Q. How should I help my third-grader stop talking in school? He's an A student across the board, but he gets lower conduct scores because of too much talking.
-- A Mother in San Antonio, Texas
A. Helping a bright, articulate child find a balance between expressing himself and disrupting other students is a tricky task. The key: Change the behavior without crushing the imaginative spirit that's often behind the talking.
Simply telling the child, "Don't talk," makes him feel he's doing something wrong, says Lucy Jo Palladino, author of "Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos" (Ballantine, $14). "Every kid needs to feel like a hero," she says. "You need something to go for, not something to be put down about."
Use the child's imagination to ease the situation, suggests Ms. Palladino, a psychologist from Encinitas, Calif. A child who's interested in airplanes might pretend he's a pilot when he's in the classroom. The parent can then nurture this image: "Do you know how silent you have to be in the cockpit of a plane? When you sit in your student's seat, you pretend you're in the pilot's seat. This is serious. It's time for takeoff."
It's important to let the child choose the image, whether it's from "Pokemon" or "Little House on the Prairie," Ms. Palladino says.
It takes at least three weeks for new habits to set in, she says, so be patient. Reward good behavior with praise and treats -- maybe even something as exciting as a real airplane ride, she suggests.
"He's probably a bright kid who's very expressive," Ms. Palladino says. "The trick is to get him to quit talking but not to quit thinking and being expressive."
Several readers have used tally marks to help their children control verbal outbursts.
Susan Nicolai of Columbia, S.C., gives her 6-year-old son a note card to jot down each time he wants to speak in class but doesn't have a chance to. "It helped him get control without squelching his interest," she says. "He proudly shows me his tallies at the end of the day, and it opens the door for conversation about what he learned."
The son of Kathleen Behnke of Neenah, Wis., responds to keeping score, so his teacher makes a mark on a sticky note on his desk each time he speaks out of turn.
"It was all a matter of drawing to his attention how often he interrupted class," Ms. Behnke says. "When it was there in black and white, he could keep track himself. He's learned that he can almost always share what he wants to say with the class, but has to wait to be called on."
Bright children who finish their work early often chatter because they're bored, several readers say. The temptation to interrupt may fade if the child has more schoolwork, jobs around the classroom or books to read when he finishes early.
"I also talked too much in school and made straight A's with unsatisfactory conduct marks," recalls Dana Dickson, a mother from Garland, Texas. "I would get my work done fast, then talk to others because I was bored. My parents solved the problem by working with my teachers to provide me with extra work."
Other strategies from readers:
Set aside a 15-minute quiet time at home so the child learns to read or do homework without talking, suggests Cleo Crews of Stafford, Va.
Have the teacher give a signal to the talkative child, such as pulling on her ear lobe, suggests Mary Melton of Hillsborough, N.C.
Practice taking turns speaking at the dinner table, suggests a mother from Hoffman Estates, Ill. Start with the chatterbox, then go around the table, giving him a chance to say more only after the others have finished.
Can you help?
How can I deal with my friend's 3-year-old son, who is acting out against me, spitting at me and saying, "I hate you" (not to my face, but when I can still hear)? Should I pass on a relationship with this child's father entirely, or try to work with the little guy? My friend has been divorced for less than a year, and so have I.
-- A Reader in Akron, Ohio
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