The sound of a child’s first words are music to a parent’s ears. As they start to string together sentences, it only gets sweeter.
In those days, it would be hard to imagine ever wanting that child to stop talking for a bit. But that’s sometimes the case for moms and dads who find themselves with a young motormouth on their hands. So is it OK to tell your child to calm down on the chatter – and how can you do it without damaging their pride or spirit?
Local marriage and family therapist Carrie Krawiec, who sees patients at the Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, says some people are naturally just more quiet or talkative.
“It is a combination of biology and genetics along with life experiences and what behaviors have been encouraged, rewarded or necessary,” she says. “Being too talkative is linked to inherited personality traits like extroversion but is also socially learned. In one way or another if a behavior is reinforced (with attention, needs met, positive rewards) it will grow.”
If you’re concerned about your child’s talkativeness, keep in mind that it could also be a temporary phase.
“Children at different ages are also more prone to talk more or differently as they are going through a developmental stage,” Krawiec explains, like the “why” phase for younger children or when teens debate more often to assert their beliefs and independence.
So when should parents worry? Some people believe that talking too much can be an anxious or nervous trait, she points out, which could indicate an underlying anxiety issue. In other cases, over-talking is a cause for concern when it interrupts normal life activities or gets in the way of eating, arriving to places on time, cooperating with others or paying attention in class.
Before you get too worried though, consider the upsides.
“There are a lot of positives about being a child that is comfortable talking. Kids who communicate well with other kids and adults are more likely to be good negotiators and advocates for themselves,” she says. “Feeling comfortable telling your personal stories to others is also correlated with resilience (the ability to heal following a trauma).”
But when talking is “out of place,” Krawiec notes, it’s time to address the behavior.
“Instead of discouraging talking in general, instead teach your child how to manage the impulse to talk when talking isn’t appropriate by teaching other behaviors,” she suggests. “For example, if you are in a class, religious service or waiting room office where quietness is more or less expected for an hour, take in consideration your child’s age and how long is a reasonable time to stay quiet and divide the hours by that many minutes.”
Then tell your child your expectations. For example, you could say, “For the next hour you are expected to sit quietly. You can write or draw on this paper, or read to yourself. Every five minutes, I am going to stop and if you have followed these directions during that time I am going to give you a point. You have the opportunity to earn 12 points this hour. If you earn at least 10 out of the 12 points you will earn a reward,” Krawiec says. “This can be anything from a sticker to a small treat or a special privilege like screen time.”
This can be a positive method for parents who work from home or need periods of quiet time in the house, she says.
Remember to focus on what you do want your child to do – play quietly, for example – instead of what not to do.
“So instead of saying, ‘stop talking,’ say ‘write down what you want to tell me’ and then acknowledge or give praise when they do that,” she encourages.
It can also be helpful to teach kids “house rules” like what to do when they want to interrupt an adult (i.e., raise their hand) or what to do when they’ve been asked not to talk but they need to say something (i.e., write it down, send a text, etc.) – and the consequences if they don’t comply.
Of course, kids need to know they can break the rule when it’s necessary – like in the case of an emergency or if someone is hurt.
Do you have other tips to add about working with a child who talks too much? Tell us in the comments!