Skip to main content

It’s time for another Ask Dr. Leman: “I can’t finish a conversation when my 4-year-old is around.” Listen in to find out Dr. Leman’s response on today’s episode of Have a New Kid by Friday Podcast.



**Special Offer– Dec 1 – 31: The Intimate Connection ebook for $2.99 at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or wherever you get your ebooks**



Show Sponsored by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing

Produced by Unmutable™


Doug: Don’t we all just love that person that we work with who as soon as we start talking, they break-in and we don’t get to finish our comment? Or do we just love it when we’re trying to have a conversation with-

Andrea: Hey, Doug. Hey, Doug.

Doug: Andrea, Andrea, Andrea. Yes, that’s it. Well, that’s the question Rebekah asked. Her four-year-old interrupts everything she said. Every conversation. So we get to ask Dr. Leman, how do you stop it? Where does it come from? Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: I’m Andrea.

Doug: And it is so good to be with you today. If this is your first time with us, this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. So funny, I got thrown off on the intro because I was waiting for you to do it again. So we all know we hate being interrupted. So let’s hear what Rebekah’s question is.

Rebekah: I have a four-year-old son. He is my oldest and he many times will interrupt adult conversations. If my husband and I are speaking, he will constantly try to talk over us because he wants attention. If I tell him I have a phone call, he will purposefully be loud and make noises. If we’re in the car and I am talking to my husband or his brother who is a small baby, he will try to talk over us and it’s just getting out of hand. And we’ve tried different types of discipline, taking away things that he enjoys, but he’s very persistent and it just seems like we need some help with this.

Dr. Leman: Okay, Rebekah, let’s start with the good news. You know you have an attention-getting child, but do you know you have a powerful child as well? See, kids are attention-getters by their nature. They’re going to get attention positively or negatively. And for whatever reason, this little four-year-old got off track and he’s learned how to get attention negatively. Okay? It’s still attention. That’s the point the parent has to understand. So when you say you’ve tried everything, hey, I appreciate that. I talk with a lot of parents who tell me they’ve tried everything. Taking away things a four-year-old enjoys is never effective with a kid who just wants to always be seen and always want to be heard. This kid is playing whack-a-mole. You ever played whack-a-mole at an amusement park where these things pop up and you whack them on the head and as soon as you whack the one that pops up at the other? And that’s sort of what you’re dealing with. You said he’s very persistent and you could use a synonym, you could say he’s very powerful.

Dr. Leman: So again, as a kid progresses into the of discouragement, and that’s what I want you to hear, this kid is discouraged already at age four. And one of the things we talk about is encouraging children and how important it is. Okay? But the discouraged child will go from attention-getting to power to revenge. You don’t want to go that far. So again, this is one of those situations where you need to pick one tact, one avenue to deal with this guy. And the problem is it’s extremely difficult because he’s so persistent. You’re going to have to be doing this all the time to turn the tide.

Dr. Leman: And what am I suggesting you do? As soon as he starts his little dog and pony show of interrupting, he is removed from the scene. Okay? That is to say, he starts this thing when you’re on the phone, you take him to a room you can lock from the outside. You say, well, we don’t have a room we can lock from the outside. Well, have your husband put a little lock outside the door, a real simple little locks. And four-year-old is now … He can howl at the moon. He can throw a temper tantrum. He can scream and yell, but he’s in the back bedroom somewhere. And you have your phone call wherever you’d like, okay? If you live in a climate or a location where it’s easy for you to put him outside, I’d put them outside on the back lawn, immediately.

Dr. Leman: So as soon as he opens his mouth and he starts interrupting, without any words, you take them by the arm, take them by the hand, put them on a place, close, separate yourself from him. Now what I’m telling you with a persistent little guy like this guy, little Mr. Whack-a-mole, you are really going to be taxed because he will be at you constantly. Okay? So you’re going to have to extinguish his negative responses as consistently as you possibly can. And so that would be my challenge for you today, Rebekah, to think, how can I deal with this realistically?

Dr. Leman: Now you mentioned in the car, notice that powerful children know when they have you over the barrel. What are you going the do when he’s in the car? Well, depending upon where you have your baby, it sounded like you had a younger child as well, this may not be appropriate, but one of my favorites with kids in the car, like if I’m driving him to preschool or something and they have some kind of behavior that you don’t really like, you just turn the radio on as loud as it’ll and put the rear speakers on. And that’ll usually get their attention. They don’t like that. They’ll be screaming, “Mommy, turn that down. Turn that down.”

Dr. Leman: So again, some of these things might sound harsh to you, but again, you have to realize that for whatever reason, you and your husband have created this … You probably made the mistake that many parents do. You probably just tried to make sure he’s happy at all times. Well, good luck with that. Quoting my own book, Have a New Kid by Friday, “An unhappy child is a healthy child.” So there’s times your four-year-old if you do this right, he’s going to be miserable. He’s going to be really unhappy, but he’s going to figure out that he’s the only one that can keep his mouth shut and not interrupt. You can’t do that for him.

Dr. Leman: But you can set up situation after situation where pretty soon he feels like this is fruitless. I got to do something different. So for openers, that’s it, Rebekah.

Andrea: So, Dr. Leman, you said you started off with he’s discouraged. How did he get discouraged?

Dr. Leman: Kids strive for significance in their own family. Okay. And they get encouraged by parents who know the difference between vitamin E and traditional praise. When you just praise a child when he’s doing something right, the kid figures out within a short period of time, oh, I get it. They only really love me when I’m doing these things right. There’s something wrong with that. Where the parent who uses encouragement, the kid sees the relationship in much more healthier terms. They see me as somebody who can contribute to this family, who can give back to the family. I’m a part of this family. I’m not the enemy of these two people. These two tall people who live with me.

Dr. Leman: And so the process of encouragement comes from Adlerian individual psychology theory if anybody’s interested in where does that come from. And one of the things that Alfred Adler talked about years ago is that there was a striving for superiority in the family. For example, this little four-year-old is the oldest and he hears those footsteps of those younger kids. He’s threatened by their being around. He’s asking himself if there’s enough love from mom and dad for him because these little ones are taking an awful lot of time, a lot of mom and dad’s time. So that’s where the adventure starts.

Dr. Leman: And just like as kids, we played on a sand pile or a dirt pile and we played King of the hill or queen of the hill. The idea was to be on top of the hill. That striving for superiority is what gave birth to my writings about the birth order and why firstborns are natural leaders and why babies of the family tend to be attention-getters. They can’t compete with the firstborn. The first part has got way too much of an advantage, so they become the class clown or the kid that demands attention in other ways. So it’s all about a psychological striving for meaningfulness in their lives.

Dr. Leman: And so kids, like I say, all kids are born attention-getters and they’re going to get it positively or negatively. And so how you start off, I mean, talk about the infant. You’ve heard me talk about kids need schedules and the kid will probably help determine their own schedule, but the parent who goes out for an evening in the first two weeks of that child’s birth without the child is moving in the right direction. They’re already establishing some independence for themselves as a couple and they’re beginning to teach the child that mommy and daddy will not always be there. So getting off to a good start in parenting is very important.

Dr. Leman: And as all your mommy’s know, when that little firstborn is placed in your arms and that little lip is quivering and you count those fingers and toes, and you’re fully aware of the wonderful blessing you just received, it’s easy, I mean, it’s immediate, you fall in love with this little child. And it’s so easy just in the very get-go to sort of overdo. And when you do, you end up with a child who feels he or she has a license to misbehave and do their thing and become so independent that they become detrimental to the smooth running of a family. So that was a long answer, Andrea, but it comes from psychological theory.

Andrea: I have another question. If I were Rebekah, I would wonder, okay, so now I’m going to start locking him up in the room when I’m trying to have a conversation, removing him from the situation, can she also balance that with, “Okay, now we’re putting baby down and now is my time to snuggle with you and read a book, giving him that vitamin E and giving him that special attention that he does need?

Dr. Leman: I think it’s a real natural thing. That’s what you want to do as a mom. You want four-year-old to be a helper. “Help me with your little sister. Hey honey, would you go get a Pamper for mommy? Thank you, honey. I really love it when you help me.” And with a happy face, “Thank you, honey.” That’s encouragement. That’s vitamin E. That’s giving attention to a child in a positive way. So keep in mind for those of you who think we’re too militaristic here, the balance is always what Andrea just shared. You want to be loving to that child. Kids need textual stimulation. They need time with you. They need cuddle time. They love stories. But there has to be a clear delineation in a child’s mind that this is acceptable and this isn’t. And the one that makes that call is you, you’re the parent.

Doug: Well, so the eBook fits perfectly with Rebekah’s question, Have a New Kid by Friday. You can get it from December 1 to December 31st of 2020, you can get it for $2.99 wherever eBooks are sold. So, Dr. Leman, why would any parent buy Have a New Kid by Friday?

Dr. Leman: Because you got a brain in your head and you realize you need some help. That is the best book. Read the reviews. It’s a New York Times bestselling book. You have no idea how difficult it is to get a book to that level. It’s just a high mountain to climb. So if you write books about marriage, and family, parenting and you get that high of a ranking on a book, you know that book has been extremely helpful and millions of people’s lives have been touched by that book. So if you don’t want to read it for 2.99, you go on and do your thing, parent and I wish you a lot of luck. If you want to see a change in your child’s behavior, a change in your family’s atmosphere, take the time to read that book.

Dr. Leman: And as I’ve said on other podcasts, if you’re not a reader, we have a DVD series you can watch. You can obviously listen to it as well. And it’s $25. It’s a six-part series. It’s been extremely popular and you can get that at You spell Leman right and you’re there. L-E-M-A-N, So it’s for your reading. The publisher downloads these things to put them in your hands. We bless it because we think that information is really necessary. If you take a look around our country today and ask yourself, “Are kids where they need to be?” No, they’re not. They’re not even close. Are families where they need to be? No, they’re not. So this is a book that’ll help right the good ship family and steer you toward a port of call that’s healthy for everyone.

Doug: Super. And now, a no-nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: You know, parents, after your son or daughter completes high school and they’re working, or maybe they’re going to community college part-time or whatever, the question comes up, should your son or daughter pay rent. Maybe. If you’re a kid has taken a big load and they’re living at home and going to school, I wouldn’t think of charging them rent. On the other hand, if my kid has passed up an opportunity to go onto school, they seem to be looking for themselves, and he’s working and not for a lot of money, I would charge him rent because I think it’s important that kids learn early in life that life is free.

Dr. Leman: So it’s one of those judgment calls, parents, where if the question is, can I charge my son or daughter rent? Yes, you may, but use your head. One kid might pay rent, the other may not. Well, that’s unfair. Do you really want to treat your kids the same? Oh, boy, I hope not. God created us all differently, so don’t be afraid to teach your kids differently. This is a judgment call, parents, exercise good judgment, and keep that relationship intact with your son or daughter.

Doug: So, Dr. Leman, going back to Andrea’s question just a little bit more, vitamin E, how then can we give, so she gave a great example, I’m going to sit with you and read a book. What is it about the right way to encourage the kid that we want to do with our kids?

Dr. Leman: Well, if I told everybody praise is destructive, a lot of people wouldn’t believe that, but it is. It says I hold you in high esteem because you did this, because you did that. It’s just part of our culture. All of us grew up with praise or reward or punishment. That’s how we were raised. But using encouragement, what I try to help people understand is you need to really pay attention to the act and not the actor. In other words, I mean, that was so helpful for you to go and get the umbrella for grandma. I know she appreciated that. That’s encouragement. So the focus is on the act, the action. It was helpful that you went and got the umbrella for grandma. It’s not, you’re the best kid in the whole world because you went and got that. There’s a big difference in how kids receive that.

Dr. Leman: So again, if you want to read a book that really helps you really get good at that, read the book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. And yes, the book we’re offering has some of that in it as well. But the Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, there’s another book, sold well over a million copies for a reason. There’s some really good reading there for you as parents. Take advantage of it. My goodness.

Doug: So, Dr. Leman here’s my other critique of your advice. This poor little guy, he’s only four-years-old. He’s so tiny that he’ll probably just grow out of this. Why can’t I just be sweet to my four-year-old? He’s only four, Dr. Leman.

Dr. Leman: Well, because 80% of his personality is already formed at age four. At age three it’s about 60%. So I’ve often said to adults, the little boy or little girl you once were, guess what, you still are. So those early years, Doug and Andrea, are really important. And that’s why when you see these negative patterns in a three or four-year-old, you want to jump on that. I always said kids are like wet cement, their personalities form so quickly. If you’ve ever worked with wet cement, it’s very malleable. It’s sort of fun. We used to put our initials in it and our girlfriend’s name in the sidewalk, if we could get away with it. But once it hardens up, it’s really hard to do anything with concrete.

Dr. Leman: And so that’s a good analogy that kids’ personalities forms early and their behavioral repertoire so to speak develops in those early years. About 18 months is when a kid gets powerful and they realize the little things they do has a great reaction from the parent and that’s where it starts. So those of you who got little nine-month-olds, circle look calendar at 18 months because that little cherub is going to give you a run for your money starting then unless you handle it well.

Andrea: So, Dr. Leman, earlier on, you said that she’s going to have to do this a lot for a long time. How long is this going to take?

Dr. Leman: Let’s start with this, if you’re really consistent and you really do a five-star job, it doesn’t take long to change a kid’s behavior. I say it with tongue in cheek, you could have a new kid by Wednesday. But the point is that a behavior that you take on well and you’re consistent with it, the kid will fall in line relatively quickly. If you struggle through it and you’re hit and miss, you’re lengthening that out and it could take a long time, and I mean a long time, several months if you don’t do this right. So the key is to be a consistent parent. Let your yes be yes, your no be no. Don’t threaten. Use action. Few words. You’ll get his or her attention real quick. They’ll figure it out. They’re smart little suckers.

Andrea: I have another question for you. What do you think of the idea of teaching a child when they want to talk to you to come and put their hand on your arm or something if you’re in another conversation?

Dr. Leman: Sure. It’s an easy way. You’re telling your kid, “Okay, here’s the deal. When you want mommy’s attention, you come and touch mommy and what you have to know is I felt your touch. And now your job is to wait patiently until mommy off the phone or ready to talk to you.” So yeah, sometimes that’ll work. It’s a proactive thing you can do. Again, what you’re doing there, Andrea, is you’re exerting your authority and authority has become a bad word in our society, but I believe it’s a great word that every parent and every child has to thoroughly understand.

Doug: Well, Rebekah, we really appreciate you asking the question and I think there’s a lot of parents out there that are struggling with this too. Thank you. If you would like to leave a question, you can go to There’s a microphone, click it, and we would love to answer your question for you. And again, I got to say it, Have a New Kid by Friday for only $2.99 is amazing. Get it between now and the end of December 31st of 2020. Well, it was great to be with you today and add to your parenting toolbox. And we look forward to the next time we get to be with you.

Andrea: And Rebekah, it would be fun if you ever called in and told us how you’re doing.

Doug: We would love to hear it.

Andrea: Thanks for the good question.

Doug: Take care.

Andrea: Bye-bye.