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John Rosemond is America's most widely-read parenting authority! He is a best-selling author, columnist, speaker, and family psychologist.

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A Cure For Son's 'Motor Mouth'

Q: Our 8-year-old son has had some self-centeredness issues that we’ve been working on since he was a toddler, the latest manifestation of which is excessive, loud talking. I can think of no way to put it other than he just won’t shut up, especially around other adults. He interrupts constantly and unless we intervene, he talks over his peers and younger siblings. We find ourselves constantly saying “shhhhh!” or “that’s enough” or “let’s hear what so-and-so wants to say.” This has become extremely embarrassing to us, especially around other adults. Help!

A: As you’ve discovered, this is indeed one of the most annoying of childhood behavior problems. In that regard, I’m reasonably sure that you have corrected your son more times than you can count. It is safe, therefore, to conclude that no amount of correcting him is going to create any passable inroads concerning his pronounced case of impulsive, narcissistic, inconsiderate, rude, talk-for-the-sake-of-talking loquaciousness, or—as it was once known—“motor mouth.”

(At this point, some readers are no doubt horrified that I would be so straightforward in my description of this child’s behavior. I will offer two observations: first, the same behavior in an adult would be termed no less than narcissistic, inconsiderate, and rude; and second, the fact that adult standards of behavior are no longer applied [with some allowance] to children above the age of six is one reason why child behavior has deteriorated so markedly over the past thirty or so years.)

I’m going to assume that you have tried today’s standard forms of punishment—time out, taking away privileges, confining him to his room—and found them to be lacking. Believe me, and I speak from experience both personal and professional, “motor mouth” is one of the most intractable of all behavior problems. It is as if children so afflicted get such a “high” out of hearing themselves talk that no amount of punishment, short of something medieval perhaps, will do. So, and in that regard, my first recommendation is that you abandon any and all attempts to correct, punish, or shame this problem into permanent exile.

Up until now, you have been striking while the proverbial iron is hot. In other words, you haven’t really done anything about your son’s talkativeness until he’s soliloquizing away. Instead, strike while the iron is cold. Sit down with him first thing next Saturday morning (a non-school day, when he looks forward to staying up later than usual) and tell him, clearly and dispassionately, exactly what the problem is and why it’s a problem (i.e., it’s rude, inconsiderate, annoying, and for all those reasons, not likely to endear one to other people). An 8-year-old can hear this without suffering emotional harm (although he certainly won’t like what he’s hearing) as long as you aren’t screaming at him or describing him in terms of various pejoratives. Tell him that you have consulted with a person who is an expert on children who talk too much and learned that the problem is highly associated with lack of sleep. In other words, it’s rude and so on, but it’s not his fault! He’s just not getting enough sleep! (There is, by the way, a semblance of truth to this explanation.) So, to provide him the help he needs to overcome his affliction, you’ve decided to move his bedtime back an hour until the problem is history and has been so for at least a month.

This sort of disciplinary approach—redefining a behavior problem in a benign, non-critical fashion while at the same time levying a meaningful consequence—works especially well with problems that seem to stem more from a child’s personality than some willful need to rebel. The key to its success is parents who are able to change their own behavior, to replace being frustrated and punitive with understanding, patience, and helpfulness.

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