Dear Dr. Renee,
My child constantly interrupts me. This is not new to covid times, it is consistent. It doesn’t matter if I am on the phone, working (from home), or going to the bathroom! How can I get him to play by himself?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just hold up a hotel room sign that says “Do Not Disturb” and have our kids follow the directions? I’m sorry your child constantly interrupts you – but there’s hope!
You CAN teach your child to wait. It will take time and a bit of practice, but it IS possible.
There are many ways you can teach your child to be patient. One of my favorites, because it is simple and effective, is the “play by yourself game.”
Do this at a time when there is nothing else important going on (i.e., work). Explain the “game” to your child before you start. Then set a timer and have your child play by himself for a few minutes. Start small with 5 minutes. Depending on your child, you might want to start with only 1-2 minutes. The goal is for your child to be successsful.
When the timer goes off, congratulate your child with hugs and/or high fives. Use words to compliment your child on having played so nicely by himself. This reinforces the positive behavior you want to see. Let him know that you will be playing the game again sometime soon.
Gradually build up the time he plays by himself, increasing the minutes every few times you ‘practice.’ If he is playing by himself and does not want to stop when the timer goes off, briefly congratulate him and then ask if he wants you to set the timer again. You can choose to set it for the same amount of time or a shorter time.
Your child will get better at playing alone (not interrupting) the more you practice.
Patience is a skill that needs to be developed. Please remember that even if you build this skill up to an hour or more, young children still need supervision. But you should be able to go to the bathroom in peace!
PS Please let me know if you want more tools or tips on distraction strategies.
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