Q: My ten year old 5th grader is constantly talking like a baby. She spends most of her time at her birth moms house where she is babied incredibly bad. My husband (her father) and I have no contact with her mother as it causes more issues. We have been trying to get her to speak properly for her age for many years. She is now losing friends at school because they dont want to be around her and her baby act. We tell her that this is what we have been trying to get her to change for years.
A: When a child is displaying immature behaviors, here are some steps that a parent can take.
Determine whether the child has any delays in his development Sometimes, a child acts immature because he actually is functioning intellectually at a lower level than other children his age. A parent should closely observe the child’s abilities and thinking, as well as talk to his teachers and other adults who know him – including his pediatrician – to determine whether the child may have learning problems and other delays. If this is a possibility, the parent should write a letter to the school requesting a full special education evaluation, or seek an assessment from a qualified psychologist.
Try to figure out the purpose of the immature behavior, and teach alternative ways to accomplish his goals For example, if it is for attention, teach him how to get your attention in an appropriate way. If the child feels it is a way to get other kids to like him, work with him on more appropriate ways to make friends (for example, what to say, how to say it, and so on). Then, right before a situation is about to arise, the parent should remind the child of the skills to use, and have him practice them. Learning these skills is like learning anything else: the more he practices them, the better he should get.
Make sure “babytalk” doesn’t work, but “big kid” talk is rewarded. If, for example, a child asks for something in an inappropriate manner, remind him that you only listen when he uses his “big kid” voice. When he does talk appropriately, be sure to give him appropriate praise and attention. Also, keep a chart recording instances of “big kid” voice, and after he reaches a certain number of times of talking correctly, reward the behavior (for example, saying that he can only play video games after he has talked correctly a certain number of times, because video games are only for “big kids”).
Make sure to address any thoughts which may be behind the behavior If he is scared of growing up, explain all of the benefits of being older; if he feels you will not love him as much when he is no longer “little”, explain how you will always love him dearly; and so on.
Have empathy Being a kid is hard and confusing; keep this in mind when dealing with him and his troubles.
Address any issues in his world that can be causing problems. When there is arguing and tension and divorced parents are unable to deal with each other in at least a “businesslike manner”, for example, this can be very difficult on a child emotionally, and can lead to behavioral difficulties. Parents in such a situation need to put aside blame and their own hurt and work together for the welfare of the child to create an environment that is beneficial to him. Remember, you would lay down your life for your child; you may have to then also lay down your anger and your pride, and do what is best for him.