Earlier this year, a friend and her family came from abroad to visit us. We will be returning the visit over summer. I was horrified to see the behavioural contrast between the two sets of kids. I noticed that my children (aged 8 and 14) and their friends interrupted each other all the time. The visiting youngsters, on the other hand, seemed much more adept at allowing conversation to flow in a group. How do I get my kids in tune with global etiquette on this count?
Indians, as a people, are constantly interrupting each other—at family conversations, at parties, even in discussions. Watch any so-called debate on TV, and you’ll see that no one ever lets the other complete his thought or sentence. This is not just a question of ill manners, it is also a real impediment to good communication. As we go increasingly global, we need to teach our children how not to interrupt, so that they become more attuned to the way people communicate in a group.
This, of course, does not mean that we tell children to simply “shut up and sit down” or “be seen and not heard” while adults are conversing. We need to teach them to wait their turn in a conversation, by looking for a natural break or lull before they cut in. Or, we can teach them to use other ways to indicate that they would like to say something. For them to be able to accept and practise this, they must be made to feel that they will get their time and chance to add to a conversation or ask a question.
What really doesn’t work at all is a scenario such as this: You’re talking to someone, your child keeps trying to interrupt; you neither reply nor tell him to wait. He increases his volume, maybe even begins to pull at your clothes or your face. Finally, you yell at the kid, “OK, what is it?” Now, you have taught him that interrupting is fine, and his being loud and insistent works even better.
The other scenario that is a no-no goes something like this: You’re trying to have a conversation. Your child interrupts. You totally ignore the person who’s talking to you and attend to the child’s question or comment. Then you go back to your conversation. Again, the child interrupts, again you dump the conversation. Now, you’ve taught your child that nothing is more important than what she has to say or wants, at all times.
Children, by the age of five or six, can be gently told that certain things need your immediate attention, while other things can wait. Teach your child to say “Excuse me” or “I want to say something” to indicate that he has something to say. And once you ask him to speak, do give him your full attention, and encourage others to listen and not interrupt or complete his sentence for him.
And, as with almost all aspects of good parenting, teach by example. Watch your own behaviour and see how often you interrupt people. Once you’ve checked yourself, you’ll be in a much better position to hold a meaningful conversation, and your kids will learn not to become interrupting Indians, too.
(Email your questions to Gouri at email@example.com )