Toddlers go through a stage of repeating what they hear others say as they learn new vocabulary and build their linguistic skills. They also go through a stage of egocentrism around the same time meaning that they believe others see, hear, and experience the world the same as they do (for further information see my post on grandparent egocentrism). In my personal experience, this combination of repetitions of speech and egocentrism leads to an interesting phenomenon called walk-by parroting (also known as I-will-repeat-you-when-I-walk-by-because-you-are-obviously-talking-to-me).
Here is what I mean:
- You’re with a group of friends having a good laugh over the newest screaming goats remix on YouTube, when out of nowhere you hear a high-pitched “hahaha”. You look around, but the source of the laugh is already gone. In the distance you see the back of a small toddler’s head as he walks with his father down the street.
- You’re on a bad eHarmony date having an awkward goodbye moment. You dodge an incoming kiss and quickly say “bye”. Your “bye” is reinforced and amplified by a waving toddler. Unfortunately your date is still standing there with puckered lips.
- You’re with your pals ogling an attractive individual who has just walked by. One of your friends describes this individual as “yummy”. The term “yummy” repeats itself. You see a hungry toddler.
- You’re with your drinking pals at an outdoor patio having a philosophical conversation about Sean Combs taking on the name “P. Diddy”. You look over and see a smiling, snotty-nosed face saying “Pee pee. Pee pee,” as he taps repeatedly on his diaper.
- You’re a recovering drug addict talking to your sponsor about the challenges of staying clean. You hear “Clean, clean, clean!” A small hand appears for a brief moment mimicking a cleaning motion.
- You just discovered you got parking ticket. You unleash an f-bomb capable of destroying a small country. Your f-bomb echoes back as misarticulated s-bombs. When you look around you see a ridiculous moustache frowning at you and a small boy.
Walk-by parroting is not a fad. It’s a stage of development as far as I’m concerned. Please add your walk-by parrot experiences in the comments section so that I can officially confirm this stage of child development.