Q: A relative keeps talking “baby talk” to my toddler. I want her to stop. How do I tell her without being rude?
A: Research has shown that “baby talk” — the singsong, often simplified speech that adults use to talk to infants — is helpful for youngsters’ early language development. However, it’s believed to lose its usefulness as children get older.
Your relative could be using this type of speech because she underestimates your child’s language abilities or thinks of your child as younger than he or she is. Young children can be shy around distant relatives and might not be very talkative, which can lead to this misconception.
Start by giving your relative the benefit of the doubt that she doesn’t know that she’s doing anything wrong.
Acknowledge that using “baby talk” was necessary when your child was younger, but now that your child is at a different stage of language development, it’s helpful for your child to hear adultlike speech and to encounter new words.
Perhaps the relative has no idea what the proper language is. You can provide some guidance by having her read an age-appropriate book to the child.
Lauren Emberson, co-director at Princeton Baby Lab
A: Telling others how you wish for them to talk to your child can seem like being a helicopter parent, but explaining your rationale in a polite manner will make your goal clear.
Model how you want your child talked to. Some people comment that I talk to my toddler like an adult, which is true. I intentionally talk to her in complete sentences and don’t dumb down the conversation. Most adults will see this conversational tone and understand how your child communicates. Some may even feel silly when the child responds in a “big kid” voice.
If the relative does not get the hint, address the matter directly. Say, “We are working on her language development and find her catching on pretty well when we speak to her in our regular voice.” Saying this casually will allow the relative to receive your explanation.
Akilah Easter, etiquette expert