Develop Inhibition Skills
Use a Replacement Behavior
You may notice that your child interrupts too much, blurts out his opinion at the wrong time, or dominates conversation. In a group study session, he doesn’t make enough space for partners. He doesn’t give them equal time to participate and talks over them. As a result, he puts people off because he doesn’t act like a good listener (even if he actually is interested in other people’s opinions), he doesn’t advance his conversational skills, and he doesn’t get the information he needs to complete projects.
Most high-school children interrupt or talk too much at various times when they’re excited to talk or “have their say.” But chronically dominating the conversation may stem from a stop-and-think problem. Put another way, it may indicate that your child is struggling to develop inhibition skills.
Inhibition is one of our executive functions: the set of skills that let us execute daily tasks.
Solution: Introduce a replacement behavior
A replacement behavior can override your child’s urge to talk — it can provide the inhibition he needs by substituting a physical action that has a positive result.
Don’t do this: Say, “Don’t call out or interrupt!”
Try this instead: Teach your child how to use a replacement behavior in place of the urge to talk out of turn. There are a few things that work well.
- Tap a key on the keyboard and tally positive behaviors instead of interrupting and calling out. First, use a sticker or bright colored tape to highlight a key on the keyboard of his laptop — like the number 1. Next, open a note on the desktop. Then, explain to your child that every time he performs a listening behavior, like nodding or asking a relevant question, he should tap the highlighted key. Finally, he’ll tally up all his positive behaviors at the end of the study session or group meeting and report back.
- Tap a foot on the floor five times when they know the answer to a question asked in class. For kids who continue to call out in class when they want to answer the teacher’s question, a good replacement behavior is tapping their foot on the floor five times. Not only does this keep them from calling out, it also gives them a moment to pause and consider raising their hand to be called on. (This strategy can work for young kids, too.)
A reward for using the replacement behavior, like going out for pizza or ice cream, is important until your child has established a pattern of success. Also, keep in mind that the taps can eventually be dropped once your child gets enough positive feedback from peers for not interrupting. Or when he gets ongoing positive feedback from the teacher for a consistently raised hand. Over time, as this feedback builds and your child internalizes his success, a learned inhibition will take over.
Remember: Your child’s calling out or interrupting isn’t necessarily a failure of social skills or lack of respect for others. He is struggling with the critical skill of inhibition and needs a new habit to help him develop it.
It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instructions. When deciding if executive function weaknesses require intervention, ask yourself: “How frequently is this occurring? How intense is the experience/significant the impact?” If your answer to these questions is “too much,” “too often,” “I don’t know what to do to change this,” or “it’s only getting worse,” you may benefit from a face-to-face conversation to help problem-solve your concern. Effective problem solving will help you clearly identify the problem, goal, steps it will take to achieve your goal, possible barriers, and available supports.