Dear Polly: There's a 5-year-old in my class Priscilla, who never stops talking! When she arrives at school she constantly interrupts as I greet the other children She monopolizes the conversation at group time snack time, and anytime we're all together Although her classmates seem to enjoy her-he is in many ways a delight--her incessant talking has become a problem. I've tried speaking with her, encouraging her to wait her turn and to listen to others. Nothing seems to work. What can I do?

Adults and children alike are prone to doing more of what they're good at than what they aren't very good at or can barely do at all. Perhaps Priscilla is especially articulate. If she's advanced in language development and conversational skills, and a sociable child, it's understandable that she would chatter away nonstop-talking to people is something she loves to do because she's wonderfully good at it.

If this is your assessment of the situation, the goal is to help Priscilla differentiate between:

  • settings in which it's great to talk all you want (on the playground, while playing with friends) and
  • settings in which we take talking turns, in the same way we take turns with toys and equipment.

You could have a "private conference" with Priscilla. Put a child-size chair next to your desk, or put two chairs in a private corner, or take Priscilla out of the room to a place where you can have an uninterrupted conference. Invite her to this special appointment several hours before it's scheduled by saying, "Later today, you and I are going to get together privately. We'll talk about a problem we have. It will be a private conference-just you and me and we'll try to solve the problem together." A special appointment, a little suspense, a special name for the event, and a special seating arrangement will emphasize and dignify the conversation that the two of you need to have.

During the conference, give several examples of taking turns. Ask Priscilla why she thinks it's important to take turns in the situations you're discussing. (Give examples involving things she likes to do.) Remember, this is not a lecture-it's a conversation between two people.

Keep in mind that an adult can never change a child's behavior without the child's participation. On the other hand, a child has no reason to change her behavior and no tools to use in achieving change, unless the adult supplies both. The more engaged the child is in the process of changing the behavior, the more effective your attempts will be.

Then give Priscilla several examples of sharing, each focusing on others sharing with her. Help her see that when you have a lot of people, sharing the talking is the same as sharing objects: Each person wants a turn to talk and to have us listen to him. We need to share the talking time so each person gets a chance to say what he wants to say.

Choose your words carefully as you talk with Priscilla about this problem. As is true for each child in the group, she certainly has many interesting and important things to say, and you don't want her to become overly self-conscious about speaking up or contributing her ideas.

Chances are that over time, with careful monitoring of the situation, a gentle reminder now and then is all she'll need to balance the talking with the listening.

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