4 min Read
What to do when your child won’t stop talking
April 18, 2023
4 min Read
April 18, 2023
All parents encourage their children to express themselves, but when is it too much? And how do you get your little chatterbox to stop, step back, and listen? Here, experts weigh in.
The old adage “children should be seen and not heard” is just that, an old adage. But for some parents whose children talk non-stop from morning to night, there’s a certain wistfulness to the phrase. Especially when the teacher sends home a note that says ‘Gianni’s talking is disrupting the classroom‘, or when he tells the woman in the grocery store line about your argument with your spouse the night before.
Too much talking sounds like a very simple problem, says Gary Direnfeld, a social worker in Dundas, Ont. But parents need to “peel back the layers” of what’s going on and determine what’s behind the child’s need to talk. “Is this a child who is starved for attention because no one listens to him? Is it just a sneaky way of misbehaving? Or is there something going on, biologically, in the child’s brain? Our frontal lobes control our brakes—is there something happening neurologically so the brakes aren’t working?” Parents who assume the cause is behavioural, instead of biological, and punish the child accordingly, risk exacerbating the problem.
Developmentally, children start to ask a lot of questions somewhere around age three or four. “They start to use that dreaded three-letter word — ‘why’ — and they can’t be satiated. This is normal developmental behaviour,” says Gary. But by age five, they typically master the social conventions of a conversation: taking turns talking and listening. If by age seven or eight the child is still monopolizing most conversations, interrupting, and talking over people, it can do more than irritate his parents; it can be disastrous both socially and academically. “It can make them a pariah among their peers, frustrate the teacher, and leave all adults managing the child out of anger and frustration.”
When should parents be concerned? “It becomes an issue when the usual methods of parenting don’t work. If you’ve spoken to the child, scolded the child, tried to educate the child, and the behaviour persists, there may be something else going on. That’s when a consultation with a behaviour expert would be reasonable.”
If there’s not an underlying health reason, sit down with your child and have an honest discussion about his excessive talking and come up with a plan to alert him when it’s happening. A physical or visual signal (like you placing your hand on his back or silently putting a finger over your lips) can help him become aware of when he is monopolizing conversation or interrupting people. A system of rewards and consequences can also be useful, and be prepared to give lots of positive feedback when he is showing restraint.
And remember, when he’s a tight-lipped teenager you’ll probably look back wistfully at the years when you couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
Some chatterboxes are just being cheeky. But for other kids who are non-stop talkers, there may be an underlying neurological problem:
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2012.