THE BLOG

Stop Laughing At Your Kids

01/10/2014 02:52 pm ET | Updated Mar 12, 2014

We need to stop laughing at our kids or we're all gonna be in big trouble.

Most little kids are super cute. They aren't funny, but they say funny things and they do amusing things. They're like The Three Stooges; it's hilarious to see them hurt themselves as they stumble through childhood. Their ability to shrug off those stumbles and keep smiling through their next, inevitable face-smash is one of the things that make them so adorable. Until you realize their endgame.

That cuteness is just an evolutionary ploy to help get both you and your children through the first several years of your relationship; to fool you into loving your kids unconditionally; to store up reserves of goodwill that can withstand the decades of hell that come once they approach, enter and pass through adolescence. It's genius-level stuff, put in place by Mother Nature, to ensure that children survive long enough -- via biology and deception -- to become self-aware and, eventually, self-actualized.

It's like one of my favorite movies, The Manchurian Candidate (the original version). Not even the toddler himself knows what he'll become when the switch is flipped, but in order to make it possible for him to control his own future, everyone else must be fooled into thinking that he's "the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being" they've ever known in their lives. Early childhood is their only chance to lay this groundwork, since we parents haven't seen but the tip of the iceberg of our child's potential for infuriating behavior. We are more than willing to believe the lie. Which only increases the danger.

The trick for parents is to see through the facade. To get out a stacked deck of Queen of Diamonds and nip it in the bud ASAP. There's no way to prevent the oncoming hell of the older years, but via some good parenting and practiced resistance to their diabolical lovability, you can hopefully make it a little less hellish. You can have one of the good ones.

The first step in making this happen is harder than it sounds: don't laugh at your kid.

As the father of a 3-year-old, I know both how hard it is NOT to laugh at your kid when he does something absurd and how detrimental it can be to encourage him with a delighted chuckle or two. Kids thrive on attention and approval, and while, as a caring parent, you obviously should give it to them, you can't approve all the time, and you must never signify approval at the wrong time, like when you're trying to discipline them. Laughing at your kids when you're teaching them a lesson teaches them the wrong lesson. Nothing undermines your attempts at laying down the law more than a stray snicker in the middle of being stern and authoritative.

If you show kids even the slightest sign of encouraging their goofiest, stupidest, worst behavior, they're sure to repeat it, ad nauseum. After all, you've signaled that you enjoyed it, and since they live for your approval, they're going to do whatever they can to earn that enjoyment again, the best way they know how.

Young children are like raccoons; give them a nibble one morning and soon they're raiding your garbage cans every night.

As parents, we must band together. We must still love our kids, we must still encourage them, we must still laugh with them; but we must always be aware of what is coming. They won't be cute and harmless forever, and we must be careful not to indulge their worst behavior (that's what grandparents are for, unfortunately). And we must do it together.

Because the only thing worse than a household overrun by raccoons is an entire society overrun by them, strewing garbage everywhere, with no one left to stop them.

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Read more from Mike Julianelle at Dad and Buried.