7 ways learning to talk can catch parents off guard
Starting to talk is one of the biggest steps that our small kids make in life. It’s also awesome as parents to hear them suddenly string a sentence together that seems longer than anything that’s ever been published in The Sun. But before we get too excited, let’s remember that there are two sides to this picture. Here are 7 ways kids learning to speak that can throw us off guard.
1 - Copying the words you don’t want them to (2 years and 3 months)
Two-year olds are excellent at repeating things you say. This is unfortunate when you are used to swearing a lot, or even just a very little bit. My wife an I like to say things like ‘where on earth did he hear that?!’ when he drops is Duplo and shouts ‘sh*t!’. Or, ‘he must have got that from nursery!’, when he tuts mid-drawing a circle to clearly articulate ‘FFS’ (leaving as an acronym in case his grandma reads this).
Truth is, the chances are pretty high that it’s come from one the toddler’s parents when we faced a particularly strong moment of frustration and let our tot-sensitive guard drop.
‘But!’ thinks the parent ‘yesterday we were talking about rainbows and you said you couldn’t repeat the word purple, and you systematically forget the number 3. Why can’t you just repeat the good stuff FFS!’
Worst of all, you can’t react to them swearing, because that will just reinforce it. But what you really want to do after they’ve repeated it a good few times just to make sure that you hadn’t misheard, is laugh. But one giggle from an adult and they’ll be swearing like Gordon Ramsey before bedtime.
2 - Real Opinions (from 15 months – ongoing and worsening)
Baby opinions can be odd. Of course I should put the brick in my nose. But as toddlers they start forming opinions that are more complex, but no less strange.
Unlike a baby’s opinion however, 2 and 3 year olds can articulate their weirdness at 2 o’clock in the morning (‘But, I need the blue elephant with wings to play my piano, then I will build a pizza tower’ [still no idea what a pizza tower is]).
Furthermore, informing a toddler that it’s impossible to carry out their wishes can lead to serious meltdowns, because they understand what you mean by ‘no’.
It’s a cruel fact of how our brains develop that tots learn to articulate strong ideas of how they want the world to work, before they suss the limitations of basic physics.
Little Bear: But I want to go on the blue bus
Pappa: There aren’t any blue busses here. Only red busses
Little Bear: Noho. There is a blue bus
Pappa: There actually isn’t
Little Bear: I Neeeeeeed the blue bus
Pappa: … it’s still not possible
Little Bear: Why you so mean to me Pappa. Then we will not be taking any busses at all in the case
Pappa: … but
Little Bear: Just, try it
3 - Becoming public liabilities (2 years)
It is awesome when you finally get to have conversations with your little people. It’s less awesome when you discreetly leave a public toilet with them and they announce very loudly ‘Well done Pappa, you did a big wee! Bravo!’ starts clapping to draw more attention. ‘Did you wipe your willy Pappa? You need to wipe your willy, because you wet your trousers if you don’t. Let’s go back so you can wipe your willy but well done for trying Pappa’. And hey presto, you’re now surrounded by giggling adults trying not to make eye contact. Granted, it’s more embarrassing when these words are used on mum, but still.
4 - No, No and No – the toddler’s veto (18-24 months)
‘No’ is probably the first word that toddlers truly understand. Possibly because they hear it from us all the time as we try to contain their antics. Using the word suddenly empowers them to execute all those crazy opinions they come up with.
Out of habit, I foolishly ask Little Bear questions when I want to tell him what we’re doing (‘shall we have lunch now?’). Naturally this means that I spend a lot of time explaining why we should do it anyway, because 60% of the time he just says no. Even if it becomes clear he has no idea what I was asking. [This extends to 100% if he’s tired, willingly contradicting himself in the process]
I’ve found the best solution when dealing with a toddler is just to get a third party to tell him to do something instead. Picking Little Bear up from nursery mid play can take a while (a good 10 minutes at least), punctuated with a lot of ‘no’s to your insistence that he needs to get ready to go. But the second one of the nursery staff say it’s time to go, he’s gone so fast you’ll be running out the door after him with his coat.
5 - When they suss your tactics and start using them on you (2 years and 8 months)
We think we’re so smart as parents when we explain that we can’t go to the library or the soft play right now because ‘it’s closed’, knowing full well that at 3 o’clock it’s very open and waiting to suck away all the time we had in the afternoon. I didn’t have to say no and get into a big meltdown with them! Parenting win!
But at some point, the toddler susses these phrases we use to throw them off guard. Little Bear has started explaining that we have to go out because ‘the house is closed now, it’s 5 o’clock’.
How to get the killjoy parents are out of the way? If he thinks we’re obstructing him from doing something fun (like climbing up the bookshelf), he has switched off all the lights in the apartment at midday and told us that we ‘don’t need to sleep, just lie down in bed and read a story’ shutting the door behind him.
And despite his willingness to still say ‘no’ a lot, he has recently started trying some new tactics.
Pappa: I thought we were going to share the cinnamon bun Little Bear, can I have some-
Little Bear: Wait, maybe later. You can, but maybe later (quickly gobbles up the whole bun)
He, knows… The gig’s up.
6 - Copying your tone (2 and a half)
We spend time carefully crafting how we talk to our kids, to make sure we’re encouraging them in the right way and building their confidence. But when they start repeating our phrases back at us, we start realising just how patronising we sound.
Little Bear frequently congratulates me for (1) getting out of bed in the morning, (2) making him breakfast, (3) putting any item of clothing on and doing just about any menial task you can think of. All with an overly enthusiastic ‘well done for trying so hard Pappa, you are a good boy’ and the more confusing ‘almost Pappa, but just try again’… I’m pretty sure I put the pants on right the first time Little Bear.
I say that doing some painting might be nice and I’m greeted with a person barely taller than my knee explaining that ‘you are correct Pappa, what a sensible idea, shall I help you or can you do it yourself?’. Golden.
7 - Talking back (from 2 and a half onwards)
I've had many proud moment with Little Bear, but the best ones are always when he starts negotiating with me. I'll say he needs to eat three more spoons before he's finished lunch, he'll insist on one. After a while of back-and-forth he'll concede to eating one spoon and licking a tomato, and the deal is done. This kid is gonna own life.
This of course often jeopardises your parental authority. 'Give your kids reasons for telling them they must do something' say all the parenting books. But what happens when your kid starts giving you reasons back? Or even worse, demands an infinite regress of reasons?
Pappa: You need to wear your coat and shoes outside
Little Bear: NO!... Why?
Pappa: Because it's very freezing cold
Little Bear: But I like cold. Why?
Pappa: Because you'll get a ill if you get cold
Little Bear: But I like being ill
Pappa: Put your coat on
Little Bear: Why? I like being cold and ill soooooo, I go outside now. I also don't need jumper
Pappa thinking - FFS, time to bargain
But let’s be honest, talking to your tot is one of the underrated bonuses of being a parent. I’d gladly put up with hundreds of public embarrassments and even all the lost cinnamon buns to get these little chats. ‘nuf said.
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots