Because kids talk. A lot. Non-stop, even. About anything and everything and nothing at all. I get it.
RAD-related nonsense chatter, however, redefines “a lot.”
Early one November morning (about 4:45 am!), Little came into my room after Husband had left for work, as he had done every single morning since he’d come to live with us, and we had the following exchange:
“He’s at work, bud. Go back to bed.”
“In your room, sleeping. Go back to bed, it’s too early to be up.”
“Sleeping in her room. Go back to bed.”
“Bud… Climb in bed with me. We need to go back to sleep.”
“When Daddy’s coming home?”
“When he’s done with work.”
“Where’s Middle? Where’s Middle? Hey, I ask you where’s Middle?”
And so on.
It was nothing new. And my groggy morning brain ignored the “oddness” of this repetitive behavior for months. However, one morning I happened to be “with it” enough to realize he’d been asking me the same questions in the same order every day. For months.
Surely he knows the answers to these questions by now, I thought.
My flag started climbing up the flag pole. This is definitely a sign of… something, I thought. OCD? RAD? ADHD? Or… MAYBE it’s something totally normal and I’m being weird.
So, the next morning, when he came in, I changed it up a little.
“Where do you think he is?”
“Work. Where’s Middle?”
“Where is she?”
“In her bed in our room. Where’s Oldest?”
“Where is she?”
“In her bed in her room.”
“Yes. So… Why are you asking me these questions you already know the answer to?”
“I don’t know.”
Even though it was only 4:45 in the morning, I was up now. And I started paying attention to his questions and conversation throughout the day and found he was constantly asking questions he already knew the answer to. Such as when we took the girls to school and drove past some old tornado debris. Every day, he’d ask, “What happened?”
I decided not to answer him and instead I asked, “Gee, what do you think happened?” He then rattled off, almost word-for-word, the explanation his dad had given him months before. “Oh, a tornado came and knocked down some trees and houses and they are still cleaning it up.”
Over the course of the day, I realized that Little filled silent moments with ridiculous questions he already knew the answer to… He often asked me what day it was four times during the 10-minute car ride from the girls’ school, even after I’d answered that question three times before we left the house and at least once when the girls had been in the car.
This was something I’d never encountered before… Nothing at all like a typical “Why?” phase all kids go through. He wasn’t asking for information. He was doing something else entirely, but I had no idea what he was doing.
And then we found out about RAD, and learned about “nonsense questions/nonsense chatter.” Theories behind this behavior vary a bit, but the reason this happens with Little (and, to a lesser extent, Middle) seems to be a combination of coping with anxiety (“I’m just checking to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and that everything is fine and normal today and nothing is going to throw me off!” or, “If I keep talking and talking then I don’t have to think or feel my feelings!”) and control (“If you are distracted with these questions you won’t be angry with me because I keep waking you up before 5:00 in the morning!”).
We’ve found ways to deal with this seriously annoying thing that Little does on a daily basis (see the video below for some awesome tips from Christine Moers). But it still happens. A lot. Every day.
Rather than dwell on how annoying it is, because it is, I’m going to share with you my most “favorite” nonsense questions, all courtesy of Little (and by “favorite” I mean the most ridiculous questions I’ve heard come out of his mouth when he’s having a “rough” day”). I hope that if you read through them the examples illustrate just how this behavior plays out and how it differs from the normal questions kids ask as they develop their little brains.
1) “Why Max (our cat) is black and white? Why Max is white and black? Why cats are black? Why cats are white? Why cats eat trees? Why trees eat cats? Why cats cats cats cats?
The last question is word for word, and I remember because it got me to stop making lunch, get down on his eye level, and ask him if he was okay… Then he started throwing a huge tantrum. Now, the question in retrospect is actually pretty damn funny… I mean, don’t we all wonder from time to time, “Why cats cats cats cats?” At the time, however, I remember my stomach dropping and getting that familiar, “Oh no, it’s about to go down,” feeling I get when I sense a meltdown coming on.
2) “Umm… Middle… Why did, does, do, did, does, do, did, did, does, do, dis…… Ummm… Middle, Why doesdodiddodoesdiddoesdo…”
At which point I mentioned he was chattering and asked him to stop.
3) “Why you Oldest’s mom?”
“Because I carried her in my tummy and that makes me her mommy. And I take care of you and am married to your dad and that makes me your mom, too. But you weren’t in my tummy so I’m your step-mom, but it’s really almost the same thing as a mom.”
“Why Oldest is your mom?”
“Why am I her mom?”
“No… Why she’s your mom?”
“She’s not my mom. She is my daughter.”
“But why her is your mom?”
“I’m her mom, she is not my mom.”
“Yeah, but why she’s your mom?”
And so on for about a minute until I realized we were in a nonsense chatter loop.
4) Chuck E. Cheese commercials used to trigger a nonsense chatter exchange between Little and Middle. Here’s an example… It’s not word-for-word, but the general essence of the conversation is the same and I only wish I was joking!
Little would start, “CHUCK E. CHEESE! MIDDLE! YOU BEEN THERE FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY!”
“Yeah! Long, long time ago when I was a baby!”
“Yeah! And I was there!”
“Yeah! Long, long time ago when I was a baby. I was three and you were two.”
“And now I’m four and you’re three.”
“And then you’ll be five and six and eight and nine!”
“Yeah, and we can go to Chuck E. Cheese for my birthday!”
“Yes! When you are a baby?”
“When I’m a baby we will go to Chuck E. Cheese and I’ll be three and you’ll be a baby…”
And so on and so forth. Every time the commercial came on. Every. Single. Time. Until I snapped one morning and joined in their chatter just as enthusiastically as they were doing (because I knew exactly what they were going to say after the bazillionth time I’d heard it!).
5) “When the polices what are with the pack… That’s not cool.”
This still happens a couple times a day, but it used to go on all the time. In fact, it used to be that when Little spoke, he was chattering or asking nonsense questions most of the time. And we know it’s different than the usual chatter of children because as soon as Husband and I started calling him out on this behavior, he started throwing big, scary, angry, violent fits. Other upsetting “RAD behaviors” cropped up at this time, too, because we were taking away one of his mechanisms of control and coping.
This video floored me, because she was the first person I ever heard speak of the things I was dealing with. She gives an example of a nonsense question one of her kiddos asked that is ridiculous, and I remember getting a little shiver, looking at Husband, and saying, “SEE! SHE KNOWS! WE’RE NOT CRAZY, THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING!”
She is a lifesaver, this woman. I modified her “prescribe the questions” suggestion and made it one of the most effective tools we use to combat nonsense chatter. Watch the video and I’m sure you will find something you can implement in your household to cut down on the “blah blah blahs.”