The best-laid schemes o' mice an men

Toddler Magic

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Children are beautifully adaptable. Whilst they do have individual personality traits, they’re also like sponges and love to learn. I hear so often the catch-phrase, “oh, well, every child is different” to explain away difficult behaviour. But children are able to be trained, and it builds their self-confidence. Perhaps parents fear they’re being manipulative or controlling, dictatorial even, and that’s possible, especially if you have traumatic memories from your own childhood. But there is a balance (the golden middle way!), and as a family we’re always striving for that.

Curly is not a difficult child, she never has been. But like any toddler, there were certain boundaries (ways of behaving we deemed appropriate) she would ignorantly barge her way through; Yelling, whining, hitting, ignoring mum or dad, pestering, whinging, and did I mention pestering? She’s received the occasional smack, but I didn’t like doing that, and explaining or trying to rationalise for the 20th time why she couldn’t have a biscuit because dinner was 10minutes away felt pretty stupid. I’d heard of a discipline technique (it’s a classic, you may have heard of it too!) called 1-2-3 Magic. I’ll outline how it works in our house, but buy the book and read it yourself (there’s a kindle version). We also hired the DVD from our library…that’s the only way I could get H. in on it. When I recommend this to people, I think they might get slightly offended, there’s this perception that unless your child is seriously disruptive, you don’t need a discipline strategy…and how dare I suggest one. But we decided to use this as a calm and consistent approach to give Curly (and Immy) a stable upbringing – because whatever I was doing, wasn’t very effective.

Here it is.

When Curly is doing something we want her stop doing i.e. it doesn’t require much thought for her to either stop, or change her behaviour, or come to mum and dad. First I communicate my wish, if she still refuses:
I say (calm and firm)…”That’s one”.
Cue silence. Seriously…don’t talk. Don’t explain. Count to five in your head.
“That’s two.” (calm and firm)
STAY SILENT. Count to five in your head. By this point, Curly usually yells “No!” and does what I’ve asked. It’s usually then I realise she actually could hear me, and knew perfectly well what I was asking of her despite it appearing otherwise initially. This has shown me how often I underestimated the intelligence of my little tot.
And if she doesn’t comply?
“That’s three…time out, two minutes”. (Calm and firm)
At which point I promptly walk her to her bedroom and close the door (NO TALKING, NO EXPLAINING). Or take her out of the trolley and she has to stand which ever aisle we are in at Woolworths holding my hand for two minutes. Or I pull the car over and we sit silently for two minutes…you get the idea.
When the two minutes is up…she’s allowed out of her room and we speak nothing of it…the lesson is over. Very occasionally you might want to sit down and explain why something is wrong, but mostly they already know – especially older children.

No special time out location needed, no jail cell. Just an end to whatever she was doing and two minutes time out. As she gets older we might adapt the consequences to the situation (and time out gets longer each year). It doesn’t matter that she can play with toys in the bedroom, the punishment is in the abrupt stop to her activity.

A couple of things to remember:
1. This is only good for behaviour that doesn’t take much to stop or change. For example, it doesn’t really work when you’ve asked your child to tidy their bedroom, or to eat their dinner etc.
2. Some behaviours need to stop immediately. If you child hits you (or someone else), it would be silly to say ‘that’s one’ and give them the chance to do it again. In that case jump straight to three. “That’s three, time out”.
3. This is a strategy for 2-12 year olds. Don’t try it with your 18month old.

The benefits.

It works! I can call out from across a room…”That’s one.” And she complies (mostly).
But best of all…no more tantrums from me. I have a plan, a tactic. I don’t get frustrated, I don’t yell (That’s important…don’t yell), there’s no need for smacking. Curly is happier, mummy is happier, daddy is happier.

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