Redditor meteoraln is a father who has an unconventional approach to raising his infant son.
While his friends were impressed with his baby’s advanced well behavior in comparison to their own children, they were appalled to find out the truth about the father’s tactic.
After being slammed for his unorthodox method, he went to the “Am I the A**hole” (AITA) subReddit to ask:
“AITA For teaching my baby using dog training techniques?”
The Original Poster (OP) wrote:
“I’m a first time parent. We were out with some of my wife’s friends and they noticed that our infant is showing behavior that they considered advanced for his age.”
“He responds attentively to his name, holds his own bottle, will pick up a toy if told to, etc. He appears to understand more language than other babies his age.”
“Wife’s friends have babies close to the same age as ours and their babies are not currently able to do some of these things or were much older before they were able to.”
“Wife’s friends complementing that our child is very smart. The conversation eventually became all babies are blank slates and no one starts out smarter. They half jokingly started insisting that we must be doing something special and that we must let them know the secret.”
“Wife’s friends seemed friendly and opened minded. So reluctantly, I revealed that I used some dog training techniques.”
“I used a clicker (small noise maker that makes clicking sounds) and small pieces of candy as reinforcement.”
“The room fell quiet and I instantly regret saying anything as I felt all the once friendly open minded eyes start judging me.”
“The ‘Oh you shouldn’t treat your child like an animal.’ remarks started rolling in. Needless to say, the remainder of the day was not very enjoyable. Body language made it clear that some of the moms don’t want me holding their kids anymore.”
“While no one exactly said I’m an a**hole, it definitely feels like they think it. AITA?”
The OP clarified in an update that he did not actually provide his son with a potential choking hazard as part of his baby-training.
“I probably shouldn’t have said candy. I haven’t given my baby any candy. It was just a proxy word for ‘treat’ that I thought of at the time. He has no teeth yet.”
“So far, it’s been anything that isn’t normally part of his milk / formula diet with some taste like tiny pieces of fruit / avocado, cracker, etc.”
Anonymous strangers on the internet were asked if and where guilt belongs by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
- NAH – No A**holes Here
“NTA. I have three little ones. It’s your child and it seems to be working.”
“Maybe don’t use the phrase ‘dog training techniques.’ Maybe say ‘Positive reinforcement’ from now on. All kids learn differently, and if it works for you and your family, I would continue whatever works.”
“Don’t let judgmental moms ruin it for you.” – MermaidsHaveWifi
The OP accepted the wording suggestion.
“This is a good idea. Now that you mention it, all the youtube videos showing how to teach a child to learn their name are doing this.”
“The technique is identical but they swap some phrases and tools.” –
“NTA, my wifey and I dont have children but we do have dogs.”
“So when I’m with friends who have children I use the same techniques that I do with my dogs because it’s what I’m used to doing with someone smaller then myself who might not fully understand me.”
“Only one person has ever got annoyed at it and I said sorry but it’s what I’m used to doing not something I do on purpose.” – StylishMrTrix
“As long as you & your wife agree on how you’re teaching your kid, your wife’s friends need to back off. NTA.” – Jroostah
“What bothers me is their emphasis on ‘not treating a baby like an animal.'”
“Isn’t it the opposite, that most people treat their dogs like family members (and humans within reason)? Positive reinforcement is not unique to pets, “dog training” is just more intuitive. Everyone knows what you mean.” – Cr4ckshooter
“Stop using the term ‘Dog training technique.’ Positive reinforcement is a common way to shape behavior and it is used for all kinds of animals, and also for humans of all ages.”
“Suggestion: When people praise your child, or your child-rearing skills, a mild modest response is best. ‘Oh, they all develop and learn at different rates. And at this age, a couple of months younger or older can make a difference.'” – NoxWild
Not everyone was sold on the concept.
“Essentially you raise babies by positive reinforcement too, exactly the same as dogs. But OP is not using human ways for positive reinforcement or getting their attention.”
“Yes you could describe normal parenting as ‘dog training techniques,’ that doesn’t mean that normal dog training techniques would be described as acceptable parenting.”
“With humans you use human things as positive reinforcement and while puppies will respond to many of the same things it is different but you just don’t see that at the baby stage.”
“I mean at the baby stage babies aren’t that much smarter than puppies, the difference being that they actually get smarter unless you keep treating them as puppies.”
“Everyone is being very literal about this ‘Technically it’s the same.’ Sure.”
“But you really think you wouldn’t cringe at someone using a dog clicker to call their baby and then giving them a sweet when they do what they’re asked and then sending them back to their box?” – Timmetie
“Rewarding with food (especially since OP clarified it’s more like fruit etc than actual candy) seems to make a ton of sense with a crawling-age baby but it’s a bit… shortsighted maybe?”
“Like, what’s the long-range plan? What are you going to do when he’s 3? 4? 5? 6? How are you going to deal with weaning him off food rewards… What will you substitute?”
“Will you continue to always have a reward system? When do you stop using the clicker?? What happens if you realize you’ve instilled in him an instinct to prioritize only things that come with immediate praise and reward… or maybe to reward *himself* with food at each small success if you refuse to?”
“You’re not TA to those people, OP, but you should think deeply about what your long-term goals are and whether you’re sacrificing any of them for short-term success.”
“For myself, I think operant conditioning is too strong a tool to be safely used willy-nilly. I would use it only for the handful of most important things: we trained our crawler never even to put a hand on the slate square surrounding the woodstove, for instance, and would have done similar with a pool or pond. But that’s about it.”
“For the rest, we let him know if we were pleased with his actions or not. They really do want to please you, OP. (Good Lord, I accidentally said ‘Don’t cry’ to my 2-year-old, not the right way to comfort a kid I know but I had just woken up… then came back from the bathroom to find him controlling himself with visible effort whispering to himself ‘No cry. No cry.’)” – CrookedBird
A former animal trainer weighed in.
“Nta. Operant and classical conditioning are universal concepts. Actions have consequences. Actions have rewards. It’s the way of the world. It’s evolutionary; it’s what kept humans alive.”
“I’m sure your friends wouldn’t be upset if their kids’ teachers handed out candy for the children who filled out their planner for the week in class, so I don’t know why they’re getting tangled in knots over you teaching your baby.”
“How many people say ‘first clean up your toys and then we can have a snack?’ A teenager sneaks out? Phone privileges are taken away. A kid aces a math test? Family gets ice cream to celebrate. These are all operant conditioning. It’s the same thing you are doing with your kid.”
“Training is teaching. Just because you’re communicating nonverbal, it doesnt make your teaching any less valid.” – DinoNuggetses
Aside from a number of people taking issue with the OP utilizing a clicker on his child, other Redditors saw no problem that would be detrimental to the child’s developmental growth.