What are Monologues in Childhood?
A monologue in childhood is a mini-speech during which someone talks on and on without giving the listener a chance to participate in the interaction.
A monologue feels like a lecture about a specific topic. The talk may be overly detailed, such as “migration patterns of the giant squid,” or “the history of volcanic eruptions on the Hawaiian Islands.” Usually, people who monologue have trouble reading the social cues and body language of conversation partners.
When your child monologues, you feel like the audience in a play rather than a conversation partner. You may wonder if the child would notice your absence if you walked away.
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Symptoms of Monologues in Children
- Stuck on a topic: your child can get very interested in a certain topic and talk on and on about it for weeks or months
- Overly detailed: your child is telling you something important to them and there are so many details in their story that you get lost
- Gives lectures: your child talks on and on about a topic, and you can’t seem to get a word in edgewise
- Cannot be interrupted: your child talks on and on about a topic, and just has to finish telling you every bit of the story without stopping
- Paces the room: your child likes to talk about a topic while pacing the room like a mini professor
- Talks to self: your child sometimes tells stories without an audience, like a 1-way conversation or performance
- Copies phrases: your child repeats words or phrases from movies or video games verbatim
Causes of Monologues in Childhood
Social Interaction challenges: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Children with autism, particularly those who are very bright, tend to get stuck on certain interests and topics. Often, they wish to tell you a lot of information, rather than engage in a back-and-forth conversation. It can feel more like a lecture series or a Ted Talk and less like a reciprocal exchange.
Sometimes autistic children are not sure what to say from a social perspective and so sharing facts is more comfortable. Children with ASD often know a lot of factual information, so sharing this in lecture format can seem easier than the give and take of a conversation.
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Poor attention and impulsivity: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
When a child has ADHD, they are likely to be impulsive. The idea of stopping and waiting is really tough, so they may prefer to give a lot of information all at once. This type of communication may feel like a monologue.
Kids with ADHD can see the perspective of another person. The issue is that they get distracted during conversations and may ramble on in conversation rather than allowing others to chime in on the topic.
Stress and anxiety: Emotional concern or Anxiety Disorder
When a child is prone to anxiety or emotional upset, they may engage in a monologue at times. If something very stressful happens, you may notice that they tend to dump a lot of information on you at once.
Anxious kids may have a trait that psychologists call, ‘pressured speech.’ This type of communication is particularly fast, intense, and breathless. That is, the child can tell the whole story without stopping to take frequent breaths. Instead, their face may turn red and strained as they attempt to tell the story without pausing to breathe or listen to the conversation partner’s feedback.
What to Do About Monologues in Childhood
DO practice conversations. Practice having a reciprocal conversation about your child’s favorite topic. Have your child practice adding questions and pausing to listen.
For example, If your child loves talking about sloths, a good sloth conversation could go as follows:
Kiddo: “I really like seeing sloths at the zoo. Do you?”
…Pause: allow for the partner to talk
Parent: “Sure, I like sloths.”
Kiddo: “They’re really cool, can I tell you about them?”
…Pause: if yes, keep going
Parent: Great, tell me.
Kiddo: “Did you know that sloths sometimes have moss on their backs?” “What’s your favorite animal?”
…Pause: listen to the partner’s answer
Parent: Actually, I like lions most.
Kiddo: “Oh, what is it you like about lions?”
Parent: I really like how they roar.
….Pause: listen to the parent’s answer
Kiddo: Oh, cool. I like that too.
In this example, the child takes many opportunities to check in with the listener. Using practice sessions like this can help break up a monologue. Parents may also want to spend some time talking about related topics. For example, if your child likes toads, you might see if you can get them to talk about lizards, frogs, or other animals with peers. In this way, the conversation topics do not become so highly specialized that the conversation partner feels confused or left out of the discussion.
DO start at home and then expand. Practice with your child at home and in the community. After you and your child have had some good practice at home, then practice having a back-and-forth conversation with another child. This may occur at a playdate, at the park, or at a structured activity like a class at the rec center.
DO help your child broaden their interests. Help your child widen the topic. If your child loves concourse C at the airport, it could be helpful to work with them to broaden that topic to vacations in general. Maybe the airport could be part of the discussion but helping to generalize, away from gate numbers to vacation destinations, will help your child have greater success in conversation.
DO listen and help them by reflecting and paraphrasing. When your child is monologuing, ask them to pause. Then, reflect back on what you heard, and share something new. For example, if your child starts talking about every make and model of Honda cars for the last decade, you can add a comment like, “I enjoy Hondas too, but my favorite car is a Toyota.” Give your child a second to think about what they heard before continuing. Do not expect perfection but a gradual increase in the back-and-forth nature of the conversation.
DO have certain times you can devote to the monologue. At certain times a day, it may be fine to take 5-10 minutes to listening to a monologue. If that’s the case, great. Let your child talk. At other times, this is not the appropriate type of communication for that setting. Have a hand signal with your child to initiate moving on. Have a place you write down the topic to come back to later.
DO actively engage in play dates. If your child tends to monologue, you may want to be a part of playdates for a while. As a parent, you can watch to be sure everyone is getting a turn. Your child may do better with friends who are a bit quieter and like to listen. Help make sure both children get turns to talk and to choose activities.
DO participate in structured social activities. If your child isn’t sure what to say or do in a certain situation, the monologues may run amuck. By having some social activities that are particularly structured or planned out, such as an art class, your child may have more social success.
DO take your time. If your child has ADHD or another developmental issue, excitement might increase during certain activities. Your impulsive child may need you to listen first. That can be a great way to start. Then you can say something like, “I heard your idea. Now did you hear mine?” Wait a minute and if the child hasn’t listened to you, try again. In this way, you are allowing the child to take the lead, but you are requiring some active listening too.
Do be aware of anxiety. Take time to listen, reflecting what your child says. Some anxious children will monologue to calm down and regulate their system. If this is the case, help them engage in coping strategies. Check out this article on somatization for other useful tips for helping your child with anxiety.
When to Seek Help for Monologues
If you have tried to help your child and you notice they are struggling significantly with communication or social skills, it could be time to get help. You do not want your child to feel rejected, frustrated socially or left out of peer interactions. Getting a clear diagnosis can help. A social skills group is a great way to practice social interactions. Depending on the age and needs of your child, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) might be a great treatment for social awareness and communication skills.
Professional Resources on Monologues in Childhood
- Testing psychologist: to provide a comprehensive neuropsychological or psychological evaluation. Testing psychologists look at cognition, attention, social skills, and behavior. This will help you obtain a profile of your child’s strengths and weaknesses and the types of support needed to encourage improved social skills
- Speech and language pathologist: to provide therapy for your child’s communication skills. Most speech therapists can help with pragmatic language (social language). They may provide a group for working on social language skills
- School psychologist: to provide support for any social skill challenges at school. If there are issues with peers at school, getting the school team involved is recommended. The school can identify if your child needs support through multi-tiered supports (MTSS), a Section 504 Plan (504 Plan), or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). A school psychologist may offer a social group or lunch bunch program
Similar Conditions to Monologues in Childhood
- Restricted interests: highly specific interests in a select set of topics
- Echoed and scripted language: language that is echoed from others or from TV, movies, books, or video games
- Social presence issues: challenges with joining peers in play or conversation
- Social motivation issues: difficulties with making an effort socially
- Perspective-taking issues: problems with understanding other people’s thoughts, ideas, and motives
- Conversation skill issues: challenges with having a back-and-forth conversation
Book Resources on Monologues in Childhood
Baker, Jed. (Retrieved 2017). Social skills books and resources for ASD.
Baker, Jed. (2006) Social skills picture book for high school and beyond.
Baker, Jed. (Retrieved 2017). Social skills books and resources for ASD.
Berns, Roberta M. (2010). Child, family, school, community: Socialization and support.
Fein, Deborah (2011). “The Neuropsychology of Autism”Giler, Janet Z. (2000). Socially ADDept: A manual for parents of children with ADHD and / or learning disabilities.
Giler, Janet Z. (2011). Socially ADDept: Teaching social skills to children with ADHD, LD, and Asperger’s.
Gray, Carol & Attwood, Tony (2010). The New Social Story Book, Revised and Expanded 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Social Stories that Teach Everyday Social Skills to Children with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and their Peers.
Kroncke, Willard, & Huckabee (2016). Assessment of autism spectrum disorder: Critical issues in clinical forensic and school settings. Springer, San Francisco.
Mendler, Allen (2013). Teaching your students how to have a conversation.
McConnell, Nancy & LoGuidice (1998). That’s Life! Social language.Ozonoff, Sally & Dawson, Geraldine & McPartland, James C. (2014). A parent’s guide to high functioning autism spectrum disorder: How to meet the challenges and help your child thrive.
UCLA PEERS Clinic https://www.semel.ucla.edu/peers
Children’s books on social skills
Brown, Laurie Krasny & Brown, Marc (2001). How to be a friend: A guide to making friends and keeping them (Dino life guides for families).
Meiners, Cheri. (2003). Understand and care.
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