School Behavior

“I Know! I Know!” Self-Control Solutions for Kids Who Blurt Out

Children with ADHD don’t blurt out answers or talk over people to be purposely rude. Their impulse-control problems are neurological and tough for them to see. But with these tips (and lots of practice) they can learn to stop interrupting.

A young girl with ADHD yelling and acting impulsive in class, using a megaphone
A young girl with ADHD yelling and acting impulsive in class, using a megaphone

The problem: Students with ADHD can’t stop interrupting their teachers and classmates by calling out answers or commenting while others are speaking.

The reason: Children with ADHD have difficulty controlling their impulses. Scientists believe that lower levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, leads them to respond immediately and reflexively to their environment — whether the stimulus is a question, an idea, or a treat. That’s why they often seem to act or talk before thinking, and suffer as a result.

The obstacles: Children with ADHD don’t always realize that they are interrupting or that their behavior is disturbing to others. Simply telling students with ADHD their behavior is wrong doesn’t help. Even though they know they’re acting out of turn, their impulsivity overrides their self-control. Many children with ADHD can’t understand nonverbal reprimands, like frowning, either.

Solutions in the Classroom

Kids with ADHD need classroom behavior reminders to stay on track. But reminding them verbally in front of other students may damage the fragile self-esteem of a child with ADHD. Instead, try visual reminders as part of a secret “contract” you set up with the student.

— Have a secret signal. Decide on a gesture or signal that will convey to the student that he is interrupting and needs to stop. For example, one teacher had success with a “wind it down” hand signal in the shape of a descending spiral staircase.

— Post a list of rules. Be sure each ADHD student is familiar with the class rules and can clearly see them from his seat. You can also try highlighting “No Interrupting” on the list for an added reminder.

— Have an on-desk reminder. Tape a note to the child’s desk with the letters “N.I.” written on it to stand for “No Interrupting.” None of the other students need to know that the initials don’t mean something like “New Inventions.”

— Keep a visual count. Show the student how much he’s been interrupting by calling attention to it through visuals. One teacher uses an abacus where she can silently slide over a bead every time her ADHD student talks out of turn. No one else knew what she was counting and this repetitive visual cue helped the ADHD student curb his behavior.

Solutions at Home

— Do “No Interrupting” training. Tell your child that you’re going to be doing an activity that can’t be interrupted (say, talking on the phone). Set your child up with a task that will hold his attention while you’re talking, and then take breaks every few minutes to visit with your child and praise him for not interrupting. You also can do a little behavior therapy by using the abacus method, but as part of a reward system.

— Add incentives. Begin the week with a pot of $5. Assign a value — say 10 cents — to each bead on the abacus or other visual counter. Each time you have to slide a bead because of an interruption, 10 cents should be removed from the pot. At the end of the week, your child gets to keep what’s left.

If your child doesn’t respond well to the “negative” method, reverse the system to provide positive rewards. Slide a bead for every time your child does not interrupt, to reinforce good behavior. At the end of the week, the child keeps what’s been earned.

In both cases, take your child out to purchase a treat with his earned money. The one-on-one attention will cap his sense of achievement and provide additional reinforcement for not interrupting.

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