Help! My three-year-old has stopped talking – and is now a cat

Posted in Learning and Development.
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Me: “Sam, would you like a banana?”

Sam (on all fours and wagging his bottom in air) “Meow.”

Me: So is that a yes? Do you want a banana? Narna (breaks one off the bunch and holds it up)?

Sam: (cheekily smiles) “Meow.”

Me: “Use your words. Why aren’t you talking? Argh! This is so frustrating!” 

Sam: “Meow.”

Every once in a while my little guy, who just turned three, morphs into a kitty cat. And he can spend the entire day like this. While ordinarily, he is a chatterbox, there are some days he chooses to go mute on me. It’s cute but also kinda annoying. Here’s why I think he just needs a day off from talking and why I am not rushing him to the paediatrician.

1) He is swaying between baby and boyhood

Right now my little Sam is toilet training. He tells me he’s a “big boy” when he wears undies and uses the potty. Then when I slap a nappy on him before going out, he declares, “I’m a baby!” – he knows he is sitting on the fence between the two.

Likewise, depending on his mood, he either makes a beeline for the baby swing at the park or chooses to lie across the “big boy one”.

He will shift between not wanting to walk and whingeing until his dad or I pick him up and carry him and refusing to hold our hand when crossing the road.

He’s in a transitional state. Wanting to grow up, but also not feeling quite ready for the next step. And so, some days he also doesn’t want to use his words. Some days I think he even wants to pretend he doesn’t know how to say them. On these days, he’s my baby again. Or a kitten, more to the point, communicating with me through gestures and cat-sounds.

Soon enough he reverts back to using his growing vocabulary, so I’m not alarmed by his temporary speech regression.

Toddler dressing up as a cat with toy lion


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2) He just needs a little rest

Sam will often morph into a cat on the day when his brother goes to kindy and he doesn’t. This is a Friday and we’ve dubbed Fridays, ‘mummy and Samby’ day.

On Fridays he doesn’t have to compete for my attention and his brother isn’t dragging him off to play trucks or chasing him around the yard. He has me all to himself. He wants me to sing him all the songs, cuddle him and do everything with him, from watering the plants to squishing play dough.

When we spend this quality time together, he also knows he doesn’t need to use all the words for me to read him. I know what he wants and feels. And I’m starting to realise that he really enjoys our mutual understanding. He loves it, and so do I. He also probably wants a rest from all the noise.

So I let him. 

3) He is enjoying his imagination

When the cat appears, I’ve learnt to encourage it. Sam isn’t regressing, so much as he is enjoying and exploring the power of his imagination. I give him a bowl of milk on the back deck to ‘drink’ from and I stroke his ‘fur’ when he cuddles up to me on the couch. I let him speak to me in meows and I even call him “kitty”.

Pretty soon I know the cat is going to disappear, but until then, I am going to enjoy having him around. He has the rest of his life to be a grown up. If the cat is helping him to cross the bridge from baby to boyhood, then I’m happy about that.  

Disclaimer: If you are at all worried about your child’s speech and language development, do chat with your GP. There may be other issues at play and early intervention with any developmental delay is key.

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