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Help! My Child Interrupts Me When I Try to Read Aloud!

| Tips


When we asked parents to share with us the most challenging aspects of reading aloud to their children, having children constantly interrupt with comments, questions, or attempts to “read” along were a common complaint. Parents, we hear you! It’s extremely frustrating to have a child interrupt you before you can finish a sentence!  Encouraging children to be engaged with books they hear is truly important, though. We have a few tips to keep in mind that can help you reframe this challenge and find a comfortable balance.

Modify your expectations.

Caring for children often feels like checking items off the to-do list. Reading aloud need not feel so perfunctory. Try shifting your goal from “get through the book” to “spend time sharing books together.” It’s easier to be patient with interruptions when you remind yourself that talking during read-aloud time helps children pay attention, make sense of the book content, practice using new vocabulary, and formulate ideas.

Children’s interjections often show us what they know. Consciously slowing down to reflect on this can make interruptions more enjoyable. When a two-year-old interrupts every page of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar to tell you which of the foods he likes, congratulate yourself; He knows that readers connect books to their own experiences! When a four-year-old runs her finger under each line of text and talks over you to recite the words she’s memorized in Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, that deserves a parenting pat on the back also. She has learned that print goes left to right and carries a message, vital precursors to independent reading.

Make adjustments based on a child’s needs.

Make sure you have realistic expectations based on your child’s developmental level. A two-year-old might be drawn to the cover of Chris Van Dusen’s The Circus Ship, but not be able to understand the lengthy text. He may interrupt frequently as a way to try to participate. Pointing out familiar animals on each page or telling an abbreviated version of the story based on the pictures could make for just as rewarding of a read aloud as reading the book cover to cover — or more so, because it’s a better fit for the child’s needs.

It’s also okay to cut a read aloud short. If a child is hungry, tired, or otherwise distracted and keeps interrupting you to tell you about it, the book will likely be more fun to read together at a different time.

Build positive habits.

Try to balance celebrating children’s ideas with establishing norms for polite listening and conversation. Pause often to ask questions, let your child chime in, or just wait for her to share ideas; when a child receives plenty of chances to participate appropriately, there’s less motivation to interrupt inappropriately. Balance these invitations with prompts to help build children’s patience. Try saying, “Please wait until the end of the page to ask your question.” Or say, “It’s my turn to read the words on this page. You can have your turn to talk in a minute.”

When a book has a repeating refrain like in Candace Fleming’s Muncha, Muncha, Muncha, you might prepare a child by saying, “I’ll read this part, and then let’s read the “Tippy, Tippy, Tippy, Pat” part together. You can also stave off interruptions and build comprehension skills by asking a child to listen for particular information. Before you start The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, you could say, “Listen to find out if Peter does any of the same fun things in the snow that we do.” Practicing with a caring adult at home begins to prepare children for enjoying books read aloud to larger groups when they attend school.

Do you have a great tip for putting a positive spin on children’s interruptions during read-aloud time? We’d love to hear it on our Facebook page! Or email it to info@raisingreaders.org and we’ll post it for you.