Child Who Talks to Himself

A child who adopts behavior such as talking to himself is probably not in any real trouble, but it's worth exploring why.
I am blessed to have a warm, loving, and imaginative nine-year-old boy, but I have a concern. My son talks to himself. He doesn't have conversations or anything like that -- he tells himself stories. He will watch a TV program or read a book, the story will stay with him, and he will actually "edit" or change the story around to suit his liking.

I don't really have a problem with this at home, but it's becoming an issue at school. It is annoying to the children sitting around him and to his teacher. I have talked to him about it and he says that he can't help himself.

I was worried about him missing important information in school, but that doesn't seem to be an issue as he continues to get straight As. He has been doing this all of his life. His pediatrician said he would outgrow it, but it's starting to affect him socially, and children really don't want to play with him. He has a reputation for being "weird." The only person he plays with is his six-year-old sister. I would really like to him to play with kids his own age, but I don't want to force him to get involved with groups that don't interest him.

I guess I can understand other nine-year-olds thinking this is a little strange, but it hurts my son's feelings. Is there anything I should do, or was my doctor right that he'll outgrow this? If so, when?

You have quite a creative little guy. I'm sure you don't want to squelch this creativity -- just help your son to channel it.

The other children are starting to notice your son's behavior, and that awareness will only increase as they get older. Sometimes this negative attention from peers can help a child become more aware of what he is doing and cause him to stop.

It's nice that a nine-year-old boy plays with his younger sister, but he does need to develop friends his own age and his peers may not want to be friends if they think he is "weird." You also don't want to see him continue to have his feelings hurt.

Even though your son says that he cannot control himself, he needs to understand that he is the only one who can control his behavior. Ask the teacher to help him be aware when he is talking. They could develop a secret "signal," such as the teacher clearing his or her throat or tapping your son on the shoulder. This would allow your son to be aware of what he is doing, without calling his behavior to the attention of the other children.

Your pediatrician may be right in saying that your son will outgrow this behavior, but so far that hasn't happened and he needs some help with this. Try to help your son find some outlets for his creativity where his imagination can mean success. Many communities have drama groups for children, or perhaps he could help with a preschool story-telling session at the public library. Joining a sports team, Boy Scouts, or a church group can give him other things to do and think about with children his own age, and being with him in different settings can help school friends realize that he is not as "weird" as they thought.

Talk with your son's school counselor about the possibility of your son joining a small group on making friends.

Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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