Even if you’re not a parent, you know what I’m talking about. A kid does something that’s completely and totally inappropriate… but also funny. What the heck do you do then?
Let’s quickly sum up what never, ever works:
- Punishing the kid without explanation
- Trying to not laugh at the funny thing
- Making a big freaking deal about it.
The main reason these don’t work is simple: kids love attention. And if you give them attention over saying inappropriate things (positive or negative attention!) then you’re telling them quite clearly that these inappropriate words are a way for the child to get attention and have power.
Net result? The kid does it more. Of course they do.
It’s a sticky wicket. You’re probably going to react, so you can’t claim the funny thing isn’t funny. (Or the kid will learn that you don’t mean what you say – an equally bad outcome.) But you don’t want to encourage your child to be unaware of cultural norms.
(Side note: I’m not saying those cultural norms are good, just that your child should be able to navigate them and choose when to break them intelligently.)
This problem led to the development of the “Funny Once” criteria. It’s pretty simple:
There are some things – like knock-knock jokes – that are always funny. And there are some things that are only funny because they’re surprising or shocking. Those things are “funny once” things. Yes, we might laugh the first time because it’s inappropriate – but we won’t laugh the second, third, or subsequent times. And we, as your parents, will help you learn what things are always funny and what things are “funny once”.
And then it’s up to you as the parent(s) to stick to your guns. Don’t punish the child for a “funny once”, but make it clear whether something is funny or a “funny once”. And if they persist on repeating a “funny once”, then don’t react as if it’s amusing.
This distinction helped me a lot with my kids; I hope it will help you with yours!