We love our kids and usually enjoy listening to their stories, thoughts and feelings. But when our kids talk too much – they ask too many questions, share far too many stories, explain things in way too much detail or just seem to want to engage parents in conversation 24/7 – then we can get frustrated even annoyed. People only have so much attention span and patience (even parents). Constant chatter at home, in the car or while we are talking to others can grate on our nerves so much that we sometimes just want to yell “stop talking already!”
If you have given birth to a chatterbox, here are some tips for you:
Decide Who has the Problem
Interestingly, your child’s “excessive talking” may not be his or her problem – it might be YOURS! Parents can find their child’s talking annoying because they are stressed, distracted, depressed or just plain exhausted. When a parent has a lot on his or her mind, the chatter of a child can be hard to bear. Considering that it is perfectly normal for small children to enjoy talking (especially those in the pre-school set), parents may have to change themselves rather than the child. Perhaps a parent needs to lighten his or her schedule to make room for a few more minutes of daily listening time, or maybe a parent needs a more effective way of relieving personal stress so that more mental space is available for listening to children. Sometimes a parent’s difficulty in listening stems from his or her introverted personality; social interchange drains introverts while it stimulates extroverts. If that is the case, the parent may have to work around the introverted tendency, stretching a bit to accomodate the child’s normal need to talk. On the other hand, if you feel you have normal tolerance for children’s conversation but one of your kids just talks way past that point of tolerance, then you may need strategies to help the child cut back.
Explain the problem. Your child doesn’t realize that he or she is placing a burden on listeners. The child is just doing what comes naturally – enthusiastically sharing thoughts, ideas, stories, information and so on. You need to explain that people have fairly short attention spans and can only listen in “bites.” Most excessive talkers are actually terrible listeners, so it will be easy to demonstrate to your chattery child just how hard listening can be: ask the child to listen to you describe something in great detail (i.e. pick a topic that is unlikely to be particularly interesting to your child and talk for 3 to 4 non-stop minutes, explaining every tiny detail that you can). Your child will get a real experience of how frustrating it can be to have to listen and actually pay attention to someone who is talking. You can then use this experience to remind him or her when he or she is overloading your circuits. A gentle, respectful reminder is all that is necessary. You might even develop a code-word for the problem like “overload” or “maxed-out” or something that the child picks. Eventually the child will have a better idea of how many words the average listener can tolerate before the work of listening becomes too hard. This will be useful information for your child’s social functioning.
Call for a Time-Out
If the talking is excessive, call for a time-out. For example, you may say “I love to hear all about your day, sweetie, but daddy is a bit tired from work and needs a few quiet moments to rest. Let’s talk about it later when we’re having dinner, O.K.?” If you do it gently but firmly enough, your child will eventually respect the boundaries you set. And if your child generally has trouble holding his thoughts and questions in, get a timer or an alarm clock and tell the child to come back when the buzzer goes off. When kids can track when time out starts and when it ends, then they can be able to hold their stories for later.
Give Them Something to do When you Need Quiet and Peace
The chronic talker is really a chronic interacter. This kind of child depends on constant social stimulation. However, this obviously puts a strain on other people. Help your child develop other sides of his brain by re-directing him or her to tasks and activities that will encourage introspection or self-directed play. Point them to storybooks, puzzles, train sets, crafts, art projects, computer programs, physical exercise, TV programs or audio books. When kids know ways to enjoy themselves even if they don’t speak a word, then they are less likely to talk excessively.
Teach your Child Social Skills and Manners
Sometimes, firm rules on what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior is a good way to help a child who talks excessively. For example, teach them that it’s okay to share, but not okay to interrupt when someone else is speaking. Or that it’s okay to ask questions, but not when mom or dad is driving. Most importantly, teach them to take turns in a conversation, allowing the other person to speak for an equal number of minutes. Your child has to learn balance and restraint. You can introduce the notion of conversation sharing that works like a see-saw: the people alternate back and forth in a fairly equal exchange. If the other person talks only briefly, your child needs to do the same. Otherwise he or she is “hogging” the conversation, taking more than his or her rightful share.
Excessive talking is often found in those who have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). It may be related to troubles with impulsivity (controlling and limiting behaviors). Particularly if your child also has other symptoms of ADHD like problems attending to boring tasks and subjects, disorganization, fidgeting, interrupting, trouble waiting his turn and so on, you should consider getting a psychoeducational assessment. Ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist who can diagnose your child. The psychologist can determine whether the excessive talking is part of a syndrome or whether it is just a feature of personality.