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Feed the Need

March 23, 20235 min read

"When kids exhibit the same regression type behaviors for weeks at a time, they usually have a need. Meet those needs and let them experiment as long as there is also structure and boundaries."

I let my 2 ½ year old act like an infant for 15 minutes a day. Sound weird? I thought it was weird, too. But at a certain point, I decided to embrace the regression and feed her needs. Then, move forward. 

My daughter was 2 ½ in December of 2017 when we had a 4-month-old. For a few months, I thought things were cake! I was already used to interrupted sleep, they were both napping, and the house hadn’t fallen down… yet. Until that point, our son was kind of like an accessory (and I mean that in the most loving way possible). He was great in a carrier, had no discernible schedule, slept on me and nursed while out on the go.

At four months old, he needed more of a schedule. He preferred to nap in his crib, was awake more hours in the day, and needed to move around much more. This is when the regression for my daughter started. It shouldn’t have been too surprising in hindsight.

He cried to get his needs met, and it worked! So...

  • She stopped using her words, talked using a baby voice, and cried/whined much more.

He started to suck on his hands to soothe himself, which helped him put himself to sleep, and we cheered him on! So...

  • She started to put her hands in her mouth.

He got carried around and held when tired of tummy time and needed to nurse. So...

  • She demanded "up!". All the time.

After several weeks of... “Act like a big girl"... "I can’t understand your words." ... "Go wash your hands… if you want to put something in your mouth, you can chew on your special lovie.”... It wasn't working. We knew we had to change our tactics.

 When kids exhibit the same regression type behaviors for weeks at a time, they usually have a need. Meet those needs and let them experiment as long as there is also structure and boundaries.

 Since my daughter was regressing by acting like a baby, I decided to let her do that, and meet her need. I told her that she was going to get “special pretend time” every night after brother went to bed. I decided to call it that instead of “baby time” because I wanted it to evolve , not get stuck in a specific game. 

The Rules:

  • She gets 15 minutes every evening to pretend anything. When the timer beeps, she has to be herself again.

  • If she does any of the other undesirable behaviors:

    • whining

    • hands in her mouth

    • talking like a baby, etc

  • When it is not special pretend time, we tell her, “Save that for special pretend time!”

  • Stick to the above rules for 2 weeks, and log each day to see progress.


The plan only lasted 1 week before the behaviors went away!

Day 1

We went over the rules with her and told her what “special pretend time” was. She asked to be a baby for 15 minutes, which was not a surprise.

We gathered the supplies she wanted. A swaddle blanket, baby bottle, and pacifier. Then, we set the timer for 15 minutes. We told her that when the timer beeped, it was her job to say, “Maggie is back!”

She wanted to be swaddled in a blanket and held. I swaddled her and had the bottle and pacifier ready. But, she didn’t ask for them. Instead, she stared at my face, smiling and saying, “mama” for 15 minutes. No joke- the entire 15 minutes! She needed this. It’s not like she was on the back burner- we were giving her lots of cuddles, one on one time, book time, etc.

There was something valuable in giving her permission to be a baby with the added structure. When day 1 went like this, I knew we were on the right track.

Day 2

She got into pretending today. She asked for the swaddle blanket and wanted the bottle and the pacifier. This time, she talked more, acting more like herself than a baby. When the timer went off, she requested to be the Mommy tomorrow, and have me be the baby. During the day, we told her to save her whining and hand sucking for special pretend time. And it worked!

Day 3 

She pretended to be a baby for a few minutes, and then asked that she be the Mommy and have me be the baby. Towards the end, she asked that dad play and he was the baby as well. During the day, there was less whining and talking like a baby. She also stopped putting her hands in her mouth.

Day 4

She asked that mom and dad were baby from the beginning. Maggie was the baby for a few minutes. Almost no talking like a baby during the day. When I called her a baby (as in a term of endearment, “baby girl”) during the day, she responded, “I’m not a baby”.

 Day 5

She switched back and forth with mom and dad being the baby with her. She changed the game and pretended to be a rabbit for a bit, and asked to be a pony tomorrow.

Day 6

There was lots of pretending and cuddling, but less acting like a baby. At the end of the time, I talked to her about trading in special pretend time for something else. She seemed excited about it.

Day 7

I gave her a piece of paper with the words “special pretend time” on it to hold on to for the day. Before special pretend time, I offered the option to trade. I had made a little Dr. kit so she could pretend with that whenever she wanted. No special pretend time needed. She chose to trade it in, and didn’t ask to act like a baby anymore.

The original “baby” behavior during the day never resurfaced. (She's now 7!)

Every child, every regression, and every plan is different.

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Meghan Englert

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