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why children repeat things they shouldn’t

It’s said that little tots are like sponges, soaking up everything around them and spurting it back out later. That includes their favourite theme song, of course, which they’ll sing again and again. It also means they sometimes do and say the darnedest things. Like the first time they wave bye-bye or join you in saying hi to “dada”. So darn cute, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Leave the tv on in the background for just a minute and they’ll somehow pick up a naughty word. And their timing for repeating it will always be embarrassingly perfect. They’ll behave all day, only to cuss during the couple of hours that Grandma pops over! It leaves me wondering why children repeat the things they do.

listen, speak and why children repeat


It all comes down to how babies learn. Whether it’s hand actions, noises or face movements, imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery. It’s a way for you and your little bundle to communicate and bond with each other. Mimicry really does wonders for their development, from birth through to childhood. How else will they learn to pull silly faces?

Baby pulling a funny face

As our tots grow, so does their understanding of language. Gone are the days of simply reproducing what they’ve absorbed. Instead they mix what they’ve learnt into something weird and wonderful. Ask them to tell you a story and watch how their imagination puts your cat in a spacesuit wading through puddles of jelly on Mars. It’s definitely fun but it also means you can’t be sure when anything they hear will pop out again! I speak from experience here…

Recently there was a sweetheart of a little boy, just 11 months old, toddling around the office. While playing crèche, I accidentally taught him to say “uh oh” when he dropped his muslin. Though that may be a perfectly a harmless (and utterly adorable) phrase, you see my point. Children are likely to repeat and can do so when you least expect it!

minor bleeps and potty mouths


The first time you’re prompted to wonder why children repeat things, hopefully the offending word or phrase isn’t all that rude. Don’t panic if it is though as it could be accidental. Perhaps they have the meaning confused, if in fact they know it at all. Or maybe they overheard it from an aunt or uncle and think it’s cool to mimic them. Kids have surprisingly big ears…

Young boy covering his ears

There’s also the matter of potty language which is endlessly humorous to young tots. Suddenly it’s funny to end every sentence with ‘my bum’ and call you a ‘silly willy’! Don’t stop them using those words completely though as there is a place for such talk, like the bathroom. When you’re potty training your little one, words like bum, poo and willy have a purpose. And that’s why context is important, to help them understand where and when to use particular words.

Another reason why children repeat bad language is the attention. Quicker than you’d expect, they learn which words will provoke a response. If you can, try not to laugh or show embarrassment at their potty-mouthed antics and hopefully the appeal will soon be lost. That way you can flush the potty talk without hindering your efforts in the bathroom.

how to stop your child repeating


So what can you do to stop your rascal from repeating the things they hear? The first step is to make sure the meaning of the word is understood and to explain the boundaries for its use. Everyone will have different rules inside the home, but friends’ houses and classrooms are another kettle of fish. That’s where finding replacement words is valuable so dust off that old dictionary. It’ll help them politely explain themselves to those who won’t take kindly to swearing!

Young girl hiding her face

Another important tactic is to lead by example. I’m sure we’ve all been rubbed up the wrong way by parents telling us to “do as I say, not as I do”! It might be hard when you stub your toe but try to use duck and sugar instead of, well, you know what I mean. And if you do slip up in their presence, just correct yourself and move on. By acknowledging your mistake briefly, you set an example without drawing too much attention to your choice of words.

My final word of wisdom is encouragement. By ignoring the deeds you don’t want to see and praising those you do, they should be more motivated to follow your house rules. It’s not foolproof, we all know how troublesome kids can be, but it’s worth a shot. With any luck and a bit of patience, you’ll soon be parent to a (mostly) polite toddler. Just don’t be surprised if they still occasionally shout “poopyhead” at you. After all, it’s in their job description to be a bit cheeky.

As written by Rhi

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