Tip—Household rules can go a long way toward helping children establish conversational boundaries.
One of our authors reports that a friend recently called to ask for help with her 8-year-old son’s constant demand for attention. “It seems to be part of Jason’s personality,” she commented. “If I’m in good shape, I cope with his constant questions pretty well, but if I’m tired or stressed, I don’t handle him well at all. Sometimes he’s so wound up that he fires new questions at me while I’m in the midst of answering the last one! And to make things worse, the neighbors are beginning to complain about being pestered.”
Jason’s temperament fits squarely within a personality style psychologist Linda Budd calls “Active-Alert.” These children are very physically active, quite intelligent, often intrusive, and notice everything. Although many of the characteristics that distinguish an Active-Alert turn out to be wonderful adult qualities, they are typically hard on parents. An unending stream of questions and conversation reflects the child’s blindness as to how he affects others. This lack of “boundary awareness” is a hallmark of the Active-Alert temperament. As Budd puts it, “The child doesn’t know where he stops and others begin.”
Tools—Because these children are “red light/green light” color-blind, parents need to work in a focused way to teach them how to recognize social “stoplights.” Budd recommends giving children rules to help them establish boundaries. For example, our author suggest that her friend tell her son, “I love you and like to talk to you, but I get tired when someone asks me too many questions at once. You may ask me two questions, but you must wait for me to be finished with my answer before you talk again.” If he forgets and peppers her with further questions or other conversational ploys, she can say calmly, “Remember our rule. That’s all I have energy for right now.”
She can also teach him to observe the two-question rule when he’s dealing with neighbors or other people. Budd points out that listening does not come easily to Active-Alerts. To these children, the point of discussion is to simply exchange words. It is very common for those around them to get worn out quickly.
Related to this issue is precocious questioning, that is, questions on a topic too mature for a child. Because Active-Alerts are extremely bright and also extremely observant, they often ask their parents questions that are difficult or even inappropriate to answer. Budd says the solution to this is simple: If you are not ready to explain, be careful of exposure. Limit your child’s exposure to media and take care that she not overhear adult conversations.
You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Living with the Active Alert Child: Groundbreaking Strategies for Parents by Linda Budd, Ph.D.