When Your Toddler Reverts to Baby Talk

Expert advice on what to do if your perfectly eloquent child suddenly decides to revert to baby talk.

Duotone of Blonde Toddler Boy

Q. I have a 2-1/2-year-old son and a brand-new baby girl. Ever since we brought her home, my son, who had been speaking in full sentences, has reverted to baby talk. I'm really worried. What can I do?

Be reassured to know that most children find having a new baby in the family stressful and need some time to adjust. They may express their feelings in many different ways -- acting out aggressively, withdrawing, clinging, or rejecting Mom or Dad. It's also not unusual for kids to regress in behaviors they've already mastered, such as potty training, or, as you describe, by reverting to baby talk.

Like many firstborns, your son may be jealous of the care and attention his sister receives. His acting like a baby again is a way to get the same kind of attention as his new sibling. But there's plenty you can do to let your son know that he is still loved and doesn't need to act like a baby to be noticed.

    • Validate his feelings. Tell him that you understand how hard it can be to have a new baby at home and that it's okay sometimes to feel angry or sad. Let your son know that he's being heard and understood.
    • Make special time for him. As tough as it is to find the time and energy with a newborn in the house, you and your husband should carve out special one-on-one moments with your son. Take him on a grocery run, for a short walk, or find some extra time for cuddling in the middle of the day. Let him know how special he is, and shower him with as much affection as you can.
    • Include him when you're caring for the baby. Suggest ways that he can help, such as picking out the diaper or baby's clothes, or let him turn the pages of a book as you read to both of them. Give him choices for what he can do while you feed or diaper your infant, such as coloring by your side.
    • Show your son how important it is to be a big brother. For example, say out loud, "Sarah gives you the biggest smiles! You really know how to make her happy," or "What a pretty dress you picked out for Sarah. It's just the right thing to wear today." The more important your son feels, the less he'll see the baby as a rival.
    • Keep interacting with him as if he were speaking in full sentences. Respond to his facial expressions and gestures. This will let him know that you accept him and won't force him to talk or punish him for making baby sounds. That approach would only make him more likely to hold onto the behavior -- he'd see the power it wields.

      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, September 2004.

      All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.