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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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1  
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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You spend the first 2 years teaching them to walk and talk, and the next 16 teaching them to sit down and shut up. (joking ... but still) –  A E Nov 5 at 13:07
    
This may be helpful janetlansbury.com/2010/05/… –  CreationEdge Nov 29 at 15:13

4 Answers 4

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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I don't think just ignoring him is a good solution. His behaviors could be a result of him already feeling like he's not being heard. Something else should be tried, first. If you're going to ignore a child for some reason, then you should tell them. "I've already answered that question several times, so if you ask me again I'll ignore you." The child should have an expectation of what sorts of consequences can be had from their different behaviors. –  CreationEdge Nov 29 at 15:12

As others have mentioned, your 4 year old is engaging in some pretty normal 4 year old behavior. Isn't it ironic how we can't wait for their first word and then...we can't wait for them to just be quiet! My four year old talks himself to sleep every night, and in his sleep as well. He talks over us when we're talking. And, like your child, repeats himself, especially questions, and gets infuriated when he's wrong or he thinks your answer is wrong.

As I mentioned, he talks himself to sleep, mainly because I eventually get up and walk out, and he just keeps going. He either ignores or doesn't even hear me say, "ok, it's time for na-nights, no more talking now" and then "your brother is sleeping, please be quiet now so we don't wake him up" and then finally "mommy is going now, sweet dreams..." He shares a room with his younger brother and so I can relate to your situation where you want your boy to hush and not wake the baby. I agree that he should learn to be quiet when you tell him to because you directed him to and he should obey (more on this later) but also keep in mind that babies do well to learn to sleep through whatever kind of background noise is typical of your home. In your case, as in mine, that includes a motor-mouthed extra loud 4 year old.

Another answer suggested placing a finger on the child's mouth and saying hush; that's one example of the idea that I suggest you try which is to use physical contact to gain your kid's attention when he's in his rut of repeating. My boy is responding to this well. A typical scenario at our house is this (at dinner, usually): my husband and I are talking and my son is in the background saying "we went by Mimi and papa's waterfall today" over and over. His brothers attempt to engage him but he just keeps saying it louder and louder and looking at us. I'll put a finger up to indicate "one minute" while we finish our sentence and he'll say it again. I'll verbalized "one minute, Daddy and I are talking, it's not your turn" and he'll say it again. At this point, I'll say "excuse me," and I'll touch his shoulder and make him look at me, "I want to hear what you have to say, but only when it's your turn. If you can't wait you can be excused to time out." Usually this will snap him out of it. Sometimes he gets time out. Often, once he has his turn, he'll keep repeating the "waterfall" statement despite having our full attention, and again, I'll touch him and make him make eye contact with me and I'll repeat the waterfall statement and follow it up with a question about a totally different, but favorite topic. This has never failed to break the cycle. You might have to practice this-we stumbled into it by accident and it took a few tries to get it down. He still interrupts, but it's manageable now.

In regards to the inability to accept that an answer or statement is incorrect, you might try asking him why he thinks he is right. If he is hostile, you can defuse by gradually increasing the silliness. 4 year olds 1)can easy detect silliness, and 2) can rarely resist it. Using your example: Ask him to explain why he thinks grandma bought the salad? If grandma bought the salad, when did she bring it? Did she bring it in a bag, or did she bring it in a shoe? Are you sure that the salad fairy didn't bring it? Is grandma the salad fairy? My boy gets insulted if I jump right into silly-I think he thinks I'm making fun of him-so we get there by allowing him to feel like he's right (in your case going with the "grandma bought the salad" idea) and then gently suggesting that he's being silly. It's easier to be silly than wrong.

Now, for the volume problem. My aunt taught us this-she was a preschool teacher. Have your child count to ten, starting at a whisper, and getting louder to a low shout at ten. We had to practice this a lot before it worked, I will warn you. But, it did eventually work, and even my two year old can more or less do it (he's less compliant than less capable, but that's the age). The first few times I had to have him imitate me because his whisper was more like a scratchier version of his usual volume-he really just couldn't do it. Once he gets the hang of it, you can say "lets use our" ...and lower your voice..."#3 voice" and then count 1,2,3 to demonstrate the volume. Sometimes it helps too to let him use his #8 voice, outside or whatever, so it's not always about being quiet.

To teach him to be silent, there's a game for learning the self control he'll need to be able to do it when you ask/require him to. (His ability/desire to obey you is a whole separate topic; one you can find advice on in other posts.) I have three boys, and they actually play their own version of the quiet game together on their own, but you can play it too. The grown up/child version I play with my four year old (with the motive being so he can beat his older brother (-; ) is to get a treat-like m&m's or skittles, grapes or raisins or nuts if you want something healthy-anything just you can count out, and a clock with a seconds hand. Sit across from each other and put the treats in the middle. For each second that you can be quiet- no sounds at all! - you each take ONE treat. (This is why I like to use raisins-bc things get ugly if my boy is successful with skittles!) Limit it to ten seconds at first. At the end of ten seconds he gets to have his treats. Encourage him to make silly faces, etc, to see if he can get you to laugh. If you laugh, he gets your treats too. If he talks, you get his treats. If he can do ten seconds no sweat, increase the increments to ten seconds (every ten seconds he gets one treat). The goal here is to get him to learn to concentrate on being quiet as if it were an activity just like playing or whatever. To kids, it's like nothingness so they don't want to do it. Eventually, remove the treats and make the game about seeing who can go the longest without speaking (which is the version my kids play together) while making faces and whatnot in an attempt to "break" the other. Some might argue that using treats is like bribery, and ok, maybe it is, but it's a temporary highly desirable incentive used to positively reinforce a desired behavior until the behavior is learned enough to substitute a less-desirable incentive until the behavior is finally mastered. My four year old is at ten second increments now, and I can get him to play a portable version of this game, sans treats, on his own, by allowing him to take "selfies" of himself with an old iPhone as long as he is quiet. (The pictures are priceless, by the way, which is an unanticipated bonus!)

You had quite a few issues/questions I your post and I'm not sure I covered them all, but I think I covered everything I feel confident answering. I hope it helps!

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We had this issue to some extent with our 4 year old boy. I think this question is really covering 3-4 separate behavioral issues, though... and I would hesitate to connect them too much.

Ours was a bit of a late talker, and was only beginning to form more complicated sentences at the time. I theorized that he was latching onto sentences that he had heard once in context, and retreating to them as a kind of "safe" way of "talking like everyone else". I figured he mostly wanted to interact with us, so our corrections/reactions/annoyance/amusement all counted for about the same level of 'win' in his column.

Following that idea, we generally ignored the repetition, but tried to make a point to bring him into another conversation when it came up. If that doesn't work, you're back to ignoring it. For us it pretty much disappeared as his vocabulary/ability-to-construct-sentences increased over his fourth year.


For the "talking too loud in restaurants", I generally stop him (tap my finger on his lips as "shush"), and then say "listen to the sound in the room... how loud are they". And then literally say "babble babble babble" at the same or slightly higher volume, which he would join in with. "That's how loud we should talk in restaurants", smile, and continue a conversation with him. This is a battle that you probably won't win, to be honest, kids are pretty much all overly loud until they get hopelessly self-critical in the teenage years.

(As others have mentioned... throwing himself on the floor for a little tantrum is pretty normal four-year-old behavior, as is being unwilling to accept rules he doesn't like)

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My nephew does that sometimes (his dad is gone, so I'm the closest thing left). We turn it into a joke, sometimes with physical comedy by picking him up in the air, or repeating what he says back, but wrong as if it was misheard ("Do you have the football?" -> "I have a phone call?") etc, and nearly always this playful antagonism makes him crack up and move on to something else.

It can be annoying, especially if its time to sleep or whatever, but usually handling it by striking back in a funny way breaks up the cycle. The bad times are when its nap time in the day, and a kid is clearly tired, but keeps stimulating themselves mentally by jabbering on their pillow. Then I do the same thing, get them to laugh about something, and then give them a chore to do with me so they can't sleep. They make it an early night (usually they crash right after dinner). It takes some flexibility with the evening schedule for this to work out, but generally this has been a workable approach.

But the comedy almost always has to be about what they are saying and physically disruptive. Otherwise you're going to be hearing the same thing for a while.

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