Children who talk to themselves do better
Joan was playing with her plane in the living room. It’s time to land! Hmm…what sounds do planes make? Arrrrh….no that’s not right. Vrrroooom, yes, that’s it….I’m flying lower and lower and….oooh that was bumpy! You’ve reached your destination! What’s next? I’ll play with my dinosaurs now.
When children talk to themselves some people may find it strange but it can be perfectly normal. Four year old’s may talk to themselves up to 50% of the time, while younger children may make sounds and play around with their speech (Papalia, et al., 2007). Stopping a child from engaging in private speech may actually reduce performance and creativity (Lidstone, Meins, & Fernyhough, 2010). Think of how noisy early childhood settings are, especially the pre-school children aged 4 years and above. This is because they are playing with sounds and talking aloud — sometimes to themselves and sometimes to others.
Private speech may help with emotional regulation and strengthen cognitive development in children (Berk & Winsler, 1995). One study found that private speech during early literacy tasks contributed to better achievement and performance.
“As we expected, in our study, private speech during spelling did contribute uniquely to children’s performance on the spelling task, which was cognitively demanding and complex. This corroborates previous studies in other contexts, which showed that use of on-task private speech enables children to organize and control their actions” (Aram, D et al., 2014).
These researchers actually urge parents and educators to encourage private speech in children during challenging tasks. As children get older private speech is generally internalised (Paige, 2013). Additionally, Winsler (2008) showed that children with behavioural issues, used private speech more than other children but performed just as well and sometimes even better than their peers without behavioural issues. “Given that kids with behaviour concerns need more direction and control from adults, teachers may unnecessarily ask children to be quiet in classrooms out of fear that such speech coming from difficult-to-manage kids will lead to problem behaviour,” says Winsler. “Yet non-disruptive private speech would actually help these children as they develop. Therefore, teacher training and professional development efforts should suggest that teachers increase their tolerance level for this kind of private speech.” (Source).
Many researchers have tried to explain why children engage in private speech. The most well known and most supported is Vygotsky (1962). He saw private speech as an important part of early childhood development. He saw it as a conversation with self and tends to fade when children become better at controlling their behaviour. In the classroom or home, a child talking a loud to his/herself in a non-disruptive way should be encouraged, as thinking a loud may help the child problem solve and aid development.