ways to respond when a child uses baby talk

FOR his age, your five-year-old has quite mature language capabilities but recently he has started reverting to baby-talk — and speaking in the slightly higher pitch of a toddler.

Parents should seek professional help if the baby-talk is combined with other regressive behaviours, such as bed-wetting or signs of anxiety and distress, warns Dr Carol-Anne Murphy, lecturer in speech and language therapy at UL.

“Sometimes, traumatic events or mental health issues can trigger a child to regress.”

Otherwise, she says, reverting to baby-talk isn’t generally a cause for concern once you’ve ruled out speech and language delays and your child is developing along normal lines.

Children can go back to using baby-talk because of some perceived crisis or significant change in their lives, like the birth of a sibling.

Once a child has a certain level of communicative ability, there’s an expectation on them to use that form of speech. “It may be the child feels ‘I’m not ready to step up to this demand now’. With children, some areas of development can be slightly in advance of others, so it might be ‘I’m having a bad day — I’m not up to the task of dressing myself/ speaking clearly’.”

Murphy says children who revert to earlier patterns might speak in shorter sentences or use word patterns or speech/ sound substitutions they’d grown out of – like ‘nana’ for banana or ‘bobo’ for bottle. It’s best, she says, not to give it overt attention, nor to punish or reprimand.

“If you give it attention, whether negative or positive, you’re setting up the scenario for it to be repeated.”

Instead, focus on and respond to the child’s mature communication.

“Convey an expectation that your child can talk at a more mature level by acting as if they are. Model the more mature language of which you know the child is capable.”

If the issue has arisen because of change in the child’s life — birth of a new baby or his one-year-old sibling has started to toddle and communicate — give lots of hugs, reassurance.