Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It REALLY is magic! (part III)

Read part I here. 

Read part II here.

I put him in time-out (calmly) three more times that morning.

After that, the magic kicked in.  And.... suddenly... I was the boss!  It was amazing!  Liberating!  Empowering!  If I wanted to say "no," I said "no."  If I wanted Soren to stop whining, he would stop whining.  Ultimate power was mine!  I threw my head back and laughed maniacally while electrical streams of lightning zapped out of my fingers.  

And now, a month into using 1-2-3 Magic, I find that entire days go by when I don't have to send Soren to his room.  Sweet parenting bliss is mine at last!

The hardest part for me in implementing the program has been remembering that I don't have to put up with obnoxious behaviors.  I'm so used to steeling myself against whining/badgering/tantrums, or saying "yes" when I don't want to, that I forget sometimes that I can take charge.

So, just to wrap this up, here are a few other thoughts I've had while incorporating 1-2-3 Magic into my overall parenting approach:

Validation.  I've tried to balance the no-nonsense approach of 1-2-3 Magic with validation.  I believe that it's important to acknowledge and respect your child's very real emotional responses to situations.  For example, when Soren asks for something and I tell him "no," he'll start to complain and I'll pat him on the back and say something like, "Hon, I know you were really hoping to have marshmallows for breakfast and I know you're disappointed about having oatmeal instead,  but you're going to just have to trust that I love you and want you to be happy and that my love for you compels me to not allow you to have marshmallows for every meal."  And then I'll sweetly add, "That's one."

He usually gets the drift.    

...but don't Underestimate the Importance of Shutting the Old Yapper.  Even before 1-2-3 Magic, I've always tried to be a stickler when it comes to not giving in.  When I say something, I try to mean it.  For the most part, I think I'm good about not giving in to begging/whining/tantrums-- at least, I haven't given Soren what he wanted initially.  But I had definitely gotten into the habit of giving him a sweet taste of revenge by allowing him to get me all kinds of riled up afterwards.  Since 1-2-3 Magic allows me to nip the problematic behaviors in the bud, I don't spew forth all kinds of gratifying emotional response for him.

Also, through making this small change, I've discovered that I spent way too much breath explaining myself.  Constant rationalizing with a child leads them to believe that they only have to comply if you've given them three good reasons to do so; it also opens up long arguments.    I'll say things like "You see, honey, I don't want you to go outside right now because it's raining," and he'll respond with, "But I can take an umbrella," and I'll say something like, "I don't want you to take an umbrella by yourself.  You might break it."  And he'll reply with, "But I'll be really careful with it."  And I'll say, "I'm sorry, I don't want you to be alone with the umbrella," and he'll say, "Then you come with me," And I'll say, "But I'm busy right now," and he'll say, "But I really want to go outside right nowwww!  I really, really, really want to go outsiiiide!"  This continues ad nauseum and (I confess!) he often wore me down.   This was not good.

So I'm not saying you shouldn't ever give a simple explanation when you lay down a law, but I am saying you must remember that don't have to get sucked into an argument about it.

And What About The Ambassador?  (And no, I don't mean that gosh-awful novel by Henry James.)   Early in my reading-about-parenting career, I read in a couple of places that you should think of your child as an ambassador visiting from a foreign country.  When the ambassador made a mistake, you wouldn't send him to time out!  You wouldn't slap his hand!  You would patiently explain that we don't do that thing and then show him something else he could do instead!  I totally agreed with this.  However, when Soren was two, and constantly battering his newborn brother at every turn, I remember thinking, "But what do you do when the ambassador pulls out an AK-47 and blows away some important public officials?  Particularly after you've specifically and repeatedly told him that's not acceptable in our country?  And shown him how to touch the public officials nicely?  You cuff that bastard and throw him in jail, that's what you do!"  

But the truth is, there is no little ambassador.  To make an analogy like that is totally misleading.  Children are children, with completely different brain structures than full-grown emissaries from a foreign land.

That said, I want to make it clear that I am a big believer in using skills training, coaching, and logic to teach children how to make good choices on their own.  It's so important for a child to understand the reasons behind their choices and to learn how to manage their emotions and think through consequences.  Using a skills-training-based approach helps foster independent decision-making skills that will enable children to make good choices even without the external threat of punishment or hope of reward.  For a long time, however, I believed skills training was all I needed in order to be able to properly manage my children's behavior.  I was wrong.

Over time, I have discovered that there is value in using rewards and punishments with children (and by punishment, I mean a "negative reinforcer," a response that occurs immediately with the behavior to create a negative psychological response to the circumstances where the negative reinforcer was introduced; ie, having to go to time-out when you're whining).  My thinking before was that when you use rewards and punishments, you're not necessarily teaching kids to make good independent choices.  This is true; however, what you are doing when you use rewards and punishments is helping children establish a pattern of compliance and develop good behavior habits.  Sooner or later, a child will hopefully be developmentally ready to make positive choices without external motivation, but it can't hurt to already have those good habits in place.

We were able to bring out some very positive changes in Soren's behavior when we started using a reward system about a year ago, not the least of which is that he got out of the habit of hurting Liam every three seconds.   1-2-3 Magic just helps us provide motivation on the opposite end of the spectrum.

So there you have it, friends.  1-2-3 Magic.  It really, really, really is magical.  It even made lightning stream out my fingertips.  You should totally buy it, even if you don't have kids.  It's just that good.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

It REALLY is magic! (part II)

(Read "Part I" here.)

It was miraculous.  The concepts were so simple, I felt retarded for not coming up with them myself.

Basically, the "controlling obnoxious behaviors" portion of 1-2-3 Magic goes like this:

Kids want to have stuff and to do things.  Some stuff they can have and some things they can do, but it seems like adults are always telling them "no," those foolish people.  What's so wrong with eating marshmallows for breakfast?  Why can't a person snatch toys away from his brother?  Isn't it fun to play "swimming pool" with the family's toothbrushes?  And children-- especially younger children-- aren't developmentally ready to grapple with lengthy explanations for why they can't have what they want.  All they hear is "NO," followed by a Peanuts-esque "wah-wah-wah wah-wah-wah,"

This means that if a child wants something and is told he can't have it, he won't calmly say, "Oh, thank you Mother, for reminding me to think about my long-term health.  I wouldn't want to compromise my immunity by poisoning myself with processed sugars.  Instead of marshmallows, I think I'll have a big bowl of raisin bran with soy milk for breakfast."  Instead he'll say, "BUT I LIKE MARSHMALLOWS!  AND RAISIN BRAN IS YUCKY!"

A child who has just been denied will often switch into battle mode, reach into his artillery supply, and begin fighting for his rights.  He'll whine, he'll badger, he'll tantrum.   And if it becomes apparent that is not going to win the battle for the marshmallows, a child will often change tactics and go for the second-place prize, which is making The Enemy just as miserable as he is.  Simply getting a big reaction out of the grown-up who just said "no" makes a child feel powerful and somewhat compensates for him not getting what he wants.   It follows that the three worst things you can do while a child is misbehaving are (1) Give in, (2) Persistently use logic try to justify your decisions, and (3) Get emotional.  Instead, you need to train them (like puppies) not to engage in unacceptable behaviors.

The idea behind 1-2-3 Magic is that instead of arguing, then explaining, then getting emotional, then freaking out-- as soon as your child starts exhibiting a negative behavior, you calmly say, "That's one,"  which is shorthand for "This behavior is unacceptable."  Then you wait about five seconds.  If they persist, you say, "That's two."  Which means, "I mean it."  Then you wait another five seconds.  If the behavior has continued, you say, "That's three.  Take five,"  which means it's time for the child to spend one minute for each year of his age in his room (or, if you're not at home, you can pick an alternate consequence, like losing a privilege or leaving the store to sit in the car).  Some behaviors warrant an automatic "3," like hurting and using mean words.  But the whole time the child is misbehaving and you're counting, you don't talk, you don't raise your voice, you don't yell.  You simply count...and calmly send the kid to his room (or carry him to his room, if your child's name rhymes with Boren.)  You (calmly) add minutes for any destruction or name-calling that occurs en route, then completely ignore his freak-out behaviors while he's in time-out, though you don't start timing until he's chilled himself out just a little bit.  After the time-out is finished, you don't talk about what happened, you don't make anyone apologize to anyone else, you're just done.  You move on with your day.  (Rachel Addition:  At a later, more positive time, you could take a few moments to talk about how to handle situations like that more gracefully, maybe do some role-plays, and teach about repairing relationships through apologies, etc.)

And that's the entire first half of the book.  (The first part of the book is about controlling obnoxious behaviors; the second half, which I haven't read yet, is about encouraging positive behaviors.)  I was able to explain all the important parts to Abe in about three minutes.  We agreed to start it the very next day.  I warned Abe that the first 7-10 days might be a living hell while Soren tested the new system.  "We just have to hold firm!"  I said.  And we both braced ourselves, feeling confident that the program would bring about positive change but also feeling confident that Soren would push and push and push to see how serious we were about it.

The next morning at breakfast I told Soren that we were going to start doing something a little different.  I told him, "You know that it's not okay to whine and throw fits and hurt people.  So from now on, whenever you start behaving in a way that's not okay, I'm going to say 'That's one.'  That means you need to stop.  If you don't stop, I will say, 'That's two.'  That means you really, really need to stop.  If you don't stop, I will say, 'That's three,' and you will have to spend five minutes in your room.  If you hurt someone or call names, you will have to go straight to your room for five minutes.  But then, when you're done with being in your room, we won't talk about it any more.  Sound good?"  In response, Soren climbed up on the kitchen table and made a visceral growl.  "That's one," I told him.  Then he bit me.  "And that's three," I said, scooped up his angry little body, and carried him to his room while he thrashed around and hit me.

Here we go, I thought.

Part III.


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