Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Chatty stepson: My stepson is typically a very sweet, loving, engaging kid. He’s funny, smart, and well-spoken. My problem is he annoys me (just saying that makes me feel awful). I’ve determined that this is a personality difference—he is a total extrovert and doesn’t understand the concept of quiet or how to entertain himself. Even if he’s watching TV, he’s talking at it. Loudly. When we’re home, he more or less follows me around talking. Sometimes he’ll just recount entire movie plots as best as he can, even if I try to gently remind him that I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’m an introvert, and while I enjoy spending time with him and others, I need quiet and a break sometimes. I’ve found myself making outside plans during his weekends with us, because I’m usually so fried by the end of the week that I need a break from his constant chatter. I’m pretty sure, based on his behavior at home and at school, that he has undiagnosed ADHD. (His older brother has diagnosed ADHD.)
Please help! I love this child very much and hate to give the impression that he’s irritating or annoying me, but I can’t handle the constant talking, questions, and noise 24/7! Dad has learned to tune it out when he needs to, which just means my stepson talks to me more.
A: There’s nothing wrong with explaining to your stepson the concept of quiet and the importance of learning to entertain himself! It may be convenient for Dad to periodically “tune it out,” but that’s not helping his son cultivate important life skills, like how to pick up social cues and determine when a constant stream of chatter may not be necessary. You shouldn’t start snapping at him when he rambles for too long, or make him self-conscious about his natural exuberance, but it is absolutely appropriate to tell a child, “Hey, sometimes I need a few minutes of quiet to relax and get my thoughts in order, and I’m not always going to be able to answer your questions or listen to you explain this movie to me. I’ll let you know when I need to take a break, and I’ll also let you know when I’m available to talk again. Sound good?” That’s not an overreach as a part-time stepparent, either. It’s a kind and helpful thing to say, and it will hopefully help you feel more patient with him.