The Teacher's Story

"I FIRSTY, WANN WA WA; warm juis," Aisha called out over the voices of my other kindergartners. It's been so surprising that this bright, verbally advanced 5-year-old has reverted to baby talk. That generally happens when I ask her to express an idea during group time. Yesterday, we were sharing the way we feel about watching leaves fall from the trees. Emma said, "I like it. It feels like leaf rain!" When I turned to Aisha, she said, "No yeaves, no yeaves; go bye bye." Several children giggled and chanted, "No yeaves; no yeaves," until I shook my head and held a quieting finger to my lips. It's odd, because minutes later, Aisha was exclaiming to a friend in the block corner, "Let's build the biggest tower ever!" She is really very articulate, except in the early mornings and at the times when I encourage everyone to participate in discussions, sing songs, or play rhyming games. I'm beginning to feel more concerned about her social standing in the class than I am about her language development. I'm just not sure how to help.

The Parent's Story

AISHA WAS AN EARLY TALKER. In fact, the pediatrician said her verbal ease was unusual for a child who is the youngest in the family. Of course, as a toddler, she didn't pronounce words perfectly, but I remember her speaking in sentences even on her first birthday. "Me eat cake" was pronounced loud and clear, again and again. And Aisha has always loved word games and listening to stories. Even as a little girl, we could get her giggling by singing a song she knew in an obviously wrong way-- substituting some silly words for the real ones. And she talks and talks and talks all the time. That's why I've been surprised and a bit worried about this sudden use of baby talk. It's not happening all the time, just before bed and early in the morning when we're getting ready for school. Then, when I meet her at the bus stop after school, she's her old self again-running and talking about what she wants to do next, what snack she wants, asking when Daddy's coming home, and lots of other questions that let me know how glad she is to be home. I have to keep my older children from making fun of the breakfast baby talk, though; and I certainly don't want her to be the subject of others' jokes in school if she is using baby talk there. I've kind of ignored it so far; but it's beginning to really concern me. Parent-teacher conferences are a few weeks away, but maybe I should make an appointment and ask the teacher what she thinks.

Dr. Brodkin's Assessment

In contrast to physical growth, social and emotional development typically have occasional backward blips. And under stressful circumstances, such as the start of kindergarten, it is not surprising that Aisha, and many others, show some temporary regressive behavior. It can be bedwetting or whining or tantrums. For Aisha, it's putting her advanced skill with language on hold, but only at the toughest times of the day; and very likely only until she becomes completely comfortable in her new classroom.

What the Teacher Can Do

The teacher is handling the situation quite appropriately, especially by squelching negative social consequences before they get started. Perhaps she could also keep Aisha near her during group time. She can offer other kinds of support throughout the day. She can ask her to be a special helper by allowing her to play the drums as background music for a singing activity. For the time being, she should call on Aisha for questions that require only a single word or a simple yes or no answer. At the start of the school day, she or an aide should give her extra individual time alone. Above all, making a colleague of her parent will go a long way toward helping Aisha feel more at home.

What the Parent Can Do

The parent's idea of confiding in the teacher is a good one. In fact, if a conference is not scheduled, she should feel free to request one. The parent should not be alarmed about Aisha's occasional use of baby talk. Instead, she should consider what might be going through her child's mind. Behind these little regressive blips, there is often a child's "theory" that maybe this growing-up business is not so great after all-so why not try to recapture the good old days of babyhood?

With lots of encouragement and praise, along with extra play time where the parent follows Aisha's lead, this phase is likely to wane. Happily, a young child's urge for mastery almost always triumphs over the temptation to be a baby again.