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Children Talking to Themselves

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson looks at how children talk to themselves and whether that is a good thing or a developmental problem. We will look at the work of Vygotsky and Piaget and see how the act of private talking actually helps develop motor skills.

In Play and Work

From the time she was able to speak, Toni has been talking to herself. Now at age four, she carries on pretty complicated discussions with herself. When she is playing by herself, Toni gives commands to her toys or just makes up the story that goes along with the play. Her parents have also observed that she likes to talk with herself when she is learning something. When trying to put colored blocks of different shapes into corresponding holes in a board, Toni continues a running dialogue about which block she needs at a certain time and if it will fit. Even when she is playing with other children or helping her parents, Toni talks to herself. Her parents noticed the same from her older siblings, but not to this extent. They are wondering if there is something wrong with her either mentally or physically.

Why Do Children Talk to Themselves?

Some people would call it an oddity, but when a child speaks to themselves it is actually a function of development. As people mature they begin to have an internal dialogue. They still speak to themselves, but it is not out loud. Children ten and younger do not have the same developmental constraints. They speak to themselves because it is developmentally normal for them to do so. As children age, they will maintain an internal dialogue.

Private Speech Versus Egocentric Speech

The way Toni speaks to herself when playing may seem strange to her parents, but it is something psychologists have seen as normal for many years. Two prominent psychologists had different thoughts regarding this type of speech. Lev Vygotsky was a Soviet psychologist who called this type of speech private speech. He believed that private speech was crucial to social development. As they mature, children are better able to differentiate between social and private speech and tend to talk to themselves less. Jean Piaget called it egocentric speech, believing that children were selfish and could not adequately meld with another person's speech. Most psychologists have followed Vygotsky's research and believe that it is a necessary part of development.

Is Private Talk Good or Bad?

There has been a great deal of research regarding private speech and it has been found to be a very positive indicator. Research says that children will talk to themselves about 20% of the time. Some research puts that number at as high as 60%. No matter how much time a child spends talking to themselves, it is actually an indicator of better motor skills.

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