My elder kid is chatty. Unless he is absorbed in a TV show, he’s often talking, and as he is now 6 years old and deeply into Pokemon, his conversations generally revolve around obscure facts about favorite characters I do not care about in the slightest. His running dialogue is both completely charming ... and completely nonstop. My husband and I sometimes joke that he must have come hardwired with an internal word count he has to hit every day.
Of course, I never want to make my son feel bad about his chattiness. (Even now, writing this, I feel guilty.) Truly, I’m so happy he feels comfortable being talkative around us, and I know I’ll miss these conversations when he’s older. But sometimes — particularly during the COVID pandemic, when our family is still together a lot more than usual during the days — life with a nonstop talker is intense.
It also so happens that I’m a true introvert who requires quiet and alone time to recharge, which doesn’t tend to jell well with a nonstop-talker. I’d like to be able to give my son my full attention when we’re really engaged in a dialogue together, but I’d also like to have some (not much!) peace and quiet throughout the day. What is a mom like me to do?
Here’s what fellow parents of adorable-but-chatty kids need to know about getting some quiet time, without breaking anyone’s spirit.
1. Have a go-to phrase that lets your child know you need a break
When you’ve reached a point where you just need a break, you should absolutely tell your child that directly, Aubrey Hargis, a parent coach and educational consultant, told HuffPost. You’re not trying to hurt their feelings or stifle them; you’re setting boundaries in a clear and respectful way.
“It helps to have a tried-and-true phrase in your back pocket to pull out when you’re feeling overwhelmed,” Hargis recommended. “One phrase that works well is: ‘I would love to hear more about that later. Right now I am ...’ or ‘What you have to say is important. I would love to listen to you when I am finished with ...’”
Know that it might take a bit of practice for them to get the idea, but that’s OK. Ultimately, when you tell your child you need a break, you’re teaching about what it means to have a conversation with someone, which is not just talking at someone 24/7 because you can.
“It’s important to remember that this time period is not only a time to nurture language development,” said Hargis, referring to the fact that many children have a real explosion in language skills around 18 months (that can continue on for years, in the case of really voluble kiddos). “It’s also a fabulous opportunity to teach children about respectful social communication.”
2. Make a point of revisiting conversations later
After you’ve told your child you need a break, it’s important to circle back on what they were saying to make sure they know you were listening — and that you’re still available to them.
“Invite the conversation back in with, ‘Hey, you were going to tell me something important. I am finished, and I would like to talk to you about it now,’” Hargis recommended.
What you’re making clear to your child is that you’re eager to engage with them and hear what’s on their mind, and that you weren’t cutting them off because you’re mean or you’re not interested in what they have to say.
“This builds trust,” Hargis said, “and helps children recognize that conversations have a beginning ... and also an end!”
3. Distinguish between narrative and conversation
It’s totally normal for kids of all ages to engage in self-talk, and some research suggests it’s really beneficial for them. One study found, for example, that preschool-age children who talk to themselves tend to perform better on motor tasks than those who stay silent. Children use “private speech” to help themselves make sense of the world around them and what they’re doing at any given time.
A challenge as a parent — particularly as a parent of young children — is figuring out what you actually need to pay attention to.
“Distinguish between which chatter is self-talk that you actually don’t need to pay attention to and which chatter is intended to share excitement with you,” recommends a Parents.com article. “The second would be higher priority for some sort of response to indicate you care about what she has to say.”
And help your kiddo figure that out, too. Make it clear that you won’t be offering a response to every thought that pops in her head, Parents.com says, and that there’s a difference between narrating and directly engaging with you.
4. Cultivate a respect for silence — together
Hargis often recommends that families cultivate a “shared appreciation of silence.” It doesn’t have to be an all-the-time thing, but consciously carve out times when you can be together quietly, and make it clear why it’s important to you.
“It can be as simple as going out into nature and listening to the birds or the rustling of leaves,” Hargis said. “This helps children feel more comfortable with being together in silence, communicating nonverbally.”
Also, quiet time is really important for overall physical and mental well-being, helping with everything from reducing heart rate and blood pressure to increased creativity and emotional connection. So teaching your child from a young age that silence really is golden isn’t mean; it’s an important lifelong gift.