“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.” – Unknown
One of the underrated challenges of having kids has been the…adjustment of both my wife’s language and mine but not necessarily for the reasons you think. When we first got pregnant several years ago, we decided to immediately start changing our habits so we would be prepared before the baby came. No arguing around the fetus! No raised voices! Clean up the language! Perhaps we were a bit too ambitious, as all that didn’t quite happen, even with some modest improvements. Regardless, we have finally landed at ground zero. There is no more time to improve—the moment is upon us. The two year old has entered the mimic phase; mommy and daddy cannot so much as whisper a word or phrase that won’t be immediately repeated by the little goblin.
As I mentioned, most people see this topic and assume that profanity is the big-ticket item when trying to prevent your toddler from repeating something he or she shouldn’t. My wife and I, however, do not use much profanity these days but have found us in the same position regardless. That is, my toddler takes our borderline expressions and uses them out of context where they still sound a smidge inappropriate. Eliza will hear an affectionate “Mommy’s crazy” tease, say nothing, and then four days later come up with something like “Great Grandma is crazy! CRAZY!” Again, not the worst thing for a toddler to say, but she has a strong tendency to place newly learned adjectives in the wrong setting.
My wife is a bit particular, to say the least, when it comes to her food. While Eliza and I will eat anything edible (and probably a small amount of non-edible items as well), my wife has her favorites and generally shuns several food types. My wife is also incredibly expressive, so she’ll occasionally exclaim “Ehhhewww, that looks disgusting” when peaking over at my plate. Not a terrible statement in itself, but how many different ways can my toddler take it? Between the words “disgusting”, “crazy”, “annoying” and “gross”, Eliza has been churning out borderline statements regularly lately. Daddy’s disgusting. My poop is crazy. Daycare is annoying.
Looking at daddy’s cooking: GROSS!
The toddler could certainly be saying much worse things, but I have a sneaky feeling that she’s going to intentionally learn the worst possible juxtaposition of all these words and expressions we have accidentally allowed her to repeat. The moral of the story, of course, goes back to the leading quote and the understanding that if all these little ankle biters we raise are going to be imitators, it behooves us to do our best to provide a good example.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret and this is a 100% honest confession: I was so naïve (dumb is the more accurate word) when my wife and I first got pregnant that I literally thought we could make a decision to never fight in front of our kids. Hilarious, right? Never fight? Ever? Whatever, I was becoming a parent for the first time and had some admirable yet ridiculous misconceptions on what we could accomplish as a couple. The truth is, despite my own idiocy, our intent to work towards positive communication in front of our daughter and a joint effort to carefully monitor our language and expressions has worked well. Our home environment is reasonably positive and we continually build better habits, which will help as our family grows.
Let there be no illusions, however, that we have anything figured out. Arguments and words slip from time to time and we’re left keeping our fingers crossed that it won’t be a phrase Eliza throws on repeat for 48 hours or at the next inopportune public moment. So do your best to be worthy of a little mimicking mini-me (or three) and, for those uninitiated, let me promise that they’ll always repeat the lines you hope they didn’t hear. Have a great week.