Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Go Ahead! Talk to Yourself!

I finally hit Chapter 3 of Awakening Children's Minds by Dr. Laura E. Berk. Since this chapter focuses on children talking to themselves, I started thinking about Pamela and her private talk, which began when she was seven years old. Prior to that, we had to orchestrate and encourage nearly everything that came out of her mouth--words did not come easy to her so most were not spontaneous. If she wanted something and she could say it, we waited for her to say it. About the only self-talk I can remember from her early years was repeating, "Mowgli! Mowgli! Come back!" to comfort herself when she was extremely upset. Up until the time we put her on a gluten-free, casein-free diet, she had no self-talk.

About six months into the diet, I noticed she began reciting her favorite lines from videos during pretend play. In fact, when I think about it, the only times I have heard Pamela talk to herself was during pretend play. Even when learning to do difficult tasks, she does not talk herself through them. Nor does she talk to herself when looking for something lost. When she needs help, she comes and talks to me, but I hardly ever observe Pamela talk to herself, even though her social and language abilities are at ages in which self-talk is the greatest in typical children.

Most children speak to themselves during nearly any kind of activity: pretend play, doing artwork, building things, working on academics, or falling asleep. In fact, 20 to 60 percent of the language of children between the ages of 3 and 10 is private talk. Vygostky believed that it "seems to grow from our history of supportive social interaction in the zone of proximal development" (page 76). Children incorporate their dialogs with more experienced guides during scaffolding into their private talk. As they mature in problem solving, self-talk lowers its volume to whispers then to silent moving lips to inner speech.

Think about it! When do we adults talk to ourselves the most? When we are solving a problem or looking for our keys (*ahem* which happens more frequently as Momheimer's sets in). And, even when we are not talking to ourselves aloud, adults have that inner speech flowing through our minds most of the time. I even compose blog posts in my mind while I am doing the dishes!

According to Vygotsky's theory, the whole purpose of private talk is self-regulation--"the central means through which children take over the support provided by others, turn it toward the self, and use it to guide and control their own thinking and behavior" (page 77). I do believe that we all self-regulate our behaviors by more than just self-talk. We regulate our emotions in many ways: jiggling keys or shaking your leg when nervous, rocking and hugging yourself when extremely upset, giving a high five when excited, chewing the back of a pen when bored, or slamming the door when angry. Autistic children often regulate themselves through their sensory channels. A dear friend's daughter started flapping recently because of her extreme excitement over a pending family vacation. I reassured her that her daughter very wisely recognized her need to calm down her intense feelings by flapping, which is far better than a meltdown.

Charlotte Mason does not dwell on self-talk too much. However, because she encouraged dialog with children about all sorts of things including character flaws and habit formation, I do believe she understood the concept of self-talk allowing children to regulate themselves. Volume 5 of her books is full of examples of using dialog to influence thinking and behavior.

In short, if your child talks to herself while doing math, it is okay! If you talk to yourself while teaching yourself to crochet, it is okay. If you start answering yourself back . . . well . . . let's not go there!

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