The “I’d Laugh at the Irony if it Didn’t Piss Me Off So Much” Paradox

Posted on May 30, 2012



Cardboard box



Welcome to this week’s installment of WTF Wednesday, where the advice is always free of fake colors or preservatives. Real colors or preservatives are totally fair game, though.

This week’s question was submitted via Twitter by James Hudyma, A.K.A @SaskaDad. He’s got a blog I quite enjoy called EduDad and can be found lurking on Facebook, too.

Mr. Hudyma writes:

Dear IBMP,

We bought our son a play mat and a race track for his cars but he still insists on using the walls and counters. WTF?

What you are experiencing is completely normal. Annoying as hell, but normal. The phenomenon is known among experts as the I’d Laugh at the Irony if it Didn’t Piss Me Off So Much Paradox.1  The well-studied Paradox is demonstrated by a wide array of behaviours.2 Here are a few examples:

  • Your child will always ask for the most expensive version of whatever they want, yet the amount of time they spend playing with it is inversely proportional to the cost.
  • Your child will play on average 7 times longer with the cardboard box than the toy that came in it.
  • Your child will insist they don’t have to pee before leaving the house. That’s just plain silly because kids always have to pee.
  • Your child will declare they are full and ask for dessert in the same breath.
  • Your child will insist they don’t need a jacket then whine about freezing all day.
  • Your child will decide he lives for soccer, then quit two days after the refund deadline.

The specific situation with which you are dealing can be the result of one of a few factors.  I would bet that the race track and play mat were expensive, the cars were cheap, and the paint on the walls and counters is no longer available. If so, you’ve found your problem.

If you want your child to stop using the walls and counters, find a crappy rug at a flea market, paint some lines on it and tell your child that it’s expensive and under no circumstances should he damage it. He’ll use it non-stop. Take back the expensive mat and track and buy yourself some beer with the money you get back. Then, once you’re too drunk to see straight, paint the walls and counters with a cheap, readily available paint from your local supermarket. I recommend lime green spray paint but anything that makes you want to gouge your eyes out is fine. Your child will never damage the counters or walls again.

Another factor might be the circumstances under which the mat and track were purchased. Did your child beg for it, insisting he would die without it? Did he threaten to run away or call Child Protective Services if you didn’t get it? Then that’s part of your problem as well. Scholars who have studied the Paradox tell us that the more a child begs for a toy, the more likely they are to play with the box and leave the toy untouched.3

If the description of the circumstances above sounds accurate, then you need to adjust how you respond to your child’s whiney pleas.4 The only things you should ever buy your child are those items that he has specifically said he hates. That should pretty much guarantee that he’ll use them.

Problem solved! You’re welcome.

Got a question for WTF Wednesday? Drop it below, on Twitter, via the Contact page or on Facebook…


1By “Experts” I mean me, and by “me” I mean total non-expert.

2By “well-studied” I mean invented about 30 seconds ago by experts (see 1 above).

3By “scholars I mean experts (see 1 above).

4By “adjust” I mean don’t respond at all.

Posted in: Advice (bad)