How to Handle Kids That Interrupt Constantly

Fatherly's resident parenting expert talks about the joys of eating dirt, when to seek couples counseling and a surefire way to keep a kid from interrupting.

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When I take my toddler outside to play, I sometimes discover she has dirt crusted around her mouth. Once, I actually caught her gnawing on a dirt clod. Is this dangerous? How can I get her to stop eating dirt?


Chicago, Illinois


I’m a soil muncher from way back in the day, Felix. I was a connoisseur of mudpies and loam. I can still taste that minerally grit in my mouth and feel it crusting on the corners of my mouth. All of which is to say, look, I turned out fine. And if you doubt I turned out fine, the jokes on you because you’re the one asking me for advice. And that advice is simply this: don’t sweat it.

Dirt is actually pretty safe to eat. More than being benign, it has a ton of microbial life in teeny tiny doses that can help your kid develop his emerging immune system. That’s actually pretty helpful, to be honest.

However, like most things in life, there are some caveats. First of all, you need to make sure the dirt your kid is chewing on isn’t full of animal poop or chemicals. The bacteria and microbes found in dogs guts are not the kinds of beasties you want in your kid’s system. Animal poop is a great way to get parasites or debilitating viruses. Chemicals, on the other hand, are a great way to develop cancer or get poisoned.

So it goes like this: If your kid is in your own backyard, it’s likely you know where the animals are pooping and where you placed the chemicals (should you use any). If you feel your kid is in a safe zone, no need to slap her hand away when she’s popping a little soil on her palate. That said, use common sense. Your kid doesn’t need to be eating a four-course dirt meal. Also, if you do worry she’s ingested animal poop, keep an eye on her for a few days and call your pediatrician if you notice any signs of sickness including fever or vomiting.

Finally, know that eating dirt is a pretty common behavior with kids. There’s nothing going on with your daughter that you need to be terribly worried about. After all, toddlers are still very much exploring the world with their mouths. If the behavior continues past preschool or intensifies then you might want to seek professional health. But for now, just relax. She’ll turn out fine. After all, I did.

Hi Fatherly,

My wife and I have been married for 5 years. We had our only child about a year ago. It’s been a rough year for us. Neither of us is particularly happy and we bicker all of the time. I thought it was just a lack of sleep and that crazy first year of parenting but now I think there may be other issues. Is it time to see a counselor?


Oakland, California


Just the fact that you’re asking this question suggests that it might be time to call in a professional, Ben. There are other signs too, and I’ll tell you about them, but it’s important that you know what you’re going through is not uncommon. There are a few big life changes that can put an inordinate amount of stress on a relationship, among the are death, relocation and having a new baby. You are not alone and most likely, with some help, you and your partner can recover.

Aside from being in a place where you are thinking about couples counseling, there are few other signs it might be time to visit a counselor. Professionals suggest that if you come home from work with a sense of dread, that’s a pretty good sign things are wrong. So is a feeling that only one person in the relationship is responsible for all the issues. It also might be time to find help if don’t feel like you have anything in common except the kid. Finally, if you bicker about the same issues continually without progress, it’s likely you might need a counselor for mediation.

And that really what most counselors do, Ben. They mediate. But you and your partner will still need to be willing to have those conversations and answer questions openly and honestly.

However, before you even get to the talking, you’ll need to find a counselor that works for both of you. Different counselors have different methods and processes. You do not want to be surprised once the ball is already rolling. So make sure that both you and your partner have a consultation before committing to a professional. Ask them about their counseling philosophy and how they usually guide couples through their issues. Ask if there will ever be separate sessions so nobody feels like people are getting singled out or left behind.

You also should consider the fact that in reaching out to me, it’s clear that you want to make it work. That’s a huge part of the process. Clearly, you are motivated to fix things, and really that’s a huge part of the battle. The other part is showing up and being as vulnerable as you can so you and your partner can start fixing what seems to be broken.

I suspect that you’ll make it through just fine. Hang in there.


You know that knock-knock joke about the interrupting cow? That’s basically my 4-year-old son. How can I make him stop interrupting me while I’m trying to talk to people?


Miami, Florida


Of course, I know the interrupting cow jo… MOO! In fact, it was one of the first knock-knock jokes I taught my kids. Boy, do I regret ever doing that. They told it so obsessively I often had to interrupt the interrupting cow joke before it even started. So, yes, I know your pain and I have a solution.

When I was struggling with my own boys interrupting, a child psychologist told me about a method she’d learned from a preschool teacher. It’s the hand-squeeze method and it works super duper well. Here’s how to make it work: Let your kid know you understand that sometimes they have something important to add to the conversation and you want them to be able to do just that. Tell him that if he has anything to say, he needs to take your hand and squeeze rather than interrupting. You, then, will acknowledge his request by squeezing back.

But here is the really tricky part: After you give your kid the squeeze in response, you have got to find a moment to pause the conversation and ask what they need, or would like to add. At first, you’ll have to do this pretty quickly. Most people will understand if you give a quick “excuse me a moment,” and then turn to your son. After all, it’s better than them standing next to you saying “Daaaad, dad, daddy, daaaaad,” until you blow your top.

After a few weeks of this, you will be able to increase the time you keep your kid waiting because they will come to understand that they will eventually be heard. Be consistent. If they try to interrupt verbally, hold out your hand for them to squeeze. And do not neglect to acknowledge them or the whole system will fall down around your ears.

My kindergartner actually still uses this technique when he’s feeling antsy. It works. I promi… MOO!