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My 4 yo has been showing a rather annoying and obsessive behavior for the past 6 months or so, in that:

  • he repeats himself all the time,
  • and won't take no for an answer in some circumstances.

Maybe I should ask 2 different questions for this, but the 2 problems seem to go hand in hand.

Quick examples...

Say we're having lunch and talk together, and at some point he might say something and for some reason start repeating it (e.g. "It's mommy who bought that salad, OK?"). He'll keep repeating for a while (it can really go on and on for 10-15 iterations), and he's starting to take too long to eat. If it's a question, like in this example, we can acknowledge it and agree with him, and it'll usually end there. However, if it's something where it's not correct (say, grand-ma bought the salad so we just tell him "no, actually, grand-ma bought it for us") or where he wasn't asking a question ("tomorrow we go to the school" or "baby is sleeping"), then we can't always find a way to make him accept the "correction" or to understand that we understand what he's saying and to stop repeating.

So we might at some point tell him "Sorry, but now you have to stop talking and playing. Finish your plate and then we can talk." He usually gets it, and knows he should go back to it and will do it to some extent, but will irremediably start saying the same thing again a bit later. Or, if at that time there's something he wants to say, he absolutely won't give up.

In another situation, if we happen to be near the door of his baby-sister's room when she takes a nap and he wants to tell us something, we'll ask him to be quiet and to wait to tell us something until we're out of ear-shot, and we start walking away from the door (he's quite loud and has that piercing voice - a 4 yo kid, basically). He won't respect that and will keep talking.

Even if very explicitly forbidden to (a clear "Shhh, you need to be quiet now!") for instance for one of the above scenarios and he keeps talking, or if he's in a time-out or a quiet relaxation time, he'll just keep trying to talk. Usually we reach a point where we just can't get out of it and just tell him we'll talk later and walk away, or that he can't talk right now, and he'll either get upset (which I can understand) or start pulling on my arm to ask the permission to talk right away (actually rather strange, as we don't really have a "ask permission to talk" thing going on, but maybe that's mimicking classroom behavior).

Another example would be when we go shopping. He may start saying in the supermarket "I like these cookies", or something like this, and you won't be able to make him stop.

I understand that at 4 yo, it's hard for him to know when it's appropriate to talk, and why silence is required under some circumstances. But there are situations he's familiar with (like his sister sleeping, being quite in time-outs, talking quietly in public places, etc...), and also it's really the one thing where we can't get him to snap out of it. It either ends with:

  • we give up and tell him "ok, what do you want to say?" and he'll say it (usually quite a few times), but it's troublesome that we can't make him accept a rule;
  • or he'll get very upset and possibly cry, let himself fall on the floor and refuse to do anything.

Of course at first I thought we might be doing it wrong (well, we probably do), and he might feel like we don't listen to him, or don't give him enough importance, or it's an indirect/hidden message he's trying to send us. But not really. In the case of the "salad" scenario, it doesn't look like he wants anything but won't hear that the corrected fact is right; in the case of waking up his sister it's often about something trivial; and in the case of the supermarket, you could buy him the cookies and assure him they're his and his only and it wouldn't make a difference in the world. So it doesn't look like it's really linked to the content of what he says.

I thought it might be due about just wanting to be listened to, but acknowledging him and agreeing doesn't even always make him stop.

And then it could be more about the situation than about the discussion itself (it does happen often at lunch/dinner and when going out), but then I don't know why he'd feel attached to having to repeat things that don't even seem to matter to him that much at the time. And in general I'm perfectly OK with taking a deep breath and letting him go through it for as long as he wants, and I just say "ok" and agree with him or try to steer the conversation and ask follow-ups (and it goes on a while!), but when we do need to make him snap out it it's really hard.

This is a bit confused and I hope someone can make sense of it and has a similar experience. I know young kids repeat things a lot, but it really looks like a strong fixation or obsession, and it's been driving us a bit nuts, but also his grand-parents, his uncle, our friends, and some care-takers at school (I don't think it happens with the teacher that often).

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I'm not sure it's anything other than a phase - our 5-yr-old does something similar regularly. Advice given to me was to keep being patient and consistent and it'll eventually get through. –  Chris Sep 26 '13 at 15:11
My 5 1/2 year old does something similar as well. A lot of times it –  Meg Coates Sep 30 '13 at 17:07
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1 Answer

I had the same issue with my 4yo boy, he repeated "what's your name" for a week or so.

I didn't get angry, but I told him I thought it wasn't funny anymore, and I was mostly ignoring him when he said that. Today he started controlling himself, but still has bursts of mechanical repeating: "what's your...", etc.

My opinion: I don't think you do anything wrong, your kid has enough importance, maybe too much, and there is no hidden message. You should ignore him when he knowingly behaves in a way you don't approve. Should he cry or fall on the floor doing nothing, you should ignore him even more, ostensibly doing without him something he would very much want to do with you.

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