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    Home Education, Other Thoughts

    Don’t Interrupt: A Secret to Peaceful Days

    May 29, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    I mentioned this in my recording with Sarah, and I’ve been wanting to write about it ever since. It’s a great secret — one someone else shared with me, back when I had all very tiny children. It is some of the best advice I ever received. It’s really simple, and therefore it’s really easy to underestimate its significance.

    It’s this: Don’t interrupt.

    We all have our own list of things that bring us to the brink. Mine happens to be multitasking. I just. can’t. do. it. I have gotten so bad these past few years that I can’t hardly cook and listen at the same time. One of my favorite pastimes used to be listening to a podcast while cooking, but now I have to choose one … or the other.

    (That is a rule for the children, by the way.)

    It’s very sad and pathetic.

    But I digress.

    So let’s just say that the clamoring gets to me pretty quickly. I know there is that myth out there that homeschool moms are these paragons of patience, but it’s not true, or if it is, it’s only because we can’t escape all the chances to build such a virtue.

    So teaching from a place of rest comes from the inside, right? It’s peace, if we want to boil it down to one word.

    But there are external components to all of this, too. I mean, yes, I can try to maintain my peaceful inner state like some sort of Zen master, no matter what, but the truth is that a certain amount of orderliness in life would make it all a lot easier. And chaos is peace’s great undoing, am I right?

    So imagine my day, if my children had their way with it:

    I sit down to do math with my girls — already I’m dealing with two people who may need different things at different times (or, even worse: different things at the same time). Five minutes in, my five-year-old demands help with his train set, and, to make matters worse, when I tell him I’m busy with the girls, he tries to draw me into an argument. I get him to go back to his playing, recommence work with the girls, only to have my twelve-year-old enter the room, asking to narrate, and if he can’t narrate right now, could I at least look over his Latin work?

    With each interruption, minutes are added to the math lesson. Let’s say at least one interruption happens in the middle of some instructions. Now, one of the girls is confused about what to do, and I have to spend even more time straightening her out.

    And so on and so forth, ad nauseam.

    In The Story of Charlotte Mason, Essex Cholmondeley writes about her time at the Teachers’ College at Ambleside:

    [A]t Scale How time was to be respected, given to the thing or person claiming it rightfully. Then there would always be time, without over-pressure or distraction. This sense of time value was hard to achieve but it bore the test of experience during the two years’ training. What an effort of faith it all was to one so slow to read, to write and to think. It did not seem possible to find a moment for everything, yet if no time was wasted there was plenty of it and no hurry.

    Think back on my story about the math-lesson-turned-chaos. Who had a right to my time? The girls. Who was claiming it wrongfully? The boys. At least in that instance. There are plenty of times when the situation is reversed, and one of the boys is claiming my time rightfully, while the girls are distracting us with their interruptions.

    The good advice that I was given many years ago comes ringing back to me in times like these: Train your children not to interrupt. I have worked on this in the past, but it’s a habit we’ve been losing lately, and so it will be the focus of my summer — it’s the one thing I want to continually reinforce before we go back to a full schedule of lessons in the autumn, this time with four students instead of three.

    The youngest members of families are often too young to train in this habit. Babies will cry, for example, and that without any respect for your math schedule. But eventually, about age three or so (maybe four for less mature children), a child can begin to understand this concept of respecting time.

    Of course, Mommy has to understand it as well. It’s so easy for us to give our time to things claiming it wrongfully, isn’t it?

    But that’s another post entirely.

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    7 Comments

  • Reply Flannery J Salkeld May 15, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    This is so important for me right now! We just had our seventh and there are times when the constant interruptions is so disturbing mentally! And it IS hard for Mom not to go along with the interruptions! Please write that other post!

  • Reply 3 tips for handling interruptions » Simply Convivial July 13, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    […] Don’t Interrupt: A Secret to Peaceful Days by Brandy Vencel at Afterthoughts […]

  • Reply Kathryn May 11, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    We need to work on this as well. I tend to practice this with my children for a time when the interruptions are driving me crazy, and then relax the habit, to our detriment.

    I wish there was a way not to be constantly interrupted by a high needs toddler though. Personally I know the interruptions are simply the work of caring for a child, but as you explained, the other children constantly lose track and everyone gets frustrated.

  • Reply Brandy Vencel May 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    I had a conversation with a friend’s mother once. She told me that to train her children not to whine {when they were old enough to know better}, she simply told them she would no longer hear their whining. If they wanted to communicate with her, they were going to have to try another approach.

    My children are older, so I use a similar approach. They already know they aren’t supposed to interrupt, so I hold up a hand to remind them to stop talking, and then it is their job to remember what they had to say.

    I also went through a period of time where I responded with, “Are you bleeding?” {No.} “Has someone been kidnapped?” {Also no.} “Then why are you interrupting your sister?

    I think when they are smaller, it’s more challenging, and also it is almost impossible to train a toddler. But small things can start building the habit for when they are older. So things like, “Shhh…please wait until your sister is done talking…Okay, now it is your turn.” I don’t think this trains the habit, but it sort of lays the groundwork.

    One thing I did when I had only one student was to set a timer and tell the other children {the 2 and 3-year-old at the time} that they had to play quietly and try not to talk to me until the timer went off. So, 20 minutes for math or an AO reading, etc. And then I would check and see if they had anything to tell or ask before we moved on to the next timer period. This seemed to help, though it wasn’t a perfect system, of course.

    I hope some of this helps a little… 🙂

  • Reply Harmony May 7, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Brandy, this makes so much sense. Interrupting is a huge problem and source of frustration with our 6 1/2 and 3 1/2 year old as well. I would also love to hear any tips you have for approaching this. Thanks for your insights!

  • Reply Helen Swavely May 6, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Hi Brandy, I really appreciate this post. As the years are going on, I, too, am having quite a difficult time multitasking. I feel so fractured by trying to continue to maintain this way of doing things. Interrupting has greatly increased in our home over the last bunch of years. This is something I would like to work on for our summer habit. What things will you be doing to help this become a habit? Thank you for sharing.

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