The Power of Words in a Toddler's World

Although parents are aware that there are certain things that should not be spoken before a toddler, there are times when we are caught off guard.  Certain words may seem harmless until you hear your child using them in a context you don’t really approve of.  Other times, copied phrases can be misconstrued to have other meanings.  Here are a couple of incidences that have warned me that we really need to buck up and watch what we say:

Gavin loves going to a shopping mall.  Since he started school, he hasn’t really been shopping much because his school’s schedule doesn’t really give us much leeway for it.  As a treat, we tagged along with my SIL and bf when they decided to visit Great Eastern Mall to pick up some supplies.  There is a a “Choo Choo Train” shop there that Gavin loves to visit.

Two mistakes we made – we forgot the pram and the mobile phones.  Never mind, I thought, Gavin usually needs to be pried away from the shop so I’m sure we could stay in there for the entire duration of the shopping trip while my SIL and bf got their things done.

To avoid any fuss or tantrums when the time came for us to go home, I pre-empted Gavin by telling him that he could only go to the train shop if he would leave when I told him to.  I also reminded him that I expected no fussing from him or there would be no future trips to the train shop.  To my surprise, Gavin behaved so well, he decided himself that it was time to leave the train shop!  Then he proudly proclaimed that he wasn’t fussing otherwise there would be no train shop next time.  What a way to make a mother proud.

But I digress…  While walking to the supermarket, Gavin put his arms up to be carried.  At seven months pregnant, I feel terribly worse for wear whenever I have to carry Gavin for an extended period of time, so I asked him why he needed to be carried when he was already such a big boy.

To my shock and horror, he replied, “Because I’m useless.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so I asked him to repeat himself.  Yep, there was no mistaking the word he used – “useless”.

Where did the word come from?  Most likely hubby.  There are times when he exclaims in a manner of jest, “Useless!”  Whenever someone is incapable of getting a task done.

What surprised me most was the context that Gavin had used it in.  We have never told him he was useless and I was utterly horrified that he should describe himself in such a manner.

The other incident involved an occasion when I had to use the bathroom.  When you’re pregnant, constipation can be a problem.  One way to combat it is to make sure you use the bathroom whenever you feel the call of nature.  If you wait, more water is reabsorbed by the large intestines which makes it harder to go later.

Hubby and my SIL have this running joke in the family about going to the toilet to do the “number two”.  Whenever they need to use the bathroom for the long haul, they often joke that they are going to the toilet to “deliver a brown baby”.

When I came back from the toilet, Gavin was playing on the floor by himself.   He looked up at me innocently and asked, “Mummy, how was your brown baby?”

I did a double take and asked him to repeat himself again.  True enough, I had heard correctly.  I frowned at hubby and my SIL.  We’re going to have a lot of confusion at school if he tells the teacher he wants to “give birth to a brown baby”.

Although it’s obvious that we need to watch our language and be politically correct in front of the children, there are times where even our so-called “innocent” remarks get picked up and used in the wrong manner.  So often we speak without thinking and usually it doesn’t really matter.  Things change a lot when there’s a toddler around.  Sometimes you don’t even realise it until you hear your toddler using those phrases and words.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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