5 Ways to Respond When a Child Uses Baby Talk

two young girls playing on floor
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It’s common for kids to revert to baby talk at one time or another. Preschoolers often regress to using a baby voice as part of their normal development. And sometimes, older grade school kids may sound like babies again for a period of time.

Kids may regress with other behaviors too. A backslide during potty training, biting their nails again after they have stopped, or resorting to aggression long after they learned to use words are just a few other phases your child might go through.

Respond to a Child Who Talks Like a Baby

Although listening to baby talk can be annoying, it's likely to just be a phase. With a few simple interventions, you can curb the bad habit before it gets out of control. Usually, it resolves relatively quickly with appropriate intervention.

Rule Out Underlying Problems

Baby talk shouldn't be a huge cause for concern. Sometimes it stems from a stressful situation, such as having a new baby in the home. Other times, children revert to baby talk because they miss being a young child and they want to be coddled again. If you have a toddler who is getting lots of attention for using their words, your older child might be trying to get attention with baby talk. 

There are times, however, when baby talk might signal a more serious problem, such as a speech delay or another developmental problem. See your pediatrician to ensure that your child is on track.

If your child’s baby talk is combined with other regressive behaviors, such as bedwetting, seek professional help. Sometimes, traumatic events or mental health issues can trigger a child to regress.

Downplay It

Making a big deal out of baby talk might encourage it to continue. Don’t bring up the subject when your child’s not using baby talk, and make sure your child doesn't overhear you complain about her baby voice to anyone else.

Instead, remain calm. Intervene in a direct and straightforward manner. Even though it can be irritating, don’t let your child know the baby talk drives you crazy. Otherwise, they may continue doing it just to get more attention.

Ignore It

When your preschooler asks you a question in a baby voice, you might pretend you can't hear them. As soon as they use their normal voice, pay attention and respond.

Sometimes baby talk becomes a habit and kids aren’t even aware when they’re doing it. A reminder such as, “Use your big kid voice,” can be helpful. You can also say, “I don’t understand baby talk. Use your big kid voice to tell me what you want.”

If your grade-schooler is using baby talk, you might point out the emotions that could be behind the choice. Say something like, "I notice you are using a baby voice to tell me what happened in school today. I wonder if you are feeling anxious about it and it's hard to talk about?" With support, your child can learn to verbalize how they're feeling, rather than showing you by using baby talk. 

Praise Good Behavior

One of the best behavior modification techniques is to provide positive attention for good behavior. Catch your child using a normal voice and provide praise. Say something such as, “I like it when you use your big kid voice to ask me for something.”

Attention and praise provides kids with positive reinforcement for using their normal voices. This strategy can encourage them to keep it up when they realize that it is the best way to get your attention.

Teach Your Child New Skills

Baby talk can signal that your child needs help with learning new skills. For example, if your child is using baby talk in an attempt to socialize with other children, they may benefit from learning new social skills. 

Sometimes children use baby talk to try to convince parents they can’t complete a difficult task. For example, a 6-year-old might stand next to the buffet at a family gathering and say, “Me want food,” because they are nervous about trying to serve themselves.

In this case, teach your child a better way to handle the situation. Say, "What would be a way a big kid might ask for help?" Then, walk through strategies to get their needs met in a more appropriate manner.

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Article Sources
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  1. O'Hare A, Bremner L. Management of developmental speech and language disorders: Part 1. Arch Dis Child. 2016;101(3):272-7. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2014-307394

Additional Reading
  • McQuiston S, Kloczko N. Speech and language development: Monitoring process and problemsPediatr Rev. 2011;32(6):230-239. doi:10.1542/pir.32-6-230

  • Webster-Stratton C. The Incredible Years: Parents, Teachers, and Children's Training Series - Program Content, Methods, Research and Dissemination 1980-2011. Incredible Years, 2011.