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Working with Interrupting and Pesty Children

Training Module

Having trouble with one-on-one time due to that one child that wants all of your attention? This 1-hour training will discuss simple tips to help you in the classroom.

Working with Interrupting and Pesty Children

All teachers struggle balancing group time and one-on-one time with children in the classroom. You always have that one child in your setting that demands 100% of your time, making quality interactions with other children nearly impossible. Five minutes of focused play with each child in your classroom each day reduces power struggles by 50%.

These simple tips will help teachers work with the interrupting and pesty child that prevents others from learning.   

Understanding the child, the teacher and the situation

Children often come to the mistaken conclusion that their classroom belonging and significance are threatened when their teachers focus on something or someone else. It helps to understand that this is normal and to deal with the threat in respectful ways instead of increasing the threat through anger or punishment. The more the child demands, the more teachers and parents give them attention, be it positive or negative. In fact children who are pests often receive too much attention, not too little. No amount of attention can fill the hole for children who believe they do not belong unless they have constant attention.

The longer this problem persists, the harder it is to retrain yourself and the child. Therefor it is extremely important to start early, in infancy, setting your limits of attention giving and sticking to them. You also need to give your kids opportunities to find belongings through cooperation and contribution. When you respect yourself as well as the kids, you'll know it's okay to have one-on-one time with other children in the classroom and the pesty child can figure out how to entertain themselves while maintaining their sense of belonging. They will still receive proper supervision through sight, sound and awareness, but they will not suffer from your "lack of attention" while focusing on other children. 


1. When giving your attention to other children, parents, or co-workers, say to the child, "I would like to spend five minutes with you without any interruptions from the other children. Then I would like some uninterrupted time with Johnny. You first, then Johnny." You may want to let the other child (Johnny) know in advance what you are planning to do and why, to help the child feel loved and to learn to respect your time with other children too.

2. For children ages two to five, say, "Would you like to get a book or toy and sit next to me while I work with Johnny?" For ages five to eight, say "I want some time to work with Johnny. What ideas do you have to keep yourself busy for ten to fifteen minutes so you won't need to interrupt me?"

3. Tell the child, "It is a problem for me when I'm interrupted while working with Johnny. Would you be willing to talk about this today at circle time with the rest of the children?"

4. If the child has been waiting all morning to spend time and play with you, when you arrive in the morning, put off some chores to spend 5 minutes of focus play with the child before starting your daily routines.

5. When spending time with other children, announce this to the class. Make sure the pesty child is aware of your focused play with the other children. This lets them know that they will get some of your time, but not all of it.

6. Let the child know that you hear them interrupting but you choose not to verbally respond when you are working with other children. One way to do this is to use a nonverbal response such as putting your hand softly on their shoulder while ignoring their verbal demands. This lets them know you care about them even though you won't respond to constant demands.

Planning Ahead

1. If the child is being a pest, plan special time with her where she has focused time with you. When she bugs you, say, "This isn't our time to play. It is my time to work with Johnny. I'm looking forward to our special time in 20 minutes. 

2. Set up places in your classroom where the children can play safely alone. Let the child know that you still love them when you are working with another child, but it is not time for you to spend with them. Try setting a timer for the amount of time you need to spend with each child uninterrupted.

3. Let your children know your schedule and when you will spend time with each child. Tell them during morning circle time when you will do activities with the whole group and when you will be working one-on-one with individual children. Remind them that they will need to be engaged in safe activities during this uninterrupted time.

4. Have a special box filled with manipulatives or toys that are designed for play by a single child. Have these special boxes available for the child who needs engagement while you work with other children.

Maintaining supervision while working with children one-on-one

Children in early education settings must be supervised at all times. Supervision can be done by sight, sound and awareness. Teachers must be aware of all children's actions, abilities and intentions. While working one-on-one with children, teachers must position themselves in areas of the room where they can still see and hear the other children while also working with the single child. Best practice encourages teachers to place their backs closest to the wall, eliminating the possibility of children being behind them and out of sight. Engage children in exciting activities while working with individual children. Don't be afraid to give children a bit of independence during your day. Your trust will help the child feel safe and secure, reducing the risk of significant events.


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