Dear Dr. Debbie,
My daughter will be four years old soon and is quite the chatter-box.
She has always been very bright, friendly, and quick to learn new words. Lately, however, it seems she has something to say to anyone within earshot about everything. She has questions, opinions, memories (mostly made up about “on yesterday, when I was a baby”), and more questions. She even asks, “What time is it?” and not until after I check and answer her does it occur to me that at her age, she can’t possibly understand time!
Is this normal? Will it subside? Is that too many questions?
So Much to Say’s Mother
Don’t miss last week’s column Siblings Who Don’t Get Along — Good Parenting
Yes, it’s normal. Language skills continue to develop throughout childhood but age four is known for loquaciousness. At age three, a child will often narrate her play – as in “This baby is so tired. I’m gonna put her down for a nap” – whether anyone is there to hear her or not. Continuing at age four, a lot of what she says may be simply her thoughts, not necessarily requiring a response. Even up until about age eight, a child can’t easily filter which of her thoughts are worth sharing with others.
The expectation of a response, and the need to engage you in conversation, shows her ability to take turns in a conversation. This is critical for communication skills. That your answer, “Seven forty-three p.m.” has little meaning to her is irrelevant. It’s just reassuring to her to hear you acknowledge her presence with your, albeit meaningless, verbalizations.
If constant conversation is interrupting your own train of thought, you may need to help your daughter find other people to talk with. One of the best re-directions for a chatty child is to line her up with playdates. With an age mate, she will fine tune her conversation skills including following up with a comment or question on the same subject. By age four she will enjoy make believe play in a cooperative manner, with roles, plots, and dialogue subject to mutual agreement. “Let’s pretend we’re going out on a boat to look for turtles that need to go to the doctor. ‘Kay?” “O.K. You say, ‘Does it need a doctor?’ when you see one and I’ll check it. ‘Kay?” “And then we can take them on the boat to feed them. ‘Kay?” Way beyond just grabbing toys from one another – which is typical from about eighteen months even up to three and a half – two congenial four-year-olds can feed off of each other’s ideas for a couple hours at a time. Language is essential to playing (and working) well with others.
Playdates and other experiences away from you can give the two of you more to talk about when you are together. You may still hear grammatical mistakes – “we goed to the island where the turtles are,” and the common mispronunciations of early childhood – “pasghetti” rather than “spaghetti.” Just continue to provide the correct model in your own speech and soon enough you’ll hear her correcting herself.
Storybooks and non-fiction books can add to her vocabulary. Be sure to talk about the pictures, characters, motives, feelings, and actions, and not just read the words on the page. Let your daughter add her own experiences and ideas to this discussion, and don’t worry about wandering off to unrelated subjects. You can bring it back to the book if you think she’d like to continue, or just follow her lead. How ever you use books together, she will be using language to gain more language.
Use this chatty age to enjoy your daughter’s mind, build communication skills, and challenge her with good questions of your own!
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.