The Teacher's Story

WAYNE AND Joey, two 3-- year-olds in my class, were arguing over a bright, red truck. They had a brief tug of war, with Joey saying, "I had it first!" and Wayne countering with, "No, I did." Then suddenly, before I could intervene, Wayne let go and walked away, muttering something that sounded like, "Uch gruthe glama dadada blup!" Joey looked puzzled. He had the prized toy all to himself, but it apparently had less appeal now that Wayne was engaged in an animated monologue that seemed to make no sense.

Wayne sometimes speaks in his own language, mostly, it seems, when he's frustrated or tired. It really puzzles me, especially since this adorable boy is quite advanced in "real language" development. For some time, I've wondered why he occasionally bursts into his private language, generally toward the end of a busy day or during our "quiet period." He recovers quickly, and the rest of the time he's totally involved with the group. He's warm, friendly, and enthusiastic about school. He's an adventurous little guy too, and not at all reluctant to try new things. The children seem to like him, but they don't know what to make of his gibberish.

Wayne is new to the program, and he's doing so well in all other ways that Pm not terribly concerned. I haven't talked with him yet about his special language, nor have I discussed it with anyone else. This is the first time I've ever confronted a situation like this. I can't help but wonder if there's something I should be doing about it.

The Parent's Story

OUR WAYNE IS A delightful little guy, as curious as he is cute. He loves to learn about nature, to draw and build, and to repeat rhymes and sing songs after he's heard them only once or twice. And some things that spontaneously come out of his mouth amaze us. His talk is so sophisticated that it's hard to believe he's only 3 all the more reason that we're surprised by his talking gibberish once in a while. It's the oddest thing. Sometimes his "gibberish" sounds like real language. This usually happens when he's upset about something or in some kind of trouble. For example, yesterday I told him to play inside because it was raining. He protested, at first in real language, then in his own chatter. Then, when I asked him not to climb up on the kitchen counter, he muttered, "Scroblin blobaklin blab da da dey." It reminds me of the way he used to babble early in the morning when he was about 8 months old, or the pretend language he used when he would talk into a toy phone as a toddler. But why would Wayne want to go back to that now? I asked him and he said, "Oh, that's my French." Why does he need his own "French"? What should we do when he uses it?

Dr. Brodkin's Assessment

From time to time, we need to remind ourselves that it is normal for children to take two steps forward and then one step back in behavioral development. Wayne's occasional regression to a babbling language is normal, especially since he has recently started preschool-and separation is still an issue this early in the year.

What the Teacher Can Do

The teacher's first step is to try to understand why Wayne looks for comfort in his private language. In the first example, in his highly emotional state, expressing himself with words that no one else could interpret was a lot safer than getting into a knock-down, drag-out battle with Joey over the toy truck. As for the other circumstances, it isn't easy for a young child to maintain self-control at the end of a very full school day. His use of gibberish lets his teacher know when he needs some extra support. She should accept his need for occasional "emotional space" by subtly letting him know she understands. In a low-key way, she can explain to other children that Wayne needs a rest and then guide him toward a quiet activity.

What the Parents Can Do

His parents should be reassured that Wayne's way of coping with stress is harmless and even quite creative. His private language offers an escape from social pressures, a way to soothe himself, and an opportunity to "speak his mind" all at once. Wayne is entitled to have his forays into "French" when he needs them. His parents should allow him his private moments, but at the same time let him know that they are there and will be there when he is ready to reconnect. For a while, Wayne is likely to use his special language to regain equilibrium during an illness, recover after a frustrating event, or deal with an unwanted one, such as Mommy and Daddy going out to a movie or to work. All of these are transitory moments from which Wayne and many other children bounce back easily if they are allowed to do it their way.