Help for the Child Who Can’t Stop Talking

There’s a conversation you should have with your chatty child–not so much, if they’re the dreamy, mind-just-sort-of-wanders type of child. But rather, with the child who talks a mile a minute about each and every thing that pops into their heads (which is constantly full of such pops) and is absolutely compelled to share it all with you (or whomever is within three feet of them) in a non-stop, rambling, even tenacious fashion, complete with sound effects, hand motions and above all…en-THU-siasm.

That is the child to whom the following thoughts are dedicated.

Let me give you the backstory.

It is rare that I meet someone who talks faster than me. I have always been a very fast paced speaker, whether in front of a microphone or just sitting down over tea. Not only do I speak quickly, I sometimes seem to be almost grabbed by a subject or idea and then thrown onto a train of thought that I simply must share with you, in its entirety, with every exciting detail before the train pulls into the next station. Feel the urgency. So, when I actually DO meet someone who thinks and talks faster than me, I’m amazed at my reaction.

You would think I would be delighted, connected, or at least supportive. Instead… It makes me tired. I want to listen. Really I do. They’re so earnest and smiling and full of interesting information. But nonetheless, there it is. It makes me tired.

I have to try to process ever so slightly faster than my processor is able to accommodate. And soon, I’m squinting with added intensity of focus. I’m nodding my agreement just a bit too slowly, like one of those movies where the sound track lags just slightly out of sync with the video. While I’m still nodding, they’ve left behind the thing I’m currently nodding to, segued into another topic I’m trying to follow, and have leaped heartily into yet a third topic that, while fascinating, is nonetheless queued up FAR behind in my chain of thoughts processing machinery.

Realizing this then made me wonder…do I make people tired? And the conclusion I came to is YES, I can and I often do. Since I tend to punctuate most of my conversation with lots of humor, I think people tolerate the break neck speed with which I deliver information because they know, if they just hang in there with me, I’ll eventually stop long enough to let them laugh at something.

But the truth is, my fast non-stop speech can overwhelm people a bit, or at least cause them to need a few moments of silence once I’ve passed by. I have had to learn to work with this truth.

I haven’t had much luck actually slowing down. But I have learned to separate my ramblings with questions of my listener that allows them a chance to speak. I have learned to allow them to complete their thought (even when I’m absolutely certain that I know what they’re going to say and I could simply finish the thought for them and we could all move on to the next one. Whoosh!) I have even learned that I don’t have to share every single thought that comes into my head. I can actually let one or two of them ride by.

Here’s where we get to the part about the conversation you need to have with your Chatty Charlie or Babbling Babette. Fast talkers can overwhelm people.

It’s not their fault. They think fast. And because the thoughts are usually interesting, they naturally want to share them.

They’re just sure you’ll find these thoughts to be as interesting as they do, which indeed is often the case. They need to know that this is actually a good thing about them. There is nothing wrong with having lots of interesting thoughts and wanting to share them. In fact, that fast pace of thought which makes sudden leaps into seemingly unrelated areas is actually a treasure trove of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. This quality may serve them very well over the years.

But…they also need to know that many people may be overwhelmed by this fast pace of thought-outpouring.

And when people are overwhelmed, they get cranky.

So sweet little Bobby is rattling away non-stop behind Grandpa, not pausing to take a breath. Grandpa is trying to be patient but is also trying to get some things done around the house and needs a bit of his own thinking margin. But Bobby doesn’t notice, and continues to jabber incessantly, sometimes even punctuating his commentary with, “Ya know, Grandpa?” “Isn’t that cool Grandpa?” “Would you ever do that Grandpa?” (Think of the movie The Birds. Peck. Peck. Peck-Peck-Peck.)

Eventually (and completely unexpectedly for Bobby) Grandpa sort of snaps. He says something curt and dismissive, completely shutting little Bobby down.

So in your conversation with your chatterbox, he needs to be told that his gift of fast-paced thought must be guided and delivered carefully. And he needs to be compassionate toward the people that he may be overwhelming. It’s not their fault either. We’re all just wired differently. He certainly can still share his thoughts, but he needs to deliver them in a way that allows people time to process.

And don’t let little Bobby think this is about being bright while the rest of the world is not. Make sure that he knows personal brilliance is not what is at work here, although I will confess, it took me a few years to figure this out myself.

I have a child who is extremely bright, maybe even gifted. But I missed this for years because she processes thought very slowly. She is methodical, careful, contemplative and meticulous. But once she has processed a thought, it is solid. She knows why she knows what she knows. She is a child who can only handle just so much input at once. She has recently learned of and adopted a metaphor that describes her well.

“I am like a cordless drill, who can give you about a 10 minute burst of focused productivity, and then I need about a 24 hour recharge.”

Chatterers and more typical talkers can co-exist without driving each other crazy. But it will take an awareness on the part of the chattier amongst us to regulate the flow and impact of our speaking habits. Then…it will take a little work, a little understanding, and a LOT of practice.

Carol Barnier is a fresh, fun and popular conference speaker unlike any you’ve heard before. Her objective is to have the wit of Erma Bombeck crossed with the depth of C.S. Lewis, but admits that most days, she only achieves a solid Lucy Ricardo with a bit of Bob the Tomato. She is a frequent guest commentator on Focus on the Family’s Weekend Magazine broadcast, has been a guest on many radio programs and is a speaker to conferences nationwide. She’s the author of three books about dealing with (or possessing) a non-linear mind in a linear world: How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and On To Learning, If I’m Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where’d I Leave the Baby?, and The Big WHAT NOW Book of Learning Styles. Her main websites are CarolBarnier.com and SizzleBop.com. You can also find Carol at her blog for moms with distractible kids at SizzleBop. And for fun, see her church humor blog at CarolBarnier.

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2 comments

  1. I recently hosted an out of town friend for 10 days. The first night she just wouldn’t, or couldn’t, stop talking. I requested 10 minutes of no talk 10 times and she just couldn’t do it. I was trying to cook our supper and recover from a crazy day, and I needed to think.It is unbelievably distracting to have to listen to this non-stop blah blah blah.
    I gathered from your piece about chatty children that you think nonstop talkers are quick witted and intelligent. I think my friend feels that way too. She blamed it on ADHD, and that she didn’t take her medication that day. After my experience with my friend all I can say is that I think she is extremely self centered, rude, and tedious to be around.I will never invite her to visit me again. People like this need to censor themselves and not force every single stupid thought on others, who may be interested in thinking their own thoughts or even talking about something else.

    [Reply]

    Carol Barnier Reply:

    As I read your note, I felt bad. . .for both of you.
    First for you, because it’s perfectly normal to be annoyed by incessant talking. Many (even most) people need some time to unwind, time without non-stop talking, time with zero input so that they can clear their minds. So to be stuck in a 10 day situation with no options would unravel the best of us. I’m very pleased that you were direct with this woman by stating your needs very clearly. And I’m sorry that she couldn’t manage to accommodate them. She does indeed need to learn to censor herself and regulate her flow of thoughts.
    But I’m also sorry for her, because accommodating the request to be quiet is much harder for some of us than for others. I’m not saying that it is outside of her control, but it is much more complicated than simply “choosing to be quiet.” And if she wasn’t on her medication, those challenges are magnified.
    My daughter is much like you. She thinks in her head, and thus, regularly needs quiet time to process events and information. I am more like your guest. I think out loud. It’s how I process events and information. But thankfully we’ve had more than ten days to learn each other’s needs and find ways to work with each other’s very different processing methods.
    I’m sorry that you had this experience. I’m sorry that your friend is likely distancing others because she can’t read their signals. My wish, of course, is that you could both grow into a more gracious understanding of the challenges of the other.

    [Reply]

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