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Can anyone explain to me the reason why parents tend to refer to themselves in the third person, when talking to their young children?


"Hold Daddy's hand while we cross the road"

as opposed to

"Hold my hand while we cross the road"

Is there any real benefit in this?

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Interesting answers, thanks. – UpTheCreek Apr 10 '12 at 17:43
because Elmo does – David LeBauer Apr 17 '12 at 9:26

It's all about language acquisition. The concept of pronouns is a little advanced for a 9-month-old who is only vaguely grasping the concept that everything has a name to begin with. When I refer to myself as "Mommy" to my daughter, it reinforces to her 1) who I am and 2) that I have a name just like everything else. While its initial use is for language development and acquisition, it does sort of eventually become a habit--especially if you have children born back-to-back. My son is pretty advanced verbally and, at age 4, certainly has mastered pronouns, but now my daughter is learning to talk so my husband and I never really got out of the habit of referring to ourselves in the third person.

Clearly there are parents out there who don't refer to themselves in the third-person and their child eventually sort out the difference between common nouns and pronouns, so I don't know if there's any evidence to suggest that it advances your baby's language development any faster, but I think many parents do it naturally without even really thinking about it.

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+1 for the part about habit – user2490 Apr 10 '12 at 18:47
Interestingly, my kids ended up using "daddy" and "mommy" as pronouns for a while, to refer to any man or woman. – Karl Bielefeldt Apr 13 '12 at 3:28
Yeah, mine did too :-D – Meg Coates Apr 13 '12 at 5:08

Because "you" doesn't uniquely identify me.

Parents want to teach their kids "dada" and "mama" and other subjects. Using "my" doesn't help with that. Similarly, parents will also say "Sasha hold mummy's hand" (Sasha being the baby) - this is to emphasize to the baby that her name is Sasha. If instead of using that language, I say "You hold my hand" - she might begin referring to herself as "You wants wa-wa!" "You wants my!"

Nouns are a lot less confusing than pronouns. However, once the child is able to understand nouns, parents should/do gradually move onto using more pronouns....

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It is all about language acquisition and it's something you learn from watching other parents with their kids...and it becomes intuitive. Eventually the switch is made to using pronouns with them-but that can take time and it can become a habit that creeps up even after they've out grown the not-understanding-pronouns stage.

Developmentally, they don't understand all pronouns:

In the following article, in the grammar section it talks about children using pronouns

one can assume that they understand them before that, but it's different for each child as to when the understanding begins... thus the gradual shift to pronouns by parents.

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I remember a time of great confusion in my son about who exactly was "you" and who was "me". It's tricky -- the meanings of those words change depending on who is talking! It takes a while to catch on to that subtlety.

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It's not even a conscious thing, at least not for me. It always irritated me when people did it before I had kids. Now that I'm a parent of three kids, I find myself doing it. Not really sure why. Maybe it has to do with emphasis of authority, as in "I'm not just some random person, I'm DADDY and you need to respect that." Maybe, it's a dissassociative thing where you are distancing your self from an unpleasant decision. "Daddy already told you, no ice cream for breakfast."

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I absolutely agree it's out of habit. Children older than a year or 18 months can understand the use of "you" and "me". They may not be able to do it themselves, but they understand when people use the first person.

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Welcome to SE for Parenting. "I agree" answers should really be posted as comments, if at all... upvoting is another way of saying, "I agree." – Jeremy Miller May 1 '14 at 3:01

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