Dear Helen, how to tell if my baby is trying to attract our attention?

“Dear Harper Family, my son is 4 years old, and he is still not pronouncing words very well. Lately he has been inverting words even more than before. I wonder if the underlying reason is jealousy as we have another baby in the family – my sister-in-law’s baby. I am thinking this may be his way of trying to attract our attention?”

Dear Mom,

Any change in the behavior of a child requires inquiring for an underlying reason.

Sometimes, it may be helpful to observe the circumstances that change the child’s behavior, or what precedes it (what was said to whom and in what way, who else was present, etc.).

To determine whether this is indeed a case of jealousy, pay attention to whether the change in speech occurs only in situations when the other baby is present or when others are talking about the other baby.

What is the reaction of family members in the presence of the baby, (Is he neglected? Does he feel neglected?) and what are the reactions of the environment to his behavior in these situations.

If you find that this behavior is site specific (occurring only under these circumstances), it is probably a case of regressive behavior, which occurs as a reaction to the loss of the position that the child previously had, and the loss of attention it had received from adults.

These reactions, however, are quite common and normal for children of this age (and even older children).

What is important is to give him enough time to adapt to the new situation in which he must share the attention of the adults with a baby, and to keep letting him know how important he is to everyone and that his place in the family is not threatened.

Regressive behavior usually lasts only some time and withdraws when a child retrieves a sense of security and stability of its status.

However, it is important that this behavior is not encouraged by giving the child special attention in these situations, but rather you should indicate that his position is safe (you love him, he is important, etc.) in other circumstances (when he behaves as usual).

It is also very important that you never criticize him for regressive behavior, but emphasize the benefits of
being an older cousin (e.g., he is a big boy, and he can do many things that little babies can’t).

If, however, you find that it is not a site-specific behavior, it would certainly be useful (and necessary) to contact a speech specialist in order to determine the most effective ways of overcoming difficulties in speech.

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