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Talk, Talk, Talk...

All my preschooler does when he's alone is talk. Sometimes, I write at the computer outside the playroom listening as he creates stories around small plastic animals, Matchbox cars, trains or Legos. He and his brother used to share a room -- until the chatter before falling asleep just became too much for our now six-year-old. And when he's in the bathroom, the kid belts out songs so loudly you might think he's training to be the next Luciano Pavoratti.

It turns out all that speech is good for him. Five year olds who talk to themselves out loud while performing tasks do better on those tasks than children who are silent, says a study by Adam Winsler, an associate professor of psychology at George Mason University. The study, published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, analyzed preschoolers who both talked spontaneously while performing tasks or were told to talk.

Winsler suggests that parents and teachers not stifle kids who naturally talk a lot. Instead, he says parents should "listen to the private speech of kids. It's a fantastic window into the minds of children."

How much do your little ones chatter? How much do you listen versus talking back? What are some of the fun things you overhear?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 2, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Preschoolers
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Please send this article to my daughter's science teacher. My girl loses recess every day because she talks too much.

Posted by: Laura | April 2, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

My DD (2) keeps up an endless stream of chatter, all day. I love it when I catch her going over things that happened that day or parroting back things she's heard me or other adults say.

On the other hand, I could live without the endless repetition of, for instance, how the Easter Bunny came to her house. She's been telling me the story at least 4x a day since Easter. I keep replying like I don't know exactly what's coming, but sometimes I do it through gritted teeth.

Posted by: NewSAHM | April 2, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Both my kids chatter to themselves although my daughter less so now that she's 8. She's also gotten better at curbing the talking at school (Laura, I feel for you and your chatty girl!) but it took until this year, 3rd grade, and it took having a sympathetic and understanding teacher. She loves to sing in the shower though -- it's hysterical. My son is in pre-K and I love to listen to him babble to himself while he plays. I often can't really make out what he is saying but it's fun to hear the inflections in his voice. What is also really cute is when he rides his tricycle, he sings to himself the whole time.

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | April 2, 2008 8:14 AM | Report abuse

When potty-training our now 5 year old, I would sit her on the potty at 11pm while she was still asleep. Some of the statements that came out of her mouth while asleep were priceless. I think they were windows into her dreams.

Posted by: Father of 2 | April 2, 2008 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Actually, what I'm really enjoying now is watching my son (2 1/2) flower. My daughter has always been a talker; I call her "doppler girl," because you can always track her location by listening to whether the sound is approaching or leaving. Yes: my life is a Volvo commercial.

But my son was always fairly silent; a little babbling here and there, but mostly quiet. I even asked the doc whether it was normal when he only had 5-6 words at a year old (it was, but how would I know, given my only other data point?).

Then, when he was @ 18 mos. old, the girl went to Disney, and the boy stayed home. And he blossomed overnight -- suddenly, dinnertime was filled with babbling and talking. He literally came out with 20+ new words just that week. Finally, I realized the problem: it wasn't that he couldn't talk -- he just couldn't get a word in edgewise! I think he figured that the role of the child was to fill the conversational void. So when big sis wasn't there to do it, he stepped up to the plate to take on that responsibility. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 2, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing more fun than listening to my kids' play "conversations" with each other. They all have cheesy british accents that they use for tea parties and when they are pretending to be bossy. It cracks me up everytime (maybe because I'm their mom). I have also heard each of them talk themselves through simple tasks when they were pre-schoolers and my very emotional 9 year old can often be heard talking herself through a tough moment (although if she knew I heard she would probably be embarassed). It is a big world, I can imagine that trying to figure it all out is a daunting task for a young child and that their personal speach is a very important developmental step. I try to stay out of it and smile quietly to myself to avoid interruption.

Posted by: Momof5 | April 2, 2008 8:31 AM | Report abuse

When DD first began Montessori school (age 3) the teachers were delighted by her habit of singing to herself as she worked. In the Montessori classroom, there is always a certain hum of activity and this sort of thing is not discouraged. Then, in first grade, she began public school, and the only negative comment on her report card was that she talked too much. She is now 14, still talkative, but knows when to be quiet.

DS (age 10) is an ADHD kid and seems to have no inner monologue at all. Like many 3-to-5 year olds, he just says whatever is in his mind at the moment, whether it has anything to do with the conversation (class, TV show, etc) or not. We are trying to work with him on this, as at his age it gets annoying.

Posted by: just me | April 2, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

In the words of the great philosopher, Barney Fife: "Nip it, Nip it in the bud". No one wants to hear your kid's babble. That constant talking is annoying to everyone except the parents. Teach the kids a little self-control and tell them to shut up.

Posted by: SpareTheRod | April 2, 2008 9:11 AM | Report abuse

children are The ultimate home entertainment centers. Unfortunately, they don't come with remote controls!

Last weekend, I was laying around on the couch listening to my 5 year old play with his Hotwheels and track that he set up in the living room. He was talking them through the race. "Vroom, vroom. On your mark. Get set. Go!"

He released the cars. they got halfway through the race when the cars hit a bump in the track and crashed.

My son stood silent for a few seconds, then uttered a single word, "Damn!"

I laughed so hard I got the hiccups!

Posted by: DandyLion | April 2, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

dandylion, i know what you mean. 25 years ago i spent a summer working in mexico & picked up the expression "chihuahua" among an entire litany of curses. chihuahua is relatively mild compared to the others & it's the one that seemed to stick in my mind. the other day i picked up my son after school & heard him & a friend pretend to touch something hot & they both said "oh, chihuahua".

Posted by: quark | April 2, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Um, I'm 27 and still talk to myself. My officemate wears headphones because I can't do any figuring without discussing it with myself. At home I talk my way through painting and sewing and cooking. Apparently I am a small child. My dad is the same way, you'd think someone else was out in his woodshop with him.

Posted by: Em | April 2, 2008 10:01 AM | Report abuse

My daughter, who is mildly autistic, didn't talk till late two. So now we are delighted that she talks non stop and in complete sentences. She talks to herself all the time. I think mostly to fill a void. She is more quiet around other people. But if the activity stops, she starts singing or talking to herself. Mostly she talks about TV characters or things she has seen on TV. She likes you to act out shows that she has seen on tv. Like you say a line and then she says a line. But sometimes, she just babbles to herself. I always attributed this behavior to her autism. Maybe it is completely normal. My niece, who has no learning disabilities, talked non stop from around 18 months. She has now 12. Every teacher has said she talks too much. She told her grandmother, she tries to stop talking but she can't help it. She says, " I just love to talk."

Posted by: foamgnome | April 2, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Laura, I think your children and mine are kindred spirits. I was just looking through some old papers and I had lists where I kept track of my children's first 100 words. My daughter said 100 by 14 months!! My son at 14 months had 6 words. I too asked the pediatrician if he was normal and she said yes, your daughter was the one who was not -- but how could I know? He reached 100 words eventually and his speech also really blossomed at 2 1/2. He was battling a serious illness and spending a lot of time in the hospital and one-on-one with me at home and it seemed like he went from saying one word at a time to stringing together words to sentences in a matter of a few weeks. It was a real light in dark time.

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | April 2, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Both my children talk a lot. My older daughter used to ask questions that she already knew the answer to--all the time. She and I were walking alone once when she was about 3. She was chattering away and asking questions that she already knew the answers to, so I finally asked her, "why do you ask questions when you already know the answer?" She said, "I'm not talking to you."

But it is my younger daughter who never stops talking. It wears me out. On the toilet, singing. On Saturday morning at 6:30, in my bed, because she hasn't seen me all night and wants to tell me that she loves me. Now she is six and is practically writing novels declaring her love for me--except when she is mad at me, when I am the meanest mom in the world.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Well, I still talk to myself, more than I care to admit. DH gets angry cause he thinks I'm talking to HIM when I ask questions or whatever. You'd think he'd have learned by now.

But my older one talks A LOT. All the time. We do tell him to mind his business, not get involved, not say something when he doesn't have anything to say. He just wants to participate.

The younger one has started to sing and talk and repeat a lot too. It's SO cute.

Posted by: atlmom | April 2, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

"children are The ultimate home entertainment centers. Unfortunately, they don't come with remote controls!"

DL, you have me laughing here -- I frequently complain that my daughter was born with no volume control. We've tried pointing the remote at her and clicking, but it doesn't work. :-)

PT Fed Mof2: I hope your son is better now and the dark times are behind you. So do you think it's a firstborn/secondborn thing? I honestly think that my second just never talked much because he never needed to -- his own portable entertainment unit was always right there to keep things interesting. Which is why it's so fun to listen to him now that his personality is coming out and he's playing instead of just watching -- like you described, it's this running stream of (mostly) comprehensible commentary when he plays.

Oh! I almost forgot my favorite "cute" thing: when he tries to sing!! He scrunches his face up and concentrates really, really hard, but he tends to only pick up the first and last words, and has to nod his head to try to follow the beat. So it comes out as a monotone "tinkle . . . tinkle . . .[nod] . . . . star. . . how . . [nod]. .[nod] . . are." With all the appropriate hand-motions, of course.

Posted by: Laura | April 2, 2008 10:56 AM | Report abuse

One of my daughter's favorite pieces of playground equipment at the park was a pretend car. It had real tires, a front seat, a back seat and a steering wheel that she could turn.

For all you parents that have a habit of talking to yourself, just plop your little one down behind the wheel of that thing and you'll find out all the pretty words and phrases you say to the other motorist as you drive. Hahaha! You may get a few hand motions too. Not only do they talk, but they are watching and listening to you too!

Posted by: DandyLion | April 2, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

For those of you with small children who talk a lot, count your blessings while you still can! We have three teens (16, 17, 19) and an 11-year old and getting any of them to communicate with us is like pulling teeth.

"How was school?" "Okay"
"Anything happen?" "Nope" (while reading an article in the paper about how three kids were expelled)
"What's your take on the presidential race?" "Huh?"
"Is tomorrow's game at home or away?" "Is there a game tomorrow?" or "How should I know?" (umm, because you play second base and bat clean-up, I sort of presumed you'd know about the game schedule. Silly me.)

Posted by: Army Brat | April 2, 2008 11:26 AM | Report abuse

My step-son(5) talks all the time to himself when he is playing. I have no idea what he is saying. I am not even sure that it is in Spanish or English. For someone used to not hearing any noise unless created by herself, I find this difficult to get used to and would dearly love it if he quietly played by himself.

My step-daughter(3) is more vocal with me personally and does what anon 10:27's daughter does. She asks a lot of questions that she already knows the answer to. In this case, she actually wants to know the answer. So she asks things like, "We are going to your house no?" That is Timmie's tail no? No more cookies right? - right after I said that was the last cookie. Or she will confirm things like... is that a sun? Is Timmie a cat? If Timmie was a cat the first 50 times you asked it, I am fairly certain she is STILL a cat. Luckily, I think she is adorably cute and I tend to think the questions are a little strange as opposed to irritating. She tends to talk very little while playing by herself. But she certainly tries to involve you in her play so drawing will result in things like: This is you. This is Timmie. Look, here is you and this is papa and so on and so forth.

I am not sure if this is easier or harder to get used to than the step-sons constant talking to himself.

Posted by: Billie | April 2, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Hi Laura. I just want to mention that there are parents, though rare, that prefer noisy kids over quiet ones. As you can imagine, I'm one of them. In my experience as a father, I've come to equate "silence" with "trouble". In fact, when I'm taking care of the kids, (you know, taking a nap on the couch while the kids play), I have an alarm that instinctively goes off in my head when the house gets too quiet. It's like - Uh oh DandyLion, time to get up and check it out and make sure everything is safe. Do you have one of those alarms too?

Posted by: DandyLion | April 2, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Actually, DL, I never had one of those alarms, because, ummm, it's pretty much never been silent! My girl just isn't the type to run off by herself and get in trouble (yet -- she's only 6, give her time). After all, that would deprive her of her audience! No, she gets in trouble right in front of me. :-)

But I am having to develop a whole new set of parenting skills with the boy. After 4 1/2 years of Ms. "Pay Attention to Me," it was a shock to wind up with Mr. "Silent but Deadly." He'd be right in the room with me, and then not 10 seconds later, I'd hear a huge wail from the other side of the house -- I'd rush to the kitchen to discover that he'd gotten into the fridge and dumped an entire carton of milk on himself. You cannot turn your back on this boy for 30 seconds.

So, yeah, in retrospect, I agree that noisier is MUCH easier. You know the old saying -- be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 2, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

For those of you whose 1st child was very verbal at a younger age than your 2nd - was the 1st a girl and the 2nd a boy? WHen my brother was little my mom worried that he wasn't hitting developmental milestones at the same age as his 2 big sisters. She handed him across the fence to our next door neighbor, a speech pathologist. She came back half an hour later, handed my brother over to my mom, and said "Congratulations, it's a boy". Speech may just be one of those things that happens at a slightly different age for boys than girls.

Posted by: oldest of 4 | April 2, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

We had two boys, and we talked (not baby talk) to them both all the time from birth, read little books to them, etc. The first boy was verbal early and spoke in simple sentences by 18 months. The second boy was verbal, but not as much as the first boy. Perhaps that's because we had two boys to talk to and so number two son did not get the one-on-one that number one son had. I don't really know. They are both adults now and both are excellent writers and speakers.

Number one son now has his own first child, a girl, who is 2 1/2 years old. She also was verbal at an early age and, like many first children whose parents focus on them and talk to/with them, she comes out with some of the funniest sentences and has a rather impressive vocabulary for her age.

I think in many cases it is being the first child rather than the gender that makes the difference, but that's only my opinion and hardly a scientific data point.

Posted by: Lynne | April 2, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Oldest of 4, hilarious story. My oldest is a girl, pretty quiet actually, but she has just hit the swing of endless pattering stories (quietly, to herself) as she plays. Her younger brother is almost totally without words so far but certainly is a (non verbal) chatterbox. Funny stuff, and I agree that kids talking to each other seems to be critical to their play which is critical to them learning.

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | April 2, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I am probably the annoying talker in our house. I got in the habit of telling my kids when they were young what to expect as we went about our day. Now I think I need to get a dog so I can chatter away and not look crazy. I do better at work, at least!

Posted by: anne | April 2, 2008 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I think everyone talks to themselves sometimes. For my nephews, the older one seemed normal and would make up narrative stories in his carseat on drives that were hysterical.

The younger one was SUCH a chatterbox that it really got on my sisters nerves...I think because SHE's always been the talker and didn't like someone else taking up all her talking time :)

Posted by: Liz D | April 2, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

My daughter was/still is very talkative, which is fine with me but used to frustrate her father, who doesn't talk a lot and needs a lot of silence. He used to blow up at her when she was little, telling her "Stop chattering at me!!!" which hurt her feelings.

My son has always been less talkative but more inclined to talk or sing to himself (my daughter was more interactive). As they grew up, he had a problem getting a word in, still does to some extent. It's been a bit of a struggle for me to engage him in conversations. Now he seems to prefer texting to talking!

But both kids - now in their 20s - are fine.

Posted by: Catherine | April 3, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

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