Diana Boggia: ‘Two tap’ teaches kids manners, patience

Diana Boggia

Teaching children to be patient often is a challenge.

Children feel that what they have to say is of critical importance and worthy of our immediate attention, so they interrupt when we are speaking, especially on the phone. We tend to ignore interruptions until they escalate in volume or behavior, which then triggers us to direct our attention to their negative behavior.

Remember two very important facts: The things we pay attention to will continue, whether or not we provide negative or positive attention. So, when we respond to their inappropriate interrupting or screaming, we are giving in and providing reinforcement for that behavior. Continuously saying “Don’t interrupt” doesn’t make the changes we are looking for.

Secondly: “Nothing changes if nothing changes,” which means if we don’t like the way things are going, we have to do the changing!

Do the 'two tap'

So, what do we do with a child who constantly interrupts? We teach him or her an appropriate way to get our attention with a fun little game I call the “two tap.” Children respond really well to it because they become empowered with a strategy that gets our attention. The two tap teaches manners and patience. It is best taught in two parts, about two weeks apart.

Part one: No more interrupting. Explain that when your child wants something he can come to you and tap you two times on the leg or arm and say “excuse me.” Model it for him. Role play with him. Tap your child two times, saying out loud, “One, two, excuse me!” Within days, your child will utilize the “two tap” if you immediately recognize, respond and reward his efforts. The rewards are:

1. Stopping your conversation to hear the important message.

2. Responding with “I’m so proud of you for remembering the ‘two tap.’ ”

3. Answering your child’s question.

If your child forgets the two tap and interrupts, don’t reprimand him with “Don’t interrupt! You should have done the two tap!” Instead, take his hand with your hand and tap your leg, twice, saying “One, two, excuse me.” This teaching approach with physical interaction has a much bigger impact on his memory than negative comments.

Part two: Learning to wait. Once your child has become consistent with his “two tap,” tell him you are so proud of his “two tap” and now adding to the game. Tell him when he “two taps,” you will do one of three things, and he needs to watch for the signal. Explain that you will either answer him right away, or hold up one finger (which means wait one minute), or hold up two fingers (which means “I need a few minutes”). Tell him you understand it is hard to wait, but that if he is able to wait, you will give him all of your attention when the time is up. It sounds so simplistic, because it is. All a child wants is our undivided attention, and with this process, you are providing exactly that.

Reinforce the skills

Each time your child “two taps” and waits, it is critical that you respond to him as soon as possible, with lavish praise for remembering the “two tap,” and for his patience.

Each time you mention the “two tap,” you are reinforcing that process in his memory, with a positive emotional memory of receiving hugs, kisses and all of your attention. This is child-tested and parent-proven, over and over again. The “two tap” absolutely works.

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio, whose column appears in The Repository. Send your child-rearing questions to or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton OH 44702.