“Pwease, mummy! more ice cweam, pweeeeeaase?!” At three, my daughter’s baby talk was adorable. I couldn’t get enough of it. But now that she’s seven, I just find it irritating.
“When you can talk in a normal voice, you can have more ice cream,” I responded. It was all I could muster up. I was so distracted by the baby talk that I ended up giving in to what she wanted – score a point for her.
To be fair, she talks in an age-appropriate voice most of the time. But once in a while, if she really wants something, out comes the baby voice. And it drives me crazy. Which, I’ve learned, is exactly why she does it.
Parenting educator Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress, says that school-aged kids use baby talk as a way of getting their parents to notice them. “If your child isn’t getting enough positive attention, she may try something else,” she says. The thing is, kids don’t care if they’re annoying you, as long as they are having an effect on you. “Kids that age try out new behaviours just to see where it goes.”
Angella Dykstra, a mom of three in Summerland, BC, says that her eight-year-old daughter, Emily, uses a baby voice – and certain body language – when she wants something that she knows her parents might say no to. “She will bat her eyelashes, put her chin down and look up at us. It can even turn into a tantrum.”
Like most parents, Dykstra calls her daughter out on the cutesy play-acting, and tells her, “Use your big-girl voice and then we will listen.”
Ignoring the behaviour at the time, and then talking about it later when you no longer feel irritated, is also a good strategy, says Arnall. “It sticks better when everyone is calm,” she says. “Explain that it bugs you and that it’s inappropriate. It’s even OK to say that it reflects badly on her and that people might think differently about her if they hear her use baby talk,” she says.
Emily most often regresses when she’s tired, says Dykstra. “It’s like she’s saying, ‘When I was a baby everyone took care of me. And I want that again.’ So I try to show her, in other ways, that I will always take care of her.”
While this isn’t the case with the Dykstra family, sometimes kids will revert to baby talk if there is a younger sibling who is rewarded for just learning to talk, says Jeanette Podolsky, clinical director of the Speech Therapy Centres of Canada, which has four locations in the GTA. She says that if older kids are using baby talk on a temporary basis, it could be a behaviour issue. To rule out a true speech or language delay, a speech pathologist will interview the parents and conduct a speech therapy assessment with the child.
Dykstra thinks that her daughter uses baby talk because her husband is likely to give in to it. This is why, says Arnall, it’s imperative that both parents are on the same page, and they have to be consistent for at least two to three weeks if they want the habit to disappear.
Although she doesn’t know why this is, Arnall has observed that girls are generally more likely to adopt baby talk than boys, and that friend groups often use it to talk to each other. She reassures parents that for most kids, this phase is usually a short-lived, passing fad. “It could be worse,” she adds. “They could be swearing.”
Good point. Perhaps I will be grateful for the “pweases” and “wub yous” from now on.
Expert tip: If you suspect your elder child is using baby talk in order to draw attention away from a cute younger sibling, make sure that the older sibling is getting a lot of attention for all of her new skills and abilities, too.