Teaching Manners - "Excuse Me"

Do you have a little one who is constantly calling your name and/or trying to talk to you when you are busy? You might be on the phone or doing a task that takes some concentration such as reading or cooking. Maybe you are a teacher and your student constantly talks out of turn or interrupts you when you are speaking to others. This is a common problem that adults face with young children. Continue reading to learn teaching tips on interrupting appropriately. Check out the free lesson plans for working with your early learner at the very bottom of this post.

Interrupting is a common skill that ALL young children need to work on learning. Yes, some children are more persistent than others, but when your little learner is driving you crazy remember it is normal. Try to see these situations as a teaching opportunity for you and a learning opportunity for your little learner. For most children this is a skill that needs to be explained and taught. It rarely is something that a child just naturally picks up on their own. Let's take a look at a few steps you can follow to teach this skill.

  1. Explain what and why

  2. Model

  3. Practice

  4. Feedback

  5. Identify other supports

  6. Next steps

Let's take a look at each step:

Step 1: Explain What and Why

It is important to set the expectation with the child. Explain what interrupting is and why it's important to interrupt politely. How much explaining you do is going to vary based on the skill set of the child. It is okay to use as many or as few words as needed as long as the child understands. If the child has limited language and comprehension skills it might be helpful to use pictures to help explain what interrupting is. It is also important to explain what is expected of the child and why. Here is an example of what this might sound like:

Example: "If you want to talk to me when I am talking to someone you need to interrupt me by saying, 'excuse me' and wait for me to answer you. When you say, 'excuse me' it lets me know that you want to talk to me."

The tricky thing when teaching a child to say, "excuse me" is that we as adult then need to respond right away in order to reinforce this desired behavior. We shouldn't expect the child to wait when we say, "just a minute" until after they have mastered the skill of saying, "excuse me."

Step 2: Model

Show the child what interrupting politely looks like. Grab another adult or child you can role play with to show the little one what interrupting politely looks like. Have one person pretending to be "busy" and then get up close to them and say, "excuse me" to gain their attention.

Step 3: Practice

Now it is the child's turn to practice. This is the most important step! The expectation has been set and explained to them. They have also had an opportunity to see what it is supposed to look like. Of course you will be practicing this skill in natural situations throughout the day as well, but role playing and allowing practice opportunities for the child will strengthen this skill and show you whether or not they have the ability to perform this skill in a naturally occurring situation. If the child can't perform the skill during a contrived situation it is unlikely they will be able to do it when a natural situation occurs.

Step 4: Feedback

While the child is practicing saying, "excuse me" it is important to reinforce this behavior and provide corrective feedback when they do it incorrectly. For a lot of children, giving the child your attention will be reinforcing in itself because that is why they are interrupting you. If your attention does not appear to be reinforcing (the behavior of saying, "excuse me" is not being acquired) then you may need to provide an additional reinforcer along with providing your attention. It could be a toy, a little piece of the child's favorite food or drink, music, tv, etc. The key when delivering reinforcement is that what is being provided as the reinforcer or reward is truly reinforcing for the child.

Now if the child performs the skill incorrectly, then it is important to immediately let them know their response is incorrect. An incorrect response might be the child continuing to try and talk to you, walking away or not responding at all. If this occurs this should be corrected and then prompt the child to respond correctly.

Example: My son is trying to talk to me when I am pretending to be on the phone. I tell him, "Stop, you need to be polite and say, 'excuse me.'"

Step 5: Identify other supports

Children with special needs and young children in general tend to benefit from the use of visual supports. This could be a picture or icon reminding the child to say, "excuse me" or a social story you may have reviewed with them in the past. It is a support that prompts the child to respond correctly, increases independence and is eventually faded over time.

Step 6: Next Steps

Once the child has shown that they are able to say, "excuse me" during contrived situations remind them to do it throughout the day in naturally occurring situations. It is okay if the child still needs a prompt as long as it is eventually faded over time.

Now that the child is able to interrupt politely they need to learn how to wait for your attention when you can't give it to them right away. This is the step we often expect to come right away when a child is interrupting, but it is a separate skill that needs to be taught. The same steps above can be used for teaching the child to wait for your attention.


*Be consistent with practicing the skill during contrived and naturally occurring situations.

*If your child regresses go back to step 1 and start over.

*Prompt and reinforce the appropriate response and fade the prompts and additional reinforcers overtime.

*Give them grace. No one is perfect! You are going to mess up and so is the child. That's okay. Just try to be aware of when that happens and set goals to do it right the next time.

Free Lesson Plan:

*Lesson plan on saying, "excuse me" to interrupt.

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*Lesson plan on saying, "excuse me" to interrupt and waiting when asked to wait for attention.

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Keep up the great work with your little learner!

Until Next Time,

Educating Early