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Excuse Me…Part II: Phonus Interruptus

by on Jan.30, 2011, under Behavior, Communication, Discipline, Expectations, Parent modeling, Parenting

Isn’t it amazing that as soon as the phone rings and you answer it, someone else needs you? This phenomenon, phonus interruptus, is pervasive in homes all across the country. Further, the more you tell your child that you are on the phone (as if he hasn’t noticed) and not to interrupt you, the more he attempts to interrupt you. “Mom…Mom…Excuse me!…Mom! I said ‘Excuse me!’”

The phone is the enemy of the child. Let me restate that: The phone is the enemy of the child when you are on it.  When it is a toy being used for distraction, when the child is talking on the phone to anyone (make believe or not),  when it is something to be explored, then it is an object of tremendous desire and interest. And today’s smartphones have even more appeal…the all-in-one babysitter. But when it renders you unavailable, then it is phonus interruptus.

Telephone interruptions, I must add, are not limited to young children. Children of all ages are licensed to interrupt a parent when she’s on the phone. So are spouses…of all ages. Instead of teaching them to delay gratification, we hand them a license to interrupt.

In much the same way we teach children that saying Excuse me is the magic ticket that yields entry into a parent’s conversation and brings immediate attention, so do we teach him to interrupt telephone conversations by saying Excuse me.  That’s pretty powerful stuff.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be interrupted when I am on the phone.  Not only is it disrespectful of me, but it is disrespectful of the person on the other end.  It clearly says that someone is more important than you. 

But life is busy, and moms, in particular, are usually the pivot around which home life happens. When my children were growing up at home, I tried not to be on the phone at the times when I knew I would be needed or likely interrupted. Mom, where is my jacket? Quick, the bus is here! Or  Mom, I can’t do my homework. I need your help now!   Or  Honey, where is the checkbook?  (When was he struck blind?)  It’s a pretty sure bet that you will be interrupted while on the phone if you choose to use it during those home high activity times.  It is for this reason, first of all, that I suggest you save your phone conversations for low activity and low need times. And when you arrive home from work or when  the carpool pulls up, shut off your phone before you enter your house and turn on your answering machine. Make it a rule.  Your calls will wait; your children won’t. Why invite problems?

Nonetheless, children (and spouses) need to learn that phone interruptions are not legal, even if they are preceded by Excuse me. If the house is on fire, if the bathtub is overflowing, then by all means, interrupt away. No Excuse me  is even necessary.

 Take the time to follow through and teach the lesson.

  1. Tell your young child the plan and what you expect. “I am going to have a very short phone conversation. I don’t want to be interrupted, but I will be right off. Show me what you are going to do while I am on the phone.”
  2. Follow through with a logical consequence for being interrupted. “Since you have interrupted me, I am going to finish this call in my room (door closed).” Try again soon, reminding the child what happened last time, and give her a chance to be successful.
  3. For your older child, do not respond to the interruption. Ignore it and finish your conversation. When you are done, revisit what just happened. “When I am on the phone I do not want to be interrupted. That was why I ignored you.”   Make sure you pay him the same respect.

I have a girlfriend whose husband interrupts many of our conversations. It makes me nuts! I wonder if he’ll get the idea when she goes into the bedroom and closes the door. Or maybe she should try telling him he has an acute case of phonus interruptus.

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