Parenting: n. the raising of a child by its parents
Pointer: n. helpful information, tip
I’m visiting my daughter’s family in California this week and having a blast hanging out with my two grandsons, Alexander – 7, and Elliott – 4.
The boys have always been adorable, brilliant, charming, of course – whose grandkids aren’t? – but there was a time when their behavior was less than delightful. Each had their own particular way of expressing displeasure with reality. Alexander’s specialty was extended whining and wailing; Elliott’s was throwing things and biting plus very loud crying.
Heather responded to these bad behaviors just the way I responded to hers and her brothers when they were little (though she is much more patient than I was). She tried to use reason…
She would explain patiently why it was a bad idea to climb on the table, or toss food onto the floor. In a calm soothing voice she would say such things as, “I hear that you really want another piece of candy, but it’s bad for your teeth.” Or, “I know you really want to play with that truck, but it belongs to Sammy and he isn’t ready to share right now.”
Trouble is that when rage takes over these little bodies, reason only infuriates them and the parent either caves in, figures out an intriguing diversion or throttles the kid. In Heather’s case, she could maintain her outward cool for an admirably long time before caving or finding a rabbit to pull from a hat. (Throttling was the option I frequently considered in my parenting days…)
Meanwhile the kid has calculated that if he keeps up the shit-fit for 4 more minutes, something better will happen.
If my son-in-law was around, he would try to help out, by further exercises in sympathetic reasoning. Needless to say, this only fueled the flames.
A couple of years ago everything changed. The pediatrician recommended a book called 1-2-3 Magic, by Thomas Whelan. As I understand it, the technique does away with the reasoning and the rage.
In a nutshell (but read the book, don’t take it from me) the first time the kid does the unwanted behavior, the rule is explained: “Biting is not allowed. This is your first warning.”
The kid attempts another bite. “No! If you do that one more time I’ll put you in your room.”
He tries again. “That’s THREE.” and you swoop the kid up (no yelling, no reasoning) and put him in his room (or crib) for as many minutes as the kid is years old.
Because the kid knows perfectly well what’s acceptable behavior, you can very soon skip to simply warning: “That’s ONE!”
It really is magical. It saves so much emotional energy for the parent – no anger, no need to act patient – just swift action like gravity if the behavior continues past the first warning.
Amazingly the behavior usually just stops at “That’s ONE.” And if the count gets up to THREE and bedroom banishment happens, the little dear usually emerges a few minutes later all sunshine, apparently forgetting any upset.
After a couple of months of consistent application of the 1-2-3 Magic rules by my daughter and her husband, everyone in the house was calmer and happier, young un’s included. Meltdowns still occur when the boys are tired, but they are usually brief, and because the child is removed to his room, his behavior doesn’t infect the rest of the family.
Man oh man, I wish I’d had this knowledge when I was a young parent.