Tell me if this has ever happened to you: you’re in the middle of a conversation with another adult, when your small child comes up to you and demands your attention away from whatever you’re saying.
Sure, you try to hide your horror that your kid is interrupting you (yet again) and continue talking as though your life is not controlled by a tiny dictator. Sure, whoever you’re talking to tries to awkwardly ignore that you’re trying to awkwardly ignore your kid. But kids are persistent, and more likely than not, you end up shouting something totally mature like, “Can you just wait a minute? Gosh!” and you both end up frustrated and annoyed.
Well, Jessica Martin-Weber, 39, writer and owner of The Leaky Boob in Portland, Oregon came up with a genius solution for interrupting kids that allows her to finish a a complete sentence while reassuring her children. Martin-Weber, who has six children ranging in age from 5 to 18 with her husband, Jeremy, became determined to devise a plan to deal with it calmly and lovingly.
After dealing with postpartum depression after her second child, Martin-Weber shares that she worked with a therapist to help identify her “triggers” as a mother. Specifically, those instances that set off her anxiety or anger.
She explains that as a sexual assault survivor, things like breastfeeding or feeling out of control of a situation could be very triggering for her. Many of the common things when children are young, such as bouts of unexplained crying, whining, constantly being “touched out,” and frequent interruptions were becoming increasingly difficult for her to deal with. She realized that taking a step back to understand why something was a trigger was the first step in learning how to deal with it.
“With the frequent interruption it was that I felt out of control and talked over as if my words and thoughts weren’t important,” she notes. “I had struggled to see value in myself for so long that this hit me in a vulnerable personal area. I had to deal with that (my kids interrupting me doesn’t mean I don’t have value or that my words and thoughts aren’t important, that was just my insecurity and past trauma speaking and I didn’t need to take this normal child behavior personally.)”
Realizing that something seemingly so “small,” such as constantly being talked over or never being able to get out one complete sentence, coupled with her desire to acknowledge her children’s need to be heard, led her to take advice from a fellow parent who found a solution that had worked for their family.
In a Facebook post, Martin-Weber explained the technique: when a child has something to say, but sees that a parent is talking already or listening to someone else talk, he or she places a hand gently on the parent’s arm. The parent than responds with a physical touch back — holding their hand, or putting their hand over the child’s to acknowledging that they realize that child is there and will be given the opportunity to speak.
Martin-Weber has been using the “touch and acknowledge” system as a way to teach and respect personal boundaries and limits for about 10 years now, first implementing the system when her oldest children were around 6 and 8. She notes that although her oldest children caught on very quickly, it did take some time for the younger children to learn the system. Between children’s personalities and developmental readiness, how soon they can appropriately use the system can vary widely. The mom of many says that she’s seen a range from as young as 2½ to 5 in her own children’s experience using the technique.
“Once they get it and once they really see that they will be heard it becomes second nature,” she explains. “They do go through some times where they may lose it a little, usually when there is some big developmental milestone or stress in their life but they can relearn it. Eventually it gives way to normal social abilities of waiting and by their teens they don’t need to do it anymore.”
She also adds that both she and her husband use the technique and model it with each other for the kids, as well. Overall, she says, the difference the technique has made in her life has been “huge” and has allowed her family to learn the importance of listening to each other and respecting the energy that goes into sharing their thoughts. And in a family that contains both extroverts and introverts, the technique has allowed both types of personalities to communicate together in a less chaotic way.
And although some of us think the technique itself is pure genius, Martin-Weber points out that for her family, it’s not necessarily about the technique. But rather, the importance of understanding yourself as a parent by acknowledging your own emotions and experiences, and then finding ways to help you and your children be as healthy as possible.
“Some of my reactions really aren’t about my kids and yet they would end up bearing the brunt of it which just wasn’t fair,” she explains. “Maybe the connecting touch interruption strategy won’t work for every family (maybe interrupting isn’t a big deal to every parent!) but there may be another way for you to address it such as a code word or eye contact and a wink. Whatever it is, the technique really isn’t the point, it’s identifying what struggles we have and finding ways to give ourselves the space to work on them without our children having to feel like they need to manage our reactions as well. This is part of taking care of ourselves as parents so we can better care for our children.”