Welcome to our online series on parenting advice with our expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I don’t know if this is a problem, but my daughter talks incessantly.  If I’m not listening she raises a ruckus.  She even talks to strangers when we’re out – at a rate of about a mile a minute.  What can I do?  I don’t want her to be one of those annoying people who doesn’t let anyone else get a word in edgewise.  She’s only four years old.

Enough Already


Dear Enough Already,

I’m happy to report your daughter is positively normal – loquaciousness is one of the typical behavior patterns for her age.  In fact, she should be adding to her vocabulary daily, going from about 900 words to 1900 words by the time she’s five.  Her receptive language – the words she understands but does not yet speak – is always ahead of the words at her command.  So, as tiresome as it may be, responding to her chatter is the best way to build her language skills for the future.

Here are tips for you to follow so you don’t have to feel as if you are running out of conversation:

Read to her. Suggestions for good picture books can be found online or at your local library.  Remember, she should be hearing words beyond her present vocabulary if she is to gain those 1,000 new words.

Play word games. Say a word and think of all the words that begin with the same sound or the words that could rhyme with it – even nonsense words.  This will help her with enunciation and the phonics of reading.

Add foreign vocabulary. Use words or phrases from other languages in your daily routines – from your family’s heritage or your own school days.  The ability to translate between languages will help her with foreign language learning in the future.

Make play dates. If she does not attend a daily early childhood program (preschool, child care), you need to arrange for her to have a steady playmate on a regular basis.  Interaction with a friend her own age will build her two-way communication skills.

Add experiences. For content, you can add new experiences – at home and in the community – which will contribute new vocabulary and reasons to communicate.  Even a trip to the grocery store can inspire subject matter to discuss – nutrition,  food production, careers,  world geography, budgeting, marketing techniques (just because we saw the commercial doesn’t mean we need the product!).

Follow her lead. Children learn when adults help them find answers and clear up misperceptions.    Your conversations could lead to projects – gardening, setting up an aquarium, baking muffins; excursions – a woodland park or beach to watch animals, a car wash to see machines at work, the library for a crafts book; a marina to see boats; or down memory lane for some of your own childhood memories.

Check your grammar. Since you are her primary model of speech, strive for correct word usage and grammar.  “Lay the book here” versus “lie on your side.”  “She cooks well” versus “She cooked a good meal.”  There are numerous websites to help you bone up on common errors beyond lie and lay, and good and well.

Wax poetic. Poetry, idioms, and other flowery language add to the breadth and depth of her ability to express herself well.  Good examples can be found in the books of excellent children’s authors, including Beatrix Potter, Margaret Brown, Tomie dePaola, Maurice Sendak, and Leo Lionni.

Really listen. When your daughter speaks, you have the opportunity to hear what’s on her mind so you can be the parent she needs you to be.  When she was younger, she wasn’t as articulate.  When she is older, she will be more selective about what she shares with whom.  This is the time to enjoy unlimited access to a unique individual with her own special point of view.

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com

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