At a glance
My child is in third grade and suddenly wants to be babied. It's like he’s 3 again. Why is this happening?
Kids return to old behaviors for different reasons. A common one is stress. Kids often respond to stressful events by seeking attention.
Changes in a child’s environment can cause a lot of stress, for example. This might be a death in the family, a divorce, a move, or even the birth of a sibling.
Stress comes from situations that make kids feel scared, angry, sad, or insecure. And we don’t always know about these situations. Your child might be being bullied or being left out by other kids. Maybe something’s not going well at school.
Third grade can be a really stressful year for kids. The work starts to get harder, and kids are expected to be more independent. Basically, they’re not considered “little kids” anymore. And that pressure to be a “big kid” can lead to needing more attention.
Your child might not yet be able to talk about feelings or describe what’s going on. But by acting in a babyish way, your child is reaching out for your attention and help. Trying to understand what’s causing the behavior can help you work through this phase together.
Try to start a conversation about what’s going on—at home, in the community, and at school. Kids don’t always want to open up, so do it in a gentle, non-judgmental way.
If your child can put the concerns into words, say that you understand and are supportive. It’s important to let kids know that it’s OK to feel the way they do. Ask them what they want you to do to make them feel more comfortable.
You can also share a story (even a made-up one) about something that stressed you out and what you did to make yourself feel better. Knowing they’re not alone in having these feelings may make it easier for kids to open up.
It’s a good thing that your child is reaching out to you for comfort and help, even if it’s not by using words. All kids need a little babying sometimes. And lots of kids need help learning strategies for managing their emotions. See if you can carve out a few minutes a day for just the two of you to read, play a game, or snuggle quietly.
About the author
About the author
Rayma Griffin, MA, MEd has spent her 40-year career advocating for the rights of children with learning and thinking differences, both in the classroom and as an educator.