Your toddler can be a little parrot at times, and is likely to pipe up with all manner of words and phrases when you’re out and about – some more rude or awkward than others. But what can you do?
We can’t wait until our little ones start to speak and can tell us what they are thinking and feeling. Then when they do, we sometimes find ourselves wishing that they would just…stop…talking.
And while it’s natural to feel mortified when your child chimes in about someone nearby, or says a rude word, it’s quite common and very normal – and doesn’t mean that your child is mean or insensitive.
Toddler hear, toddler do…
The first thing to remember when it comes to toddlers or young children copying, swearing or saying inappropriate words, is that they do it because they’ve heard it from somewhere else.
‘Even if you’re ultra careful about not swearing in front of your children, he may have heard it from other members of your family, or even the television, so it’s worth having a word with people if that’s the case and being more aware of what’s on in the background,’ says Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of ToddlerCalm: A guide for calmer toddlers and happier parents (Piatkus, £13.99).
What should you do if your toddler swears?
If your toddler swears, you have two options. ‘You can very calmly say, “don’t use that word”, and instead suggest another completely unrelated word that he doesn’t know yet and teach him that instead,’ says Sarah. ‘Alternatively, you can completely ignore your toddler – because a reaction will only make him want to do it again – and then apologise to the people around you.’
It’s worth remembering that in the first instance, a young child doesn’t understand that the word he’s saying is offensive and isn’t saying it for a reaction. He’s just testing out different words. It’s the way you react that will make him feel tempted to keep repeating it if he knows he’ll get a rise out of you.
What can you do if your child asks an awkward question?
Your little one has boundless curiosity (you know those “Why? But why?” car journeys?) and no concept of how his questions will impact on others around him.
‘So when he turns to you on the bus and asks loudly why that man is brown or why that woman has a big tummy, he’s doing it because he’s curious and doesn’t understand the social rules that would normally stop him from asking,’ says Sarah.
If it happens and the person mentioned hears, apologise but don’t make a big deal about it because, like swearing, your little one will feed off your reaction. In most cases, the person you’re talking about will understand that children are curious and naturally ask questions.
‘Remember, children don’t grasp the concept of empathy or think about how their comments will be taken by others until they’re at least seven years old,’ says Sarah.
As far as your toddler or pre-schooler is concerned, he can’t wait to tell you about this new, different and exciting person he’s seen, and as is often the case with children, their little voices have no volume switch.
The challenge is to find a way to explain the situation to your child, while also introducing ideas such as sensitivity, respect, and empathy.
If you’re concerned, you can say to your child, ‘You are so good at noticing people, like the colour of their skin and the size of their body. But sometimes people can feel hurt if we talk about how they look so you can always tell me in my ear what you see, instead of saying it out loud.’
And be patient. Your toddler won't transform into a little diplomat overnight, but with time and guidance, he’ll learn how to think before he speaks (at least some of the time)…
Have you ever had a cringe-inducing moment when your toddler has said something out loud? Let us know in the comment box below.