre-schoolers, it’s simply hard to share Mum or Dad.
When children speak they feel what they have to say is important – just like adults! Some kids worry they’ll forget what they want to say if they wait too long. However, children need to learn polite ways of interrupting.
Set simple rules such as: “Play with your quiet toys until Mum is finished on the phone”. Rules should tell your child what to do rather than what not to do. Positive instructions are more likely to be learned and followed than negative ones.
Most preschoolers should be able to occupy themselves for about 10 to 30 minutes. However, if you spend too long on the phone and ignore your child’s attempts to interrupt politely, they’ll probably learn to interrupt loudly and rudely.
Try keeping your calls under 15 minutes or wait until they’re asleep to make a longer call. If you know you’re going to be on the phone for a while, explain ahead of time that you’ll be busy doing something important and cannot be interrupted.
You can practise this. Stage a brief phone call of two to three minutes. If your child continues to play, praise them for letting you speak on the phone. Max, I’m really pleased that you played quietly while I was on the phone.
If they don’t follow the rules tell them what to stop doing and what to do instead. You could encourage your child by giving them a reward when they follow the rules. Tell them what they can earn — perhaps a favourite snack or special activity.
Eventually, as your child learns to occupy themselves you won’t need to remind them of the rules, rewards and consequences each time. Make sure though that the consequences of breaking the rules are consistent and make rewards less predictable by not always giving them out. Praising your child for occupying themselves when you’re on the phone should be continued — they’ve earned it.
If you still have trouble with interruptions during phone calls, keep some quiet toys or activities stored near the phone to grab quickly if your child begins to look for your attention. If the toys are only used when you’re on the phone they will remain interesting.