Interruptions – A Good Thing?

A family is gathered around the dinner table.

The conversation is warm and animated.

Family Dinner“What were you thinking when you…”

“What makes you think I was thinking something?”

“Well you remember the last time when…”

“Yeah, but that was different because…”

“Oh you always think that…”

“Don’t tell me what I always think! I can be very deep at times. Last week I…”

“Now you’re gonna tell us another one of your stories about how you…”

“… knew exactly what was going on when you really had no idea…”

“Yeah, that reminds you the time he tried to tell us…”

“… I know what you’re going to tell us… That’s such a great story!”

And the playful bantering goes on, with someone starting a sentence and others completing it.

Sound rude?

Actually, one of the traits of a healthy family is that family members interrupt each other, but equally.

While at first it may seem intuitively incorrect, the research from Traits of a Healthy Family by Dolores Curran provides an interesting discovery about the interactions within healthy families.

diane sitting on steps with three kidsIn a project that observed families interacting, the researchers noted how families dealt with problem-solving. They noted who controlled the conversation and how people responded and reacted. They also noted patterns and whether some members spoke more often than others.

In the healthiest families, everyone was expected to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions. Consequently, the researchers discovered in part,

“Members of healthy families interrupted one another more than did members of less healthy families, but no one person got interrupted more than anyone else.… So manners, particularly polite conversation techniques, are not high hallmarks of the communicating family. Spontaneity is. The family that communicates well doesn’t need to finish its statements—others know what they’re going to say. Members aren’t sensitive to being interrupted, either. The intensity and spontaneity of the exchange are more important than propriety in conversation.” [Pages 58, 59]

When is it okay to interrupt?

While we certainly want to teach our children good manners in other social situations—including to not interrupt when someone is speaking—it may be heartening to know that healthy families interrupt each other on a regular basis, with everyone knowing they can jump in and share what pops into their mind and that others may finish their sentences.

There is a certain level of comfort when people know each other so well they can finish each other’s sentences. It says something about high levels of connection and attunement.

So, while you certainly want to teach your children the good manners of not interrupting outside the family boundaries, take heart when interruptions are common within the family boundaries. It’s a sign of family health!

Invitation for Reflection

  1. How aware have you been over your lifetime of people interrupting you, especially your family members? How did those interruptions make you feel, especially if everyone felt comfortable speaking?
  2. How does this information impact your understanding of why interruptions, as long as everyone gets a chance to speak, can be a sign of a healthy family?
  3. Now that you know this, how might you treat your children at the dinner table or in other family gatherings when you notice them interrupting each other?