Ever been stuck in a car with a child who simply won’t stop talking? As much as we love our children, for many of us, listening to non-stop gab feels exhausting. But before demanding your child put the brakes on their motormouth, consider the nature of the discussion. A child, who jumps from one random topic to the next without saying anything in particular, might use talk to hide a deeper issue.
Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, a child and adolescent psychologist with The Center for Wellbeing, says children sometimes chatter as a defence mechanism to avoid discussing an anxiety-provoking issue that makes them feel bad about themselves. For example, someone is invading their space at school or at home.
“The child doesn’t know how to communicate he is being bullied or teased so he uses talking to protect himself or his identity. If children talk about something else, they are extending their sense of self and then they don’t have to go into what is really bothering them,” Mihalas says.
Often, children fail to mention they are a target because they feel embarrassed or ashamed. Other children fear retaliation from the bully or don’t believe their parents will do anything to help address the issue if they tell. In fact, a 2010 study conducted by Clemson University found as kids grow older, they are less likely to discuss a bullying problem.
A child may ramble or talk too much for many reasons. Besides a possible predisposition to talk, contributing factors range from high intellectual functioning to ADHD, medications, anxiety and mood disorders. Examine the complete picture. Does your child exhibit other signs they are bullied? Signs include a sudden change in disposition, physical ailments, like stomachaches and headaches, anxiety about going to school or riding the bus, torn clothing, missing belongings, unexplained bruises or a sudden drop in grades.
To help your child jump off a runaway wagon of non-stop talk, grab the reins with a firm, “whoa.” Ask your child to explain in three sentences what they really want to say. A child who is simply rambling may say something like, “Nothing. I just wanted to talk to you, mom.”
If your child articulates in three sentences that something, or someone, is bothering them, then you can tackle the real issue together.
When bullying’s the problem
Take your child seriously if they say they’re getting bullied. “Validate their feelings, don’t minimize what is happening,” says Dianna Hall, a licensed clinical social worker with The Family Conservancy. “For older children, ask the question: ‘What can I do to help?’ Be an advocate for your child at school, too. The school can’t help keep your child safe if they don’t know what’s going on.”
Praise your child for telling you and ask them what he has done about the bullying so far. Before contacting the school, ask your child for specifics, including who was involved, what happened, when and where the incidents occurred and if anyone else witnessed the bullying.
Discuss ways your child can deal with the bully, ways that don’t include fighting or bullying back, which can get your child expelled. For example:
“Same thing with parents. Be diligent in continuing to advocate for your child at school and even outside of school if needed, by contacting community resources like the police or a legal advocate,” Hall adds.
Ways to support your child
Boost your child’s self-confidence by enrolling them in sports, self-defence, like martial arts, scouting or other groups that nurture a network of friends, a healthy body image and leadership opportunities.
“I also encourage parents to inquire at their school about what they are doing and how to become involved. The more adults that are present and can support kids who are being bullied, the better,” Hall says.
If you suspect your child is tormented by a bully, but isn’t forthcoming, look for other ways to broach the topic. Watch a television show or read a book together in which bullying occurs. Ask if they know kids who are bullied or discuss a time when you suffered bullying. These tactics help a child understand they aren’t alone and bullying isn’t tolerated.
To learn more about how to prevent and deal with bullying, check out the books Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson and Blue Cheese Breath and Stinky Feet: How to Deal with Bullies by Catherine DePino. Or for more information, visit www.bullying.org.
In the end, open communication boils down to trust. On the bright side, your chatterbox wants to talk to you, even if it’s in a round-about way. By listening to them, offering support and guidance in their communication behaviors, you exemplify how to confidently manage the many diverse personalities who will inevitably come in and out of their life for years to come.
Unable to get to the bottom of your child’s constant chattering?
Consult with your pediatrician or a child psychologist for an assessment to determine if your child’s talking is within the normal range of behavior or compulsive (especially if they refuse to be interrupted, focuses on worries or fears or gets extremely agitated when they can’t finish a story).
Author Christa is a freelance writer, wife and a mother of two talkative boys.
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