The Bad Habit My Toddler Called Me Out On

The Bad Habit My Toddler Called Me Out On

One mom is completely blind to her bad habit … until her toddler points it out.

By Nicole Fabian-Weber

When my now-3-year-old daughter was about 18 months old, I realized -- and heard from many well-meaning parents -- that she was a sponge who would pick up on anything and everything I said and did. (No pressure there!) Noticing the way she would repeat whatever I said -- including, yes, "whatever" -- I knew I had to keep my entire vocabulary completely G-rated around her, as well as be careful about my tone of voice.

That said, I didn't consider the other things that came out of my mouth.

I try hard -- really hard -- to never lose my cool with or in front of my kids. Although there are days when I feel like exploding with frustration because of things that may or may not have to do with them, I make a concerted effort to not raise my voice or say things I might regret. Apparently, though, I do my fair share of loud sighing.

As any parent of a toddler knows, things aren't always easy. Hardly. Between tantrums, kids who don't want to eat the thing they demanded you make for them two minutes prior, and the fact that it takes about 90 minutes to leave the house for 15 minutes, there are quite a few things about young kids that can get on parents' nerves. Still though, being that they're so impressionable, and, well, small, we all try to watch what we say as much as we can when things get tough (right?). But, as I recently learned, we've also got to watch the other things we do. (Kids are sponges, remember?)

A few weeks ago, I was having a day. It seemed like anything that could have possibly gone wrong did. My kids were cranky, I was swamped with work that I couldn't get to (see cranky kids), I was tired from being up the night before, and, to be honest, all I wanted to do that day was lie on the couch and watch dumb reality TV. But I couldn't. So, when my dog started barking uncontrollably at the mailman (while my 6-month-old was sleeping), I snapped at him, "Stop it! Shhh!"

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"Stop it! Shhh!" may not seem like the worst thing in the world, but I'll be honest: My tone was pretty nasty. I could tell that my daughter was pretty taken aback -- and weirded out -- at what I had just done. "Mama?" she said, staring wide-eyed at me. "Why didn't you say [LOUD AUDIBLE SIGH]?"


It was as if my daughter had held up a mirror to my face, forcing me see something I had been overlooking. I may have been using a nice tone and nice words, but other actions were obviously telling her that everything was not "nice."

I thought back to how earlier on in the day when my daughter spilled an entire bowl of cereal, I told her it was OK and cleaned it up, but she still stared at me as if something were off. Clearly, my words and actions were preceded with a gigantic huff of breath out of my mouth. And I thought about all the other times I told my daughter that I was fine when I was clearly annoyed -- when we were stuck in traffic, when my son refused to nap, when I realized we were out of pasta after the pot already started boiling. I didn't need to watch a video of myself to know that these moments all had sigh-accompaniments.


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Although it was embarrassing to have my 3-year-old point out that I'm a sigher, I'm also happy she did. It not only made me realize that she picks up on everything -- no, everything -- that I do, but that it's OK to show some frustration sometimes. If I try to bottle it up, clearly, it will find another way out.

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Being a parent means being a good example -- but isn't expressing emotions (in a healthy way) something we want our kids to do? If I try to act like everything is hunky-dory all the time around my children, what will they do when things aren't hunky-dory? I want them to learn how to deal with problems, and I certainly don't want to teach them to act like everything is fine when it isn't.

Since my daughter's, um, impression of me, I've been making more of an effort to tell her what's bothering me in a simple but affectionate way. I've also been making more of an effort to not let dumb things -- like spilled cereal and traffic -- get to me at all. I can't say I'll always be successful at letting things roll off my back, but I'm trying. Being a parent means constantly being a work in progress, right?

That, and having every little thing you do thrown in your face by incredibly small, incredibly adorable people.

Has your toddler ever pointed out a bad habit of yours?

Nicole Fabian-Weber is the mama to a toddler girl and a baby boy. She lives outside of NYC and writes for The Stir and numerous other online publications. Right now, she’s probably fantasizing about sleep.

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