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

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.


Becca said...

I am so glad Soren didn't take to it wonderfully, (not that I was hoping for you to fail I was actually rooting for you) but I just thought if I tried to explain something to my kids about discipline I would probably have at least one crying and 3 in time out by the time I had finished explaining or soon there after.

heidi said...

Oh no you didn't, Rachel! You didn't just stop right there in the climactic part of the story!

I swear if I was there right now my behavior would earn a "two" AT LEAST.

Soren's jump from a growl to a bite made me laugh; but it also gave me a slightly weird feeling, as if life with children must feel like living in a not-so-funny black comedy at times.

I have a really strong memory of when I first heard about the "Magic 123" system and what my reaction was at the time. But I'm not going to tell you because you're making ME wait and that's not the kind of behavior I want to encourage.

But, I have thought about the implications of behavior modification; and how I'd feel funny, for instance, in trying to apply that sort of system to... my husband, for instance. Not that I DON'T end up punishing and rewarding behaviors just by my responses, you know? But, to do it more directly would feel insulting to his humanity, I think. But I also realized--and this is the important part, I think--that children who are still learning to control their impulses and whose brains are still developing an awareness of other people often act like assholes. And I wouldn't have married an asshole; and if Paul started screaming at me and biting me I'd divorce him.

So--I think behavioral modification is preferable to the unavoidable alternative, which for me, would be breaking up with my child.

Also... more later. SOMETIME later. You don't know when and I'm not telling you exactly when "sometime" will be, either.

Karen said...

I'm hoping raising kids really is like training a puppy. If that's the case, I'm going to stick with my tried and true "spray bottle" method. It did a pretty good job of preventing the dog from barking and the cat from getting on the kitchen counter. Here's to hoping the 123 method works for you & your cute kids. If not, I've got an extra spray bottle and a crate over here you can borrow. :D


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