Accidently Teaching My Toddler Bad Behavior (Because It’s Funny!)

13 months.

In theory, prerecorded laughs and canned applause help remind us how funny our mediocre sitcoms are. They serve as that little morale boost; one that we barely even notice. It turns out, the same basic idea works on training a toddler.

My son Jack is really starting to learn some cool tricks these days, like blowing kisses (thanks to my wife) or fetching a ball (thanks to me.)

But he is also accidently being taught new tricks when he mimics sounds or actions that I subconsciously approve of through my laughter or by me clapping my hands.

This “positive reiforcement” style of teaching him is a good thing. After all, it’s pretty easy to teach a toddler to do something when all you have to do is reward the behavior by cheering him on. But it can be a bad thing too.

For example, when playing with a “toy” like a wooden spoon or a book, he often hits himself in the face with it. Or less sadomasochist, he will try to scratch (or break) my nose when I am playing with him.

What do I do? I laugh. Because it’s funny.

I know I shouldn’t. I’m really trying not to. But it’s so hilarious when he tries to hurt me or himself; especially knowing it’s just for an innocent laugh. After all, that’s what made The Three Stooges so successful back in their day.

A few weeks ago for my wife’s Christmas party for her work at Vanderbilt University, Jack was a star. In a banquet room comprised largely of Taiwanese and Chinese scientists and their families, Jack was the golden boy to carry around to all the tables.

Only I wasn’t the one featuring him as the secondary entertainment for the night.

Instead, the main person carrying him to each table was a woman who probably didn’t weigh a hundred pounds. As she laughingly toted him to another new table, which was quite a sight in itself because he’s no small bambino, Jack reached up and hit her in the face. She went on joyfully with him, but I have to admit, I felt pretty bad about it.

Note to self: Stop encouraging your son to do bad things by laughing or clapping when he does something he shouldn’t… no matter how funny it is.

Even when he bangs his head against the door repeatedly and laughs about it. (Especially when he bangs his head against the door repeatedly and laughs about it!)

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  1. by Karen

    On December 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    I am guilty of the same positive reinforcement plus the kind where I video or photograph such moments… She took EVERY BOOK off the shelf and is sitting in a mess? Sounds like a cute video to send the grandparents! She put spaghetti on her head? Wait! Don’t clean it up til I laugh, clap and get a picture!!