How to Handle Children
Interrupting Adults

Mother Talking to Children

Children are joyous explorers of our world!  They constantly learn new things and want to share their discoveries.  They also, rightfully, demand a lot of their parents’ attention.

But how do you handle this need for attention when it grows into a habit of constantly interrupting adults?  We each have a personal opinion on the spectrum of children being seen and not heard – at least until it’s their turn.  

Let’s explore this subject from an etiquette standpoint.

Parenting an Interrupting Child

Let’s face it – when your child is interrupting adults it quickly becomes a nuisance.  Not only is the quality of your conversation at risk, but also the desire other people have to spend time with you.

Assuming your child has a fair share of your undivided attention at appropriate times, it is only right that he is taught to share your attention with others.

Preparation is key in this lesson.  You might talk to your child about not interrupting before you enter into a conversation with another adult.  Or perhaps give your child an activity to do while you visit with someone else.  Here is a more comprehensive list of methods for teaching children not to interrupt.

However, if a persistent interruption occurs, apologize to your conversation partner and tend to your child as quickly as possible so that you can continue your interaction.

When You are the Observer

You may find yourself in conversation with the parent of a child who is interrupting adults.  Though you don’t play a direct role in disciplining the child, you do play a role in carrying on the conversation at hand:

  • Include the youngster when you greet everyone.  After you have greeted the adults, look the child in the eye and shake hands if that seems appropriate. 
  • Ignore any interruption from the little one and wait until there is a quiet space before attempting to continue speaking.  Don't try to speak louder than the child as you'll only create a competition.
  • Don’t interrupt yourself and give the child attention, even if you think the parent might.  This doesn’t require you to be mean, simply don’t make eye contact.
  • Depending on the circumstances, reach out and offer a hand, or touch the child's shoulder, even though you are not making eye contact.
  • If you know the child, you might say something like, “Michael, in a minute I will ask you what you wanted to say.”  Make sure you keep your word.
  • Do not display emotion.
  • If the child continues to interrupt, excuse yourself from the adult conversation.  “Mary, let’s pick up this conversation strand a little later.  Great to see you and [child’s name].”


Parents know they have a responsibility to help their children form respectful habits, including the give and take of conversation.

But children also need the reassurance of love and security when parents aren’t immediately present.  Having raised four children, I've experienced the tension of wanting a little one to feel included, and not wanting to create a scene with disciplinary action when that eager child is interrupting adults.

However, from an etiquette standpoint, once you’ve entered into conversation with someone, your social obligation is to give that person your attention.  When unable to do so, it’s best to end it as politely as you can.

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