Colleen Safford’s 3-year-old daughter, Orla, had always yearned to be grown up and in control. “She is far more independent than her 5-year-old brother,” says Safford, of Chatham, New York. So it came as a bit of a shock when Orla started talking like a baby last December after her new brother was born. She even wanted to pretend-breastfeed. A behavior backslide is actually quite common among preschoolers, particularly when there is a change in routine or a stress such as a new sibling, explains Betsy Brown Braun, a child-development and behavior specialist and the author of Just Tell Me What to Say. It can feel frustrating when you’ve worked hard to help your kid mature. Fortunately, as long as she isn’t regressing in potty training or behaving destructively, acting babyish isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. The trick is to allow your child to explore her need to pretend to be a baby while helping her move through this phase.
Uncover the Urge
As was the case with Orla, baby behavior classically shows up when there is a new sibling on the scene, and it’s a call for attention. “The child sees her new brother or sister getting attention for being incapable and cute, and she thinks, ‘I’ll try that too,’ ” says Alyson Schafer, psychotherapist and author of Ain’t Misbehavin’. “Kids try on behaviors and continue them if they get them what they want.”