It’s shocking to sometimes find your 3 year old having a full blown conversation with themselves. Normally you stumble across them doing it on their own whilst playing. It’s also amazing, but as parents like us are naturally inclined to do. It also makes you worry. Is this normal? I know I thought maybe they weren’t being socialised enough or maybe it was something more seriously wrong with their development or personality. I did the research for you, so do 3 year olds talk to themselves?
Yes, 3 year olds do sometimes talk to themselves and it is completely normal. In fact you should encourage it, research has shown that toddlers actually did better on tests of motor tasks when they talked to themselves. Talking to themselves is a developmental trait, its our children’s way of expressing their innermost feelings and thoughts. It also helps them feel more comfortable with their environment and improves their language skills.
As parents we have so many things to worry about, it’s pretty much our full time job. It also pays off sometimes when our 3 year old nearly topples off a table or reaches for something they shouldn’t. Thankfully, talking to themselves is something we can cross off our worry list. Actually it’s an extremely interesting topic, that can be a sign of their future selves. I found it fascinating to read about and its completely changed my view it, so read on to find why.
Bright kids talk to themselves more often
“Private speech is a way of expressing one’s feelings, gaining understanding of one’s environment, and developing language, as well as being a tool for developing self-control and inner thought.” – G Craig, psychologist.
What a relief! Far from being a negative trait in our children, talking to themselves or “self-talk” as psychologists refer to it can be a sign that your 3 year old is going to be very bright indeed. Multiple studies have shown that the whole point of our kids talking to themselves is to assist them in performing a developmental task. Unfortunately in our schools, this kind of behaviour isn’t encouraged. This is a shame, as studies have shown that self-talk helps children when adults aren’t there to guide them through a task.
Studies found that in children who talk to themselves, intelligence is a factor. Brighter children spent more time talking to themselves. This is why we should encourage self talk in our 3 year olds, we shouldn’t try and stop them because they find it so helpful to their development.
Self talk in children tends to reach a pinnacle at 4 years of age and then slowly declines until around 8 years of age when it reaches the same level as in adults. Yes! We do it too, self talk isn’t only for our 3 year olds. Think back to the last week, even in the last 24 hours. Burnt the dinner and told yourself off? Forgot something and cursed yourself? Driving and describing what you are doing? We all do it, we just don’t realise.
As children get older, they tends to take their self talk and keep it inside. They are still using self talk but now they tend not to do it out loud anymore. Some therapists help children who have an impulsive nature and poor self-control about the wonders of self-talk. They have them describe what they are doing in the tasks they perform and it actually helps them to perform better.
Why you should encourage your
3 year old to talk to themselves
It can be confusing and scary at first to realise your 3 year old is talking to themselves a lot but when I researched this topic thoroughly I found that far from worrying we should encourage our children in this practice. I found a very interesting research study by Adam Winsler, Associate Professor of Psychology at George Mason University which found that toddlers who engaged in self talk more actively actually improved certain other skills. Let me explain.
Professor Winsler found in his research that children of toddler age do better on motor tasks when they talk to themselves out loud. Interestingly it also didn’t matter if the child used self talk spontaneously or was encouraged by an adult to do so. Children who were silent during the tasks scored less.
“Young children often talk to themselves as they go about their daily activities, and parents and teachers shouldn’t think of this as weird or bad,” – Professor A Winsler.
Winsler goes on to say that we should listen to the self talk of our children. It provides a fascinating insight into their world and development. Too often in schools this kid of self-talk is looked down upon and many teachers try to stop it, which is a shame. If it was allowed or even encourage in schools then we might see some children improve academically. He believes that this self talk is a transitionary period for them and critical in their development into adulthood.
Conversations with their toys
When 3 year olds are talking to themselves they are really engaging in communication in an imaginary world. In this world your child can play a different role to their ordinary selves and assign roles and characters to other toys and objects. This allows them to act out situations that they find interesting and exciting. Their toys play an important role in this world, they take the places of characters in real life.
When 3 year olds use self talk, it is generally much louder and they may act out gestures. This differs from adult self talk, as kids forget the real world around them and are immersed in their imaginary world.
As parents we should take this kind of self talk as reassuring. Our children are developing in a normal way. It shows that they are beginning to understand the feelings and roles of others in life and trying to process complex situations into versions that they can take in and understand.
Self talk doesn’t have to stop with just toys. It can extend to pets, imaginary friends, animals etc. They can provide their own running commentary for playtime, trying out new roles, emotions and perspectives on life.
When to worry about 3 year olds talking with themselves?
It isn’t my goal in this section to worry you at all, just present you with some facts about what to look out for when experiencing self talk from your 3 year old. If one or more of the following situations reminds you of your child then I hope it might prompt you to seek medical advice if you are worried. Hopefully then you will get reassurance that everything is normal with your child, if not and it is something more serious then in a way that is a good thing that it has been caught early and special help can be given to your child so they can live a normal and happy life.
Although self talk is completely normal, you may want to look out for the following signs that there may be an issue with their development. These points are not a diagnosis of any condition, just prompts that you may want to seek professional medical advice.
- Sentence repetition: Although some repetition is normal, if you feel that your 3 year old is constantly repeating the same sentence, this may be a cause for concern. Repetitive self talking may be a sign of autism or other developmental difficulties.
- Changes in routine initiate self talk: If you change your 3 year olds routine or they are in a mildly stressful environment (loud, busy, unknown place for example) and your child resorts to self talking to soothe themselves, this may be a time to seek help.
- Excessive babbling or cooing when younger: This can also be an indication of autism in children.
I want to make it clear that everything I have listed here cannot be taken as diagnoses of autism. Autism is a very complex condition and it needs a specialist to diagnose your child. If you have any worries at all, please contact your doctor.
Although it might seem like your 3 year old is constantly talking to themselves, the research suggests otherwise. In the results of one study, children aged 4 to 8 only spent 20% of their speaking time in self talk, the rest was in normal social interactions with the people around them.
I hope that in this article I have convinced you that your 3 year olds self talk is nothing to be worried about and It surprised me to find that as parents we should actually be encouraging it. In the future I will definitely get my two to talk through difficult problems as they are doing them and hopefully they will find it helps them too. I also hope that if your child is displaying signs of self talk that makes you worry, then this article may prompt you to seek more advice about what to do next. The main reason I want to write is to help others.