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 long after they’ve outgrown it at one time or another. In fact, 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.

It's common for kids to revert to other behaviors at one time or another. A backslide during potty training, biting his nails again after he's stopped, or resorting to aggression long after he learned to use his words are just a few other phases your child might go through.

Tips for Addressing a Child Who Goes Back to Talking 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.

At 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 in the home who is getting lots of attention for using his words, your older child might be trying to get attention. 

There are times, however, when baby talk might signal a more serious problem. Make sure to rule out speech delays or other developmental problems. Talk to your child’s pediatrician to ensure that your child is developmentally 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.

Don’t Make a Big Deal of 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 it drives you crazy. Otherwise, he 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 him. Then, as soon as he uses his normal voice, pay attention and respond.

Sometimes baby talk becomes a bad 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 let your child know, “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 respond by pointing out the emotions that could be behind her choice to revert to her baby voice. 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 she's 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 his 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, he may benefit from learning new social skills. 

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

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 him through strategies or what he might say to get his 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
  • Webster-Stratton C. The Incredible Years: Parents, Teachers, and Children's Training Series - Program Content, Methods, Research and Dissemination 1980-2011. Seattle, WA: Incredible Years; 2011.

  • Mcquiston S, Kloczko N. Speech and Language Development: Monitoring Process and ProblemsPediatrics in Review. 2011;32(6):230-239.