Maw-mee, pweese can I hab a wittle bite ob dat coook-y?

Baby Talk If you read that sentence with ease, you are undoubtedly the parent of a child who slips into baby-talk. And even if you struggled to make out the words, chances are good you have a child who engages in this annoying habit (because the habit is incredibly common). Especially at times of transition (for example, the start of a new school year), right when we want them to be their biggest and best selves, many children do the opposite, regressing into a puddle of need. What to do?

  1. Recognize this is a temporary state.

    If your child hauls out her baby voice at a time of transition – new school year, new house, new day care – prompt with a simple, "Use your regular voice" while providing additional structure and support. Telling your child to use her "big girl" voice is missing the point; she isn't feeling like a big girl, she's feeling like a very little girl, overwhelmed by the challenges she is facing. "Use your regular voice" is a more neutral way of reminding her to get back on track.
  2. Baby Talk Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Everything feels harder when you are tired.
  3. Allow the baby voice – yes, allow it – in limited ways.

    Especially for children who talk like a baby several times a day for more than a week, the voice has become more than a sign of stress. It has become a habit. Tell your child you understand it's fun to play baby so you are going to play it with her twice a day (hang in there, you'll see where this is going). Give her two index cards to label and decorate; these are her baby-talk cards. Explain that up to two times a day, she can give you a baby-talk card and pretend to be a baby.If she doesn't feel like doing baby-talk, her unused cards will be converted to points, which she can save for something fun (commensurate with her age).

    The next time she slips into baby-talk, immediately – but calmly – say, "Did you want to use one of your cards?" If yes, she needs to go get a card, hand it to you, and then she can talk like a baby to her heart's content (well, for 5 minutes, which is the time allotted for each card). If she is using a card, don't chastise her for using the voice. In fact, you should play along, doing an exaggerated mommy voice (or daddy voice, if you are a dad). After 5 minutes say, "OK, baby time is over." (Note: your child is likely to get tired of the game long before the 5-minutes elapses. You can breathe a sigh of relief, as unused time cannot be carried over).

    If, when she initially started using her baby voice and you asked if she wanted to use a card, your child says "no," the expectation is that she immediately shift to her regular voice. Remind her if necessary (it won't be necessary for long). At the end of the day, ask your child how many cards she has left and have her transfer the number of points to a separate piece of paper.

    Baby Talk Decide (with your child) ahead of time what she will be earning, and how many points she'll need. Aim for having the first reward come with a week of decent effort – perhaps 10 points (assuming a total of 14 possible points per week). Aim for an activity based reward – a bike ride with you, a family game night, a play date. If you do spring for an item, keep it small. When your child earns her reward, start again, requiring more points to earn the next reward. Eventually shift to one baby-card per day, then several per week (versus per day) as your child loses interest in talking like a baby.
  4. Baby Talk If your child continues using his (yes, boys do this too) baby voice without having a card to hand over, or if he uses it beyond one prompt to shift to his regular voice, give one more reminder, "This is your second reminder, regular voice."

    If the voice continues at all beyond that, send him to his room for a brief time out. Stay calm but be firm (promising, "OK, OK, I'll stop" when he's continued after the second reminder does not save him from the time out). Giving two clear reminders followed by a time out should work to extinguish the part of this behavior designed to drive you crazy.