Q. My husband and I hear our 18-month-old talking to herself in bed after we've put her down. I don't think she's dreaming. Is this normal?
A. Yes. In fact, it's not only normal, but this self-talk at bedtime or naptime serves many important purposes. It's a way for your child to enjoy language and practice her emerging verbal skills. As she talks to herself, she's working on pronunciation, grammar, and understanding the meaning of words.
Self-talk is also a way for children to mull over and make sense of their feelings and experiences, much in the same way we adults reflect on our day before we fall asleep -- we just don't talk about it aloud. Thus, self-talk also has a significant self-soothing function. Talking to herself calms your child and helps her fall asleep on her own, a very important life skill. It means she feels safe and secure enough to separate from you and lull herself to sleep.
The only challenge that may arise is if your child seems sleepy in the morning because she's not getting enough rest. If that's the case, you can experiment with putting her down a little earlier than usual and seeing what happens.
Keep in mind that your daughter's strategies for falling asleep will probably change as she grows. There will likely come a time when she drops off without a sound, and you may find yourself missing those nighttime whispers.
Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers (zerotothree.org).
Originally published in American Baby magazine, January 2005.