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Our 4 year-old is constantly talking. This isn't your average pestering parents on a topic until they answer or you lose interest. He never loses interest and continually switches to any random topic. As soon as we are within earshot, he starts talking, whether we are responding or not, whether he can see us or not, whether we are talking to someone else or not, and whether or not he actually has something to say that makes sense. When we respond he doesn't even pay attention to what we say. He's just catching his breath and thinking of what to say next.

I realize the root is that he wants our attention, and we give him as much as we can, considering his older sister gets a disproportionate amount of time due to her cerebral palsy. However, his talking is so excessive that we have started to tune him out or just make him stop completely, so it has the opposite of his intended effect.

How can we teach the polite middle ground between not talking at all and talking your ears off? He obeys us whenever we tell him to stop (for a few minutes at least), but we've found it surprisingly difficult to explain the often subtle social cues of when it's okay to talk and when not.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

My question would be how much of a social outlet does he have outside of your family? If you're unable to provide him with the attention he needs and still provide his sister with the care she needs, then finding ways for him to get that attention elsewhere, either from childcare or simply from a good nursery could be a solution.

The other thing I'd think about is acknowledging to him that his sister gets more attention than he does, but only because she needs more care, and getting him more involved in caring for her, so that the time you spend with her is not time spent excluding him. Obviously there are practicalities to consider, but it might help.

The final point is that a 4-year old talking constantly, no matter how out-of-control it may seem, is neither unusual nor particularly troubling. "Never loses interest and continually switches to any random topic" sounds far more average to me than "pestering parents on a topic until they answer or you lose interest."

Try and remember that at 4 years old he's encountering new stuff all the time, a lot of which makes no sense at all to him, and you are his main source of information, and pretty much his only safe place in which to question this stuff.

Finally, work out whether you're doing this because you're worried about his development (which is what I've focused here), or because it's a source of stress for you to be dealing with him.

Note that either reason is fine (your needs are as important as his, especially as how you feel affects how you interact with him), but the approaches for dealing with it are very different. If it's the latter, some success can be achieved using a combinations of leaving the kids with the grandparents while you take a long weekend, and enforcing that "Daddy's Office" is off-limits, and retreating there when you need a break.

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Oh, and if you're seriously concerned, beyond these steps, the next logical step is therapy, aka a "non-sleep deprived opinion on your problems by a professional". –  deworde Nov 18 '11 at 9:47
    
+1 for aknowledging the attention to sis - well, and a great answer. –  balanced mama Dec 5 '12 at 0:35

I would second @deworde's point - it is very common for kids at that age to want to detail everything new coming into their brains, which is pretty much everything they see.

I would agree that in the situation you have he may be feeling a bit left out, so encouraging him to be part of your care plan for his sister would help, as would setting aside some special time just dedicated to him (this may be tricky, but I think is essential to help him feel like he isn't being sidelined - at that age, while he may understand his sister needs more attention he might feel that he does sometimes)

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Many four year old's speak incessantly at this age- even when they DO get all the attention. There isn't a lot to be done about it. Having said that, mine was the same way and here is what we did to help us adults maintain our sanity amongst it all:

Make sure he gets social time with friends - for us that was time in theater classes and plays. Try to get him involved in things he does because he loves them. For some it might be time at a pre-school or involved in a sport. The activity time is much more of a time-off from listening for you than a stopping him from talking incessantly measure - he will have stories to tell you about her social time when you do hook back up. If you can get a family member or even trusted teen to take him to his activities that will make this "time off" even more valuable for you.

Make time to listen to his stories - We had family meals where we specifically asked about Alice's day, what she had done and learned, what was the low-light, what was the highlight etc. She knew this time would come and that we would listen, paraphrase, ask clarifying questions and summarize (ways to show you really are listening) when it did come. I also did this in the car with her between activities for a few minutes after each activity, at the end of the day before bed for about ten minutes, and at the beginning of the day I always asked about her dreams. There were also plenty of "unplanned times" that I listened too. A sister with Cerebral Palsy adds a big complication to this, but it is still important that the time be given. Perhaps you and your partner can take turns.

Stress turn-taking - we listened well to her during those tale conversations, but she was expected to do the same for her parents as well. Everyone got a turn AND modeled good listening. This will probably be especially helpful in your house. When the sister's needs are overtaking his, perhaps he can write a reminder note (it doesn't have to be legible) to give you that there was something he needed that he is waiting on. If he trusts you will get to his need too, he can certainly learn that someone else is having a turn right now.

Teach "needs of others" - Because I knew I made plenty of time to listen to her throughout the day, was connected and made time for fun activities, reading books and other things, I felt no guilt or remorse about giving her a request for quiet at times too. "I am a person that needs quiet time everyday to recharge my energy - it is like charging batteries for me. Can you give me a little of that time right now? I need about five minutes." Obviously, for you guys, needs of others is a big lesson being learned anyway, the thing to be careful about is that his needs are important too, but that everyone needs things and not everyone's needs are equal.

Incorporate Quiet Time into your Day - he may not need a nap any longer, but he can still have "quiet time". Alice had about 30-45 minutes of this everyday. This was time for a nap if one wanted one, reading, doing mazes (she liked mazes a lot so this was her activity).

For your specific circumstances it might also help if your son can take an active roll in attending to his sister's needs as well. You may find he is a great help and that his sense of self worth and confidence grows with his sense of responsibility. If he can tell you stories and talk about thing WHILE you are both helping his sister, you've been able to do something wonderful for both your kids at the same time.

I also hope you have some help so you can still get some time off for yourself and aren't forgetting to take care of yourself too. We are never at our best as parents if we can't care for our own needs too. Especially in your stressful situation, I'd imagine you need this time and space more than most. Is there a family member nearby or a local church group that can help in providing both of you some time to yourselves - even together to yourselves once in awhile?

I don't know where you are located or how it all works, not having faced the challenge you face, but this link will take you to the Cerebral Palsy Support Network which may be able to provide some support, ideas or other assistance. If not, maybe there is a similar network that CAN apply for you.

Isn't it funny how we strive for that first word, listen for it, cheer it on and are SO excited when they start talking and then immediately start reminiscing about the days when the talking stopped once in awhile?

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Well said, this applies to almost any age really. That being said, I think having a sister with cerebral palsy is a big deal and makes it more complicated. I will do some research and get back to the OP with resources for siblings of kids with special needs. I have experience with kids w/ cerebral palsy directly, but not their siblings. –  Christine Gordon Nov 16 '12 at 15:21
    
Awesome. That would be a nice addition to the whole conversation. –  balanced mama Nov 16 '12 at 16:21

So in addition to the other answers, I think it is a big deal to have a sibling with special needs. After some research, my Positive Discipline peers are recommending the following:

Aisha Pope's children's book called "My Brother, Autism, and Me" which tells the story from the child's perspective of having a sibling with special needs.

I'll update when I get more info.

The book apparently has info and strategies for the parents as well so maybe this would be helpful to the OP

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