Janey S.*, a sweet-natured six year old is new in town. Her father, a busy lawyer, and her mother, a physical therapist, are well-educated and focused on their children, which is why they moved recently to be near better public schools.
However, Margo, Janey’s mother, feels tense as the school bus drops Janey off at the end of the day. That’s because as soon as Jane gets off the bus, she starts to talk, talk, and talk some more.
Janey talks in minute detail about her day, she asks for a variety of snacks or activities, and she orders Margo around, correcting her mother if she deviates from her directions. If mom is busy and can’t listen to her or give her what she wants, Janey throws tantrums.
When Margo brought Janey to my office, I saw right away that she was not overestimating the situation. Janey is adorable, but she is not your typical chatty little girl. Her voice quickly ascends in pitch and she speaks so quickly and shrilly that listening to her is irritating at best (and sometimes almost painful.)
Margo told me she’s been feeling overwhelmed and whenever Janey’s with her, she finds herself tensing up, bracing for the next onslaught. She feels as though she has no control over the situation and has no ability to filter out the sensory overload.
I spent some time with Janey. I found that Janey uses her squeaky, high-pitched, very fast voice when she feels uncomfortable or anxious. She is unaware of her body space. (She doesn’t know where her body is in space.) Intense sensation, such as strong physical contact, helps her feel more comfortable and oriented in the environment.
Janey’s shrill voice also causes her to experience intense sensation, which helps her orient herself. She also tenses her whole body, which also helps her get a sense of her body and body parts—she feels less dislocated and more whole. When she chatters this way it helps her feel calmer and more in control of her body. If Janey was scolded about chatting to much, she’d snack instead, often overeating in an effort to soothe herself.
Margo and I talked about how Janey was not consciously seeking attention but engaging in a form of self-grounding—even though it was anything but grounding and calming to others! As Margo and I talked, we discovered that transitions were particularly difficult for Janey, especially the transition from school and the crowded school bus to the relative quiet of home.
Waking up was also hard for Janey who complained of feeling floaty or not herself in the morning. And sometimes when Margo was busy with other things, Janey would become shrill if she felt she wasn’t getting enough attention. Then Margo would find herself becoming tense, and sometime she would respond to Janey in a shrill, high-pitched voice, too!
Margo wanted help breaking the pattern.
Margo and I worked out two easy interventions she could do when Janey was beginning to chatter in her high-pitched voice.
Margo would give Janey a deep hug or a firm back rub. This helped Janey feel that she and her body were one and helped her feel calm. She did not need to chatter to feel relaxed.
When Margo asked Janey how she felt after her first brief, but firm, back rub she said: I feel like I know where “I” am. I feel real. I don’t have to eat so much because the hole inside me is gone.
Since this intense kind of touch wasn’t always possible, if Janey was chattering shrilly, I instructed Margo to deepen her own voice, tucking her chin if necessary, and space her words evenly. I asked her to talk calmly and slowly in response to Janey’s chatter. She found that within a short time, Janey would automatically begin to modulate her own voice, and even stop talking for awhile.
You might want to try either or both of these with your chatterbox.