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The 3 Worst Behaviors I’m Accidentally Teaching My Daughter

The following was syndicated from Medium for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

Yesterday, my 16-month-old daughter threw an entire container of blueberries out of our grocery cart. To say the container exploded when it hit the ground would be exaggerating, but only slightly. I embarrassingly tried picking them up until a store employee came by and assured me they would take care of it. All the while my daughter looked on repeating her new favorite phrase:

“UHHHHhhhh ohhhhhhhh … ” – My wonderful daughter

The first time she said it it was funny. A mother and her 2 older daughters looked on giggling at my daughter’s response to the cleanup efforts. The second and third times it was cute. The fourth through sixth times it was mildly endearing. After about the tenth “Uhhh ohhhhhh” I started to explain to her that it wasn’t an “uh-oh” if she threw the container. It also wasn’t funny and it wasn’t cute.

Okay … yes, it was, damnit … but how did we get here?

Like a lot of problematic toddler behaviors, my daughter has picked up things from watching me and my wife. She has also taken one thing we teach her, like throwing balls, and used that one thing in other places, like throwing her food at home or even in restaurants. We never taught her to throw her food, but if throwing things is fun and exciting at one time, surely it can be fun and exciting at other times as well, right? We can’t get mad at her for not understanding that there is a time and place for different behaviors at 16 months old!

Not that we aren’t trying …

You have to understand this is somewhat embarrassing for me because I work with parents on modeling healthy behaviors for their children all the time. I send a consistent message to them that their children will exhibit the behaviors they see at home. But somehow between my office and my daughter’s playroom I conveniently forget this message. I play a game with my daughter where I put her socks in my mouth and take them from her like a dog would. I am literally modeling that it is fun and funny to put things in your mouth that don’t typically belong there.

father-and-daughter-looking-out-a-window

I shouldn’t be surprised then, that she puts her socks (along with everything else) in her mouth all the time.

Yet I wonder why she has gotten sick as often as she has.

As soon as my daughter could grab things she would grab my wife and my glasses off our faces, something we thought was cute the first few times she did it. That behavior has graduated from grabbing our glasses to trying to put her hands in our mouths to actually hitting or slapping our faces. We don’t think she knows exactly what she is doing, but you can imagine our shock and concern at this behavior.

I try to think about where else she could pick up these behaviors. Daycare is possible of course, but I even think about how I pet our cats and how sometimes it is “petting” and sometimes it is “patting.” Could patting the cats on the head be something my daughter now thinks she is doing to us? We struggle with these questions as she continues to grow and learn.

I have to keep reminding myself that laughing at my daughter’s behavior encourages it.

I’ll admit I was proud when she started to get really good at throwing balls across the room. I didn’t consider that this behavior would become a favorite of hers, though. I also didn’t consider how chasing a ball across the room is easy, while cleaning spaghetti sauce off the walls is … not.

father and daughter looking out window

I think as parents we get wrapped up in teaching our kids things we want them to learn or do instead of just letting them be. We want them to do funny things for pictures or videos so we can send them to friends or family or post on social media.

We don’t think about the consequences of these behaviors.

I know I’m thinking about these consequences now. I do worry that what are minor “Uhh ohhh’s” now could turn into real behavior problems in the future. I worry about these consequences for our society as well. What kind of impact will pointing cameras and cell phones at our kids from day one have on their sense of self and self-worth? Will it make them entitled? Selfish? Attention seeking? For now, only time will tell but I for one am not waiting to find out.

I intend to be more mindful of what I am teaching my daughter, both in my interactions with her and others. I hope you can think about this as well!

Ryan Engelstad is a therapist/dad trying to find balance between the 2. He writes about this and more on Medium. Check him out on Twitter.

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