Up until now, your toddler has been totally eager to be older than they are. This is the age of incessant exclamations of “I do it!” and striving for total preschool independence. That’s why it can be so shocking when your little one starts acting like an infant again. So if you’re asking yourself why your toddler is acting like a baby, there are probably a few reasons why. (Thankfully, the phase should be short-lived.)
You’ve worked hard to help your child soar through every stage of their life so far — and it’s been a series of small victories for both of you. After all, you and your kiddo probably were equally as excited to pack away the pull ups. So when they start regressing, well, it can feel like all of that effort has gone down the drain. But that’s when it’s important to understand that most toddlers go through a phase where start acting like a baby again. “Although it can be very frustrating, toddler regression is quite common and normal,” Dr. Alison Mitzner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, tells Romper. “Even though it might seem like there’s no end in sight, just know that it will soon pass.” But until then, here are some reasons for the regression, and how to handle it so you don’t lose your sanity.
Because There’s A New Sibling
By far, the birth of a new sibling can bring out some big emotions in your toddler. And that can cause your kiddo to start reverting back to being a baby themselves. “Toddlers learn a lot from observing, so when they see the level of attention being given to a new baby sibling, they may revert back to baby-like behavior or baby talk because they think that's what will get them some attention, too,” Dr. Amy Nasamran, PhD, a licensed child psychologist and founder of Atlas Psychology tells Romper. Be sure to give your toddler lots of hugs and help them understand how important their role as a big sibling is — and that you love them as much (if not more) than ever. “You can praise your toddler for being a helper and setting a good example for the baby,” says Dr. Nasamran. “Calling attention to leadership behavior can motivate your toddler to continue being a responsible, older kid.”
Because They Want Attention
If your toddler starts goo goo gah-ing for no reason, it might just be for the simple fact that being a baby garners a whole lot of attention. “Sometimes big kids act like babies because of the response it gets from their parents,” explains Dr. Nasamran. “For example, it can get positive attention from a parent (‘Awww, you're so cute!’) or even negative attention (‘You're not a baby, stop acting like a baby.’) — but either way, it gets a reaction and they get the attention they're looking for.” So do a check to see if your child has been getting the same amount of attention as before, and if they have, just give them some extra hugs and playtime together until this phase passes.
Because They’re Stressed Out
Adulting is difficult for anyone, but imagine being a little kid having to deal with big issues, too? It’s really no wonder, then, that your big kid suddenly starts having sleep issues or babbles like a baby. “A big change in a toddler’s life can cause them to regress,” Dr. Mitzner explains. “As a result, your child may have sleep disruptions, potty training regression, temper tantrums, or do baby talk.” Fortunately, there are ways to help them soothe the stress. For starters, you might want to try spending more time with them and talk through whatever may be bothering them.
Additionally, you should praise positive behavior, says Dr. Nasamran. “If your toddler is acting like a baby, it may sound counterintuitive, but it's important to catch and call attention to times your child is not behaving like a baby,” she says. “Kids do more of what they get attention for, so find times when your child is doing ‘big kid’ behavior and praise them frequently for it.” You can commend your kid when they start pooping on the potty again, or when they use their words instead of baby babble. By giving them positive attention and encouraging feedback, your child will like it, and learn to continue to do more big kid things.
Because They’re Adjusting To Something New
Life can throw some serious curveballs your way, and just as it can be hard for you to adapt to them, it can be even more challenging for your child. “Regression can occur when your child is adjusting to a life change or a new situation,” says Dr. Mitzner. “There could be many different reasons why a toddler can regress, such as a move, a new school, or even a divorce.” To help quell their concerns, you can always take the positive approach, Dr. Mitzner advises. “Continue to make them feel safe and loved, and be there for them and keep quality time.” Family routines can also help create consistency during the adjustment period, and being able to point out the positives of the situation (i.e. “Your new school is going to be so much fun!”) can help them know that everything will get better.
Because They Don’t Have The Words To Express Their Emotions
Even though your child might be chatty, it might be hard for them to express more complex emotions. "If baby feelings are re-emerging, your little one might be sending a message that they don't know the words for so they’re showing you instead,” Dr. Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., a child psychoanalyst tells Romper. Although it can be utterly frustrating, you should strive to come to your child with compassion, and not frustration. “Definitely don't scold, punish, or even try to stop her behavior,” says Dr. Hollman. “It's an opening conversation about some feelings they might having that they can only show, and not express. Be glad and proud they are communicating.” And eventually, you’ll get past this stage.
Even though it might be completely frustrating, just give your toddler some time (and tenderness) if they start to regress for a while. Sometimes we all need to take a step backwards before we can move forward again.
Dr. Alison Mitzner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician
Dr. Amy Nasamran, PhD, a licensed child psychologist and founder of Atlas Psychology
Dr. Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., a child psychoanalyst