Seven Ways to Calm a Chatterbox

While some kids barely utter a word, their talkative brethren happily fill the silence. How do you know when a child’s talking has crossed from a socially acceptable amount to problematic?

Why some kids talk a lot 

The amount a child talks varies according to the situation. Sometimes non-stop talking is age-appropriate, such as when a toddler is excitedly developing language skills. Some kids may talk a lot at home but stay quiet at school. Or you may have a social butterfly who can’t stop talking with her neighbors during class. 

I think it’s important to be tolerant about talking, to carefully listen and watch for red flags and to discuss potential problems with children,” says Dr. Richard Newman, a child psychologist who works with kids who have problems that manifest in the classroom, including compulsive taking. “The important determining factor has to do with whether others are adversely affected,” he says.

A youngster’s gift for gab becomes a concern if he constantly interrupts conversation, speaks in lengthy monologues and frequently gets into trouble at school for his talking. 

Try a few of these gentle methods to achieve appropriate conversation skills.

Help your child feel heard. Julie Hanks, LCSW, a family psychotherapist, suggests parents reflect their child’s words back to make him feel heard and more aware of his behavior. For example, say, “Hmmm, you’ve told me that story about what you did at recess three times. It must be really important to you.”

Make eye contact. When people don’t look at us when we address them, we aren’t sure if they’re truly listening, which can compel us to repeat ourselves. Give your child your full attention when she talks to you. 

Model good habits. If you have ever heard your preschooler pretending to be you talking on the phone, you know kids learn how to communicate by watching how their parents handle social situations. Model appropriate body language and eye contact during a conversation in which each person listens to the other speaker before he responds. 

Establish boundaries. Point out times when it’s disruptive to talk, like in the library or while others want to listen to a favorite song on the radio.

If you need a break from your child’s chattering, set a timer for 15 minutes and suggest that she play in her room quietly, look at a book or color. 

Make listening fun. If your child’s talking interferes with other family members’ opportunities to speak, set a limit on how long he can talk before it’s the next person’s turn. Provide an item to hold like a microphone. Whoever holds it can share his news. No interruptions allowed, but others can ask the speaker questions.

Nurture social signal recognition. Some children struggle to recognize social cues like body language and tone of voice. Play charades to practice different facial expressions and body language. 

Acknowledge your child’s nonverbal signals and label emotions: “You’re smiling from ear to ear. Something good must have just happened!” 

Point out other people’s body language: “That lady has her arms crossed, and she’s talking loudly to the clerk. How do you think she’s feeling?” 

Seek professional help. If you’re concerned about your child’s constant chattering, consult with his pediatrician or a mental health professional. An assessment can determine if your child’s talking falls within the normal range or is compulsive (i.e., she refuses to be interrupted, focuses on worries or fears or gets extremely agitated when she can’t finish a story). 

Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines is the mom of two school-age boys who love to talk. Her latest book is Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.

Categories: Parenting