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Jen from the USA asks:
"I have a 7 yr old who gets into trouble a lot at school for talking. At home he is loud and interrupts quite a bit. What can I do to help him calm down? He has missed out on special activities in school because of getting into trouble for talking."
Please remember to read these answers as information you might find useful and suggestions you can try as opposed to advice, as you know your family and can make the best decisions for them as outlined in the disclaimer below.
First of all, let me say this was me as a child at school and I face the same challenge with our 6 year old son at home and at school, so believe me I understand and empathise with you completely. Bright, inquisitive and happy kids are often talkers and love to interact with others. I am very sorry to hear that your son is missing out on activities at school and so here are some ideas you can try to help him manage his talking at certain times.
As you can see, discipline and punishment don’t seem to work… he is missing out on things he loves but still has the behaviour. I am sure he knows what he shouldn’t do but perhaps he doesn’t know what and how to do what he should do. So let’s focus on this.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned from various experts and tried in our home. I can tell you we have made some good progress, but it is a process that takes time as like me, you are trying to help your son learn a new way of being in the world. Old habits are hard to break.
I want to stress that it is important to make sure your son knows he is loved and valued for who he is and that you are just trying to help him understand when it’s time for talking and when it’s time for listening and quiet learning on his own. I remember my teachers kind of broke my inquisitive spirit and dampened my love of school by telling me “please be quiet and give other people a turn to answer questions in class”. Good news is that there was no real harm done… I have capitalised on my love of learning and love of speaking to do be able to do the research and videos on parenting and child development I do!
What I am trying to say is that talking and being inquisitive are wonderful qualities to have in life and so you can confidently tell your child that. However, it’s important that he learn to use these talents at the right time. That is the life skill your child needs to learn, when to talk, when to listen and how to be patient and not interrupt.
Remember this is a process and it will take time to learn and he will make mistakes. I’ll like to say to our son Cameron “don’t worry… you’re still learning… now what can you do differently next time to change this situation to a better outcome?” These are all just “Learning Opportunities!”
To begin with, make a time when you can be alone with your son and won’t be distracted or interrupted. A car trip is often fabulous for this as you’re trapped together! Start a conversation on a positive note and then gently weave in using lots of questions about the changes you’d like him to consider making at school.
Talk about your son’s wonderful qualities of being able to talk and ask questions. Praise these as good talents or gifts that can be used in many aspects of life. Then when he feels safe and good about himself, ask a series of questions like the ones below.
Try and get him to do most of the talking and thinking and problem solving around this so that it is his ideas and his suggestions – you are developing thinking and problem solving skills this way. And besides, who likes being told what to do? Here are some questions you could ask – use them as a guide – but follow the conversation and direct it with your questions. You are his mom, you love him the most…trust your intuition…
Questions you could ask:
- Even though you are lucky to have the talent of being able to talk so well and easily, do you think there are times when talking or interrupting may not be a good thing? Give lots of space as it takes time to come up with answers… don’t just jump in. It is important for him to figure it out himself – you have a better chance of change. After you have said “great, is there anything else etc”.. a few times then you might want to add things he hasn’t thought of like, the teacher is giving a lesson, other students are trying to concentrate on their work, people are talking and want to have their turn to speak etc…
- What have been some of the negative consequences of you talking in class? Give lots of time for him to answer. eg missing out on activities he likes, being embarrassed in class, friends getting angry with him etc…
- How do you feel about missing out on activities because you talk?
- What do you think you could do differently in class to make sure you don’t miss out or get others angry or lose friends or etc…?
Here is where it would be great to get advice from the teacher and let the teacher know you are working on at this at home and could he/she support you in class.
We did this with Cameron’s teachers… he is a “little have a chat” and would walk around the classroom checking out what everyone else was doing, interrupting the teacher to say something or ask a question … it was all out of the love of talking, learning and curiosity.
Here is what we agreed were strategies he could try:
- If he had a question he had to put up his hand… too cute he now does it at home to so as not to interrupt and blurt out his point.
- If he wants to get the attention of someone who is talking (eg me or the teacher), he needed to walk up quietly and put his hand on my arm or hand. We would acknowledge by a nod and continue our conversation until done and he was to wait patiently.
- If he had waited a long time or something was urgent – eg need to go to bathroom etc… he could say “excuse me.”
- we reminded him in conversations that he needed to let the other person finish before saying his ideas… this is a tricky one … haven’t mastered this one…have to say I am still not the best at this … but getting better with all of the many interviews I do!
- when it was quiet work time in class he was not to talk to other students who were concentrating on their work, but if he needed help he could get the attention of the teacher in the ways listed above.
I think you get it by now. It is very practical things he can do that need to be practiced so that he knows what he can do instead of interrupting. This is the focus of a life skills approach to parenting and child development. Give them the understanding and skills for new behaviour.
- Explore through conversation and questioning why his behaviour isn’t kind or considerate of others and how it results in negative consequences
- Give him alternative behaviours that he can practice and bring into his life
- Practice, practice, practice and be patient… know that it takes time to learn. Your son has a life time to master these skills and let’s face it many adults haven’t mastered them … so he will be a head of the game with valuable life skills!
You also asked about helping to calm him down. Perhaps you could try some deep breathing exercises or stretches to help him calm down and manage his emotions. For further resources subscribe to our mailing list
I hope these answers have been helpful. Let me know how you go.
All the best on your parenting journey
Dr Rosina McAlpine
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