I have a very verbal, articulate 4 year-old son (he's our oldest). I have recently noticed that, after spending a large amount of time with older cousins, he has begun the dreaded use of the word like in sentences as a verbal "filler." My wife and I are very careful to not do this ourselves, so as to model thoughtful, purposeful speech to him. But alas, it seems the influence of older kids has won out!

So my question is this: are there ways my wife and I can intentionally train our son away from this verbal habit, or should I chalk this up to a lost cause? He starts preschool in the fall, so depending on the verbal habits of the other kids in his class, it very well may be the latter. I don't know if addressing in the home it at every use would be effective or could possibly cause a complex, which I'm obviously very eager to avoid.

I would especially appreciate advice from parents of older children on how (or if?) they've tried addressing this head-on.

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    All people, even adults, need "fillers". It's highly likely that you have some yourself. In the US, the most common are "ah/uh" and "um". You can ask him to trade the filler word for something more acceptable to you. Personally, I like "like" better than most of the other common filler words people use. Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 16:38
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    Policing individual words, especially when they're frequent use by peers, rarely works except through authoritarian parenting. The most likely method is to instill a sense of superiority in the child, such that he feels he ought to look down on those who use "like" as a filler, which I don't recommend either. Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 13:06

1 Answer 1


For the most part, kids learn what they hear. They're not literally parrots, but it helps me to think of them that way sometimes.

So, the best way to "train" them out of speech patterns is simply to not use those speech patterns yourself. Consciously avoid using "like" as a filler, and that will reinforce better speech patterns.

My children went through all sorts of phases, including various scatalogical ones, where they said words we preferred them not use, or added silly things to their sentences, or whatever. For the most part they simply stopped after a while when those patterns fell out of style at school, and we didn't reinforce them ourselves of course. Unless the words/phrases were actually objectionable, I don't think it's a good idea to object - that might only reinforce the usage more.

As you say, they're joining preschool in a few months, and at that point they'll have a whole new, and larger, pool of speech patterns to learn. Some of those won't be optimal, but it will at least be varied, for the most part, and you can continue modelling at home.

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    "Unless the words/phrases were actually objectionable, I don't think it's a good idea to object - that might only reinforce the usage more." Indeed. +1. Another age old way of saying this is, "Pick your battles." Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 16:39

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