Living with Children: Help son learn give-and-take conversation skills

Q: My just-turned-4-year-old repeats things he has heard or has said before. For example, even though my brother’s family moved away nearly two years ago, whenever we drive by their old house he will say, “There’s Uncle Frank’s house!” He also asks questions when he knows the answers. For example, if I’m wearing a green dress, and even though he knows his colors, he will ask, “Is your dress green, Mommy?” Lately, when he asks a question of this sort, I ask him, “What do you think?” I want him to answer his own question, but he immediately becomes quiet. He’s obviously bright, but I’m beginning to think there may be something wrong. In any case, this habit of his has become very irritating. What do you think?

A: I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. If there is a problem, it would fall into one of three “D” categories: discipline, development or disorder. You’re certainly not describing a discipline problem. Furthermore, my rather extensive experience as a parent, grandparent and family psychologist tells me what you’re describing is no big deal.

Your son is simply trying to figure out how to engage in conversation. During the second and third years of life, a child develops the fundamentals of language and begins constructing sentences. Three-year-old children are known for monologues. They’ll go on and on about seemingly nothing, jumping from topic to topic, not interested in what anyone else might have to say. At 4, the art of give-and-take conversation begins to develop. Your son is simply trying to figure out how to have interactive exchanges with other people. And yes, a child’s first attempts at conversation can be annoying.

I know it takes a lot of patience to respond with more than “Uh-huh” to your son’s repetitious statements and seemingly unnecessary questions, but in this case, patience will pay off handsomely for both of you. Take the time to teach him what conversation is all about by responding to these “annoyances” with a question that causes him to think and draws him into a discussion.

For example, the next time he says, “There’s Uncle Bob’s house!,” you can ask, “Do you remember where Uncle Bob lives now?”

If he asks, “Is your dress green, Mommy?” you can respond with “Can you name another green thing?”

Helping your son with give-and-take conversation will quicken his overall language skills. In turn, you will begin to enjoy talking with him. Perhaps best of all, he will irritate you no longer.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at; readers may send him email at [email protected]; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.