Toddlers Are Mimics

Emi Sano
4 min readDec 18, 2023

Be careful what you say… because it might just come right back at you.

Photo by Eder Pozo Pérez on Unsplash

Case in point:

I was a very flustered mom (was… I still am some days). I used to say things like “What did I just say?!?” or “HEY! Listen to me!”. It’s not my proudest moments. One of those things you say in the heat of the moment when you’re overstimulated and overwhelmed.

Now… my almost three year old is saying it back to me. “Hey! What did I just say? I said DO NOT TOUCH MY CARS!”


It took a lot out of me to not yell back at him. I KNOW in my heart that I did this. I was the one who said it. Now he’s mirroring back what he knows. And now, he’s saying it to other kids and other adults.

I’m at a loss of how to fix it. Once I heard him saying it to me — I stopped saying it myself. I’m hoping the lack of exposure to it will help him stop saying it as well. I’m working on changing my tone, rephrasing that sentence. Hearing it being said to me didn’t make feel good, at all. I honestly wish I had someone there to stop me, but we’re all humans and we all make mistakes. Now it’s time to step back, reassess, and work on the fixes.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Step 1:

Repair. I know you hear me say this a lot because I absolutely LOVE this concept that I learned from Dr. Becky (Good Inside Podcast). Repair is such a wonderful tool to use because it’s not just for kids. It’s for any kind of relationship you have in your life. You can use repair tactic with a coworker, a friend, a spouse, and even your parents!

Set up a repair with your toddler. “I’m sorry that mommy has said these words to you in the past. I don’t like how I feel after you say this to me and now I understand how you felt. I will stop saying this to you.”

Leave it open for your child to want to say they’ll stop, or that they’re sorry as well. You never want to force an apology during a repair. You are only apologizing for your behavior not how someone else reacted.

Step 2:

Find alternative ways to say what you want to say. So what does that mean?

When I said “What did I just say?!” I was really saying it out of frustration and I didn’t want to repeat myself for the thousandth time. I did it because I want him to stop what he’s doing to listen to me. That feels awful to write, but in reality — isn’t that why we’re yelling? We want to be heard.

So, I’m working on trying to figure out a better way to say that. And I’ve started saying, “I don’t think you’ve got your listening ears on right now! Let me wait.”

I struggle on sticking to that language because it’s not what I’m used to saying or hearing from others. But I’m hoping the more I try to use it, the more comfortable it will become for me and I won’t have to force it out.

Step 3:

Model what you want them to say. When it comes to sounding/being respectful with how we ask for things or when we’re talking to another person, that is a learned trait. A toddler will say what they know and what they know is what they’re exposed to. For some, a toddler is only exposed to their caregiver.

When you’re talking with your partner/spouse or with a friend pay special attention to how you interact. Is it how you want your toddler to interact with their peers? How would you feel if you were spoken to in that way? This practice could even help you with way you communicate with other adults!

Step 4:

Don’t overreact. Maybe this should’ve been the first step.

But really…

They said a swear word? Don’t overreact.

They say “I TOLD YOU TO STOP TALKING!” Don’t overreact.

Any outwardly explosive reaction to what they do will only lead to escalation of the issue and never a resolution. Take this from my personal experience. Any attention is good attention in their eyes. If saying something you don’t like causes them to get attention… guess what??? They’ll continue to say it. They might even say it LOUDER next time.

Instead I talk in a low calm voice, “Oh that’s not how I’d like to be talked to. Let’s try, (insert phrase here) and see if that sounds better.”

Give them the correct words to say instead of punishing them for using the words THEY KNOW.

Photo by Blake Meyer on Unsplash

I hope this was helpful for your ever-growing toddlers. I know it was a bit cathartic for me to write. I’ve been struggling with an almost 3 going on 13 year old lately with the amount of pushback and back talk I’ve been getting. But I try to remember that his behavior pretty much has been learned behavior (or him not being able to control his emotions) and if I want him to be better — I have to do better as well.

So here’s me figuring out and learning to talk the talk.



Emi Sano

Emi Sano is a self-published author of “Voices: a short story collection” and YA novella “We Don’t Talk About That.” She freelances as a writer/blogger.