Hold That Thought—If You Can

Kids often miss what’s going on around them. All they know is their thought-of-moment, which is usually bursting to be shared. Read this mom’s letter to learn about the problems of a child who doesn’t notice what’s happening around him.

      I have a kid who is a great talker. The challenge is creating boundaries. For instance if I need to change little sister’s diaper and little sister is busy playing catch me if you can, it may not be the best moment to ask to play a video game or tell me about a favorite event from 2 weeks ago. Is it even worth trying to set that boundary? Or is it a futile cause in your opinion/experience?

Thanks for your wisdom!


Dear Sara,

I still think it’s worthwhile to try to teach this skill. Our kids regularly walk into a room and begin speaking whatever is on their mind without making a habit of first pausing to take in the lay of land. If they are of the ADHD/distractible variety, they are really going to need this Pause-and-think skill, even if it is much, much (oh, and did I mention MUCH) harder for them to learn.

So here are a couple of things to try that will help him learn when and where to speak freely.

Create a signal, something that says “hold that thought”. Maybe one silent finger in the air, or a flat hand held up. Anything predetermined by the two of you that says, “pause.” Tell him that when he sees this, not only does it mean “hold that thought” but it also means “while you hold that thought, be a detective. See if you can figure out on your own why I may need you to wait.”


When you are done with whatever prevented you from listening intently in the first place, then turn to him and say, “Were you able to figure out why I wanted you to wait?” Based on his answer, you may need to help him catch a few more clues in the surrounding environment. But don’t belabor this process too long. Move along to his actual reason for seeking you out in the first place as soon as you can.

This is a social skill that most people figure out automatically. But for more intense children, who often live in the excitement in their heads (and frankly, their heads ARE a pretty cool place to be. I understand why they are often found there,) this is a skill that will have to be learned and even memorized. It may never come naturally, but it can still come.

Create a save-it-for-later board, particularly for use in school. If your child has a question or comment and if that question or comment is unrelated to the current assigned task, have them write it on the save-it-for-later white board (you can substitute a piece of paper, or notebook– whatever works.) Any thought inappropriately brought up is sent to the board. Later, when the timing is better, go through the list on the board. For example, if my son is doing math and he asks a question about whether a great battle from history might have gone differently if tazers had already been invented–onto the board it goes. Great question-yes. But maybe the wrong time. Later, at a break in the process, we’ll return to the board and work through the items. It lets him know that I’m still interested in his interesting thoughts and concerns but that they must be brought up at a more appropriate time.

When Talking to Other Adults, how do we teach our kids not to interrupt? Let’s face it, not all interruptions are bad. We have a general rule in our house: unless there’s an emergency, which for us requires fire, vomit, blood, or nuclear explosion—then hold that thought. Early on I trained all my kids to do the hand-on-the-shoulder technique. This simply meant that if they wanted to talk to me and I was busy talking with another adult, (even when on the phone) they were to come up and gently put their hand on my shoulder. This would indicate that they had something to say. I would wait for an appropriate time to turn to them to ask them what they needed. That has served us very well over the years. There was one child who had a difficult time understanding what “gently on the shoulder” meant, and often confused it with “pump the shoulder vigorously as though drilling for oil.” But we eventually worked it out.

Understand that your child may never develop what is sometimes called “Global vision,” which is an ability to actively think while taking in all the things happening around him. Most mothers know instinctively what this means. They must keep tabs on several children at once, scattered in various places, engaged in various activities that range from sweet to frightening. Moms have done this so very effectively over the years that we developed an eyes-in-the-back-of-her-head expression to explain it. But many people are naturally UN-global in their perceptions. They are, instead, very focused on a single thing, more like a hunter intently focused on their prey. Don’t dismiss this; this is a useful approach for many work-related tasks. In truth, both styles have a place. And both types of people have to work at using the other style when it’s needed.

So be patient; help your child develop their weaker skill, and develop their global viewing muscles, and eventually let them know that yes, tazers would have changed the battle completely.

Carol Barnier is a fresh, fun and popular conference speaker unlike any you’ve heard before. Her objective is to have the wit of Erma Bombeck crossed with the depth of C.S. Lewis, but admits that most days, she only achieves a solid Lucy Ricardo with a bit of Bob the Tomato. She is a frequent guest commentator on Focus on the Family’s Weekend Magazine broadcast, has been a guest on many radio programs and is a speaker to conferences nationwide. She’s the author of three books about dealing with (or possessing) a non-linear mind in a linear world: How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and On To Learning, If I’m Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where’d I Leave the Baby?, and The Big WHAT NOW Book of Learning Styles. Her main websites are CarolBarnier.com and SizzleBop.com. You can also find Carol at her blog for moms with distractible kids at SizzleBop. And for fun, see her church humor blog at CarolBarnier.

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