With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, many of us are working remotely, have children distance learning, or have toddlers and preschoolers home all day needing snacks, help with putting on shoes, wanting your attention at the worst possible time.

Life with preschoolers and toddlers is full of interruptions, and if you feel like it’s a challenge to manage everything in your day, now could be a good time to teach your child about interruptions.

When teaching preschoolers about interrupting, it’s a good idea to start with setting realistic expectations for their age group. 

Preschoolers can:

  • Play quietly for short periods of time, anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.
  • Can learn 2 or 3 rules to follow regarding interrupting.

Don’t expect:

  • Preschoolers to play independently for over 30 minutes.
  • A day without any interruptions. Set realistic expectations.

Preschoolers and young children need grownups for lots of things: to answer their questions, make them lunch, find their missing shoes, push them on the swings, read them the story, and so on.

While we try to answer all their questions and attend to all their basic needs, teaching your preschooler how to get your attention appropriately when you’re occupied is an important skill that will serve them well as they grow older.   

Preparation is Key

Success will come from preparing your child ahead of time. Tell your child that you need to get some work done. Follow with: “Is there anything you need from me right now?” Then make a plan for what your child will be doing while you are busy. Decide on two or three rules for your child to follow:

  • “I am going to make a work call. You need to play quietly until I am finished.
  • “Let’s pick a quiet activity for you to do while I am on the phone.” Offer choices: “Do you want to color or play with your building blocks?
  • “If you need to talk to me, gently touch my arm and say ‘Excuse me,’ and wait until I hang up the phone.”

If you haven’t already, you and your child may benefit from a daily routine that includes regularly scheduled meals and snacks (so your child won’t ask you for snacks every 5 minutes), as well as times that you can give your child one-on-one attention.

You could also consider working a timer into your work routine. Let your child know that while the timer is on, you need to get some work done. When the timer goes off, have a fun activity the two of you can do together before you need to get more work done, such as a board game or walk around the neighborhood. 

Boredom Busters

Your best defense against interruptions is usually some form of entertainment. When possible, plan ahead and make sure you have snacks and toys that your child can play with independently. You could think about setting up a special “work station” near you for your child to do their activities at while you work. Ideas include:

  • Coloring book with a small box of crayons
  • Small stack of picture books
  • Some race cars or trains
  • Small tubs of play dough
  • Pipe cleaners for building shapes
  • Sticker books

Try rotating out your child’s toys so they feel “new.” Chances are, your child will play with them for longer.

Give yourself a few minutes to help your child choose and set up the activity they want to play. Make sure they have everything they need and go over the rules. You may also want to use this time to discuss rewards or consequences for their behavior.

If you’d like to use a reward system for following the rules while you are busy, decide what you’d like your child to earn and talk about it with your child ahead of time. You could offer something the two of you could do together, like visit the playground, or you could offer small toys like stickers.

Figure out ahead of time how you want to handle interrupting. Tell your child what will happen if the rules are broken: “Remember, we don’t get to play at the park if interruptions keep happening during my phone call.”

Don’t forget to praise your preschooler for playing quietly and following the rules: “Sasha, thank you for playing quietly while I talk with Grandma. I just need a few more minutes to talk.” Offer to get her started on another activity if she is losing interest in the one she is currently doing.  

With proper guidance, we can teach children how to play quietly and independently, as well as wait patiently, while still nurturing their need for attention and interaction.

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at info@parentingnow.org


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