Preschool kids do better when they talk to themselves, research shows

March 28, 2008

Parents should not worry when their pre-schoolers talk to themselves; in fact, they should encourage it, says Adam Winsler, an associate professor of psychology at George Mason University. His recent study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly showed that 5-year-olds do better on motor tasks when they talk to themselves out loud (either spontaneously or when told to do so by an adult) than when they are silent.

“Young children often talk to themselves as they go about their daily activities, and parents and teachers shouldn’t think of this as weird or bad,” says Winsler. “On the contrary, they should listen to the private speech of kids. It’s a fantastic window into the minds of children.”

In the study, “’Should I let them talk"’: Private speech and task performance among preschool children with and without behavior problems,” 78 percent of the children performed either the same or better on the performance task when speaking to themselves than when they were silent.

The study also showed that children with behavioral problems (such as those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD) tend to talk to themselves more often than children without signs of behavior problems.

“Given that kids with behavior 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 behavior,” 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.”

Winsler says that private speech is very common and perfectly normal among children between the ages of 2 and 5. As children begin talking to themselves, their communication skills with the outside world improve.

“This is when language comes inside,” says Winsler. “As these two communication processes merge, children use private speech in the transition period. It’s a critical period for children, and defines us as human beings.”

Winsler also conducted the first-ever study looking at private speech in children with autism. He found that high-functioning autistic children talk to themselves often and in the same ways that non-autistic children do. Talking aloud also improved their performance on tasks.

“Children with autism have problems with their external social speech, so psychologists assumed that their private speech would also be impaired,” says Winsler. “But this study shows that it is not the case—that autistic children use their private speech very effectively as a tool to help them with tasks.”

Source: George Mason University

Explore further: Obama calls on Silicon Valley to help thwart cyber attacks

Related Stories

Obama calls on Silicon Valley to help thwart cyber attacks

February 13, 2015

Cyberspace is the new "Wild West," President Barack Obama said Friday, with everyone looking to the government to be the sheriff. But he told the private sector it must do more to stop cyber attacks aimed at the U.S. every ...

School buses bring Wi-Fi to impoverished families

December 29, 2014

Near the shore of the murky Salton Sea in the Southern California desert, a bus drives up to West Shores High School each day with a critical connection: A Wi-Fi router mounted behind an interior mirror, providing Internet ...

US secretly created 'Cuban Twitter' to stir unrest

April 3, 2014

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba's communist government.

Snowden 'an indoor cat' in Moscow, says he's 'won' (Update)

December 24, 2013

Keeping a mostly low-profile as a U.S. fugitive in Moscow, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has suddenly resurfaced in the media, saying he is confident his personal "mission is already accomplished" ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

David6502
not rated yet Mar 28, 2008
I'd guess that talking to oneself can also be of benefit to adults too, it is just not socially acceptable (nutter alert!). I sometimes talk to myself when doing a complex task I haven't done before, but only when alone. Expressing thoughts outwardly in this way seems to help clarify a task and the alternative ways of approaching it.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.