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Why Is My Mom Acting Like a Kid?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From a teen in the U.S.: My mom has no easy childhood by no means but for some reason she’s been acting strange lately. It’s almost as if she’s trying to be a kid again as weird as that sounds. I’m just really worried about her everyday something new is wrong and I get that people age. She’s 38 and this problem started about a year ago.

An example is like she starts squealing like a little kid over the smallest thing like seeing a dog. She also tries dressing like a younger girl. She almost tries to be like me. She’s also has been getting more angry recently. It’s like she can’t do anything for herself anything she’s doing I have to do like getting a remote that’s right beside her and constantly getting her food.

Another odd thing is with our dog. I understand people love their dog but for some reason now she’s treating it as if it really is a baby. The only reason I find this weird is because sometimes when I come home she’s just whispering to her and jokes around with her but she’s not trying to be funny. We also went on a 5 day vacation and took the dog to my grandmas house and my mom was crying like a little kid would, she doesn’t even do this when i leave for a couple weeks. I don’t know if some of this is normal but it’s just the fact everything is changing about her and we’re arguing a lot more like little kids and I’m just really worried.

Everyone has noticed my dad, friends, and family saying she acts weird. Any advice would be helpful. Thank you!

When someone’s personality and behavior change markedly for no apparent reason, the first thing to do is to schedule a visit with her doctor. At 38, she is probably too young for a diagnosis of the onset of dementia — even though some of the behaviors you describe could indicate that. But there are a number of other medical reasons that can result in this kind of change.

Your dad should be taking the lead in this, not you. She is unlikely to listen to you since, in her eyes, you are just a kid. But your dad can probably persuade her that something isn’t right and that she should get checked out.

If all is well physically, your dad should talk to her about seeing a mental health counselor for an evaluation. The behavior with the dog and her efforts to be more like you are concerning. Sometimes this kind of behavior is a “regression”, a defense mechanism where the person retreats to a time when they felt safer. Often it is triggered by some fear or anxiety or stress that they feel is too hard to handle. The person then adopts behaviors that are typical of a person in an earlier stage of development. The treatment for that is psychotherapy to deal with whatever stressor is at the root of your mom’s distress.

I hope your dad and other adults in the family can get your mother to agree to an evaluation. It is unlikely that she will get back to “herself” on her own. She needs the support of professionals. You, your dad, and other people who love her need to better understand how to help her.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie

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