It’s not uncommon for kids to revert back to baby talk long after they’ve outgrown it. Baby talk can come from a variety of reasons. Your preschooler may want attention, think it’s funny or may revert back to it when he’s nervous or scared.
Though listening to it can be incredibly annoying at times, remember this phase too shall pass, especially with a little encouragement on your end.
“It comes down to reinforcement,” says Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Hudson. “When kids revert back to baby talk, usually it’s because they are trying to get some form of reinforcement, whether it’s positive or negative attention.”
The best way to overcome this phase is to ensure you’re not reinforcing the behavior either way — positively or negatively.
So, be sure you don’t laugh or play along when your child uses a baby voice. On the other hand, don’t punish your child for using it. Instead, you could simply respond with, “You’re a big boy now, and it’s easier for me to understand what you need when you talk normally.”
Adams offers three ways to nip baby talk in the bud once and for all.
1. Ignore it
“If asking your child to talk normally doesn’t get you anywhere, treat it like you would a temper tantrum and ignore it,” Adams says. “If your child isn’t getting the attention he wants, he’ll eventually stop using baby talk.”
When your child talks in a baby voice, don’t respond to him or simply leave the room. When you make an issue of the baby talk, you’re feeding into it and you run the risk of prolonging the behavior.
2. Reinforce positive talk
Reinforce big-boy talk by praising him when he talks normally. Tell your child how much you enjoy hearing him talk in such a grown-up way.
In this way, the reinforcement your child is looking for comes when he’s talking like a big boy. This can encourage him to keep up this positive behavior because he’ll realize it’s the best way to get your attention.
3. Find the underlying cause
Try to identify the root cause for your child’s regression. Does he have a new baby sister or brother? Has his schedule or routine changed recently? Is he starting school at a new building?
If there’s a new baby in the house, schedule more one-on-one time with your child to give him your undivided attention, even if it’s just a few minutes before bedtime. If he’s attending a new school or building, try to schedule a tour beforehand. Or, set up a time for him to meet his new teacher and visit his classroom.
“The best way to get rid of baby talk once and for all is to figure out why your preschooler is using it in the first place,” Adams says. “If you can identify a functional reason for it, you can work on correcting the core problem. The baby talk most likely will resolve all on its own.”