The Counting Cure
Three-year-olds can no doubt be challenging. They cross their little arms, stick out their pouty, bottom lip, and stamp their impatient foot. They glare at you, just challenging you to challenge them or to follow through on a threat. You probably have a picture of your own child doing this and are saving it for good blackmail material! So what do you do about it? How do you get that strong-willed child who can also be so very sweet at times to grow up to be a kind, responsible adult who has maintained the essence of who he/she is? Just recently I have been reading 1, 2, 3 Magic by Thomas Phelan, Ph.D., a book on how to help parents discipline children ages two through 12. He notes three jobs parents have: controlling obnoxious behavior, encouraging good behavior, and strengthening your relationship with your children. In order to do this, he notes that parents must be "warm/friendly" in that the kids know they are loved and cared for, and they must be "demanding/firm" in expecting something from their kids. We as parents fall all along the continuum--some are trying to pacify and maybe even be the child's friend while others have created such a fear-based relationship that the child cowers in a corner or has ulcers from anxiety. Phelan wants to help parents find a happy medium. So, while I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, I read some very helpful things about how we as parents can accomplish our first job: controlling obnoxious behavior. These are things like whining, teasing, arguing, pouting, yelling, and tantrums. By using the Counting method, kids will know you mean business to stop being obnoxious. So, here's the basic idea. When your little tyke starts whining, for example, you say, "That's 1." Then give a pregnant pause and wait five seconds. If the child continues, say, "That's 2." Wait five seconds in silence. If it happens again, say, "That's 3. Take 3" (or however old the child is, as the time out will be one minute for each year of life). So, if the child was 2, say "Take 2." Then, the child is off to a time out. This part has alot of freedom--can be a time out chair, spot on the floor, or time spent in the room (yes, even if there are toys as the child does not want to be alone and interrupted from previous activity so this is still unpleasant!) You have to do a little trial-and-error and see what works best. Sometimes an alternative to time out is better, things like losing electronic time, earlier bedtime, larger chore, etc. Natural consequences also work well. The book addresses a number of practical questions but one I thought was especially helpful. You may ask, "What if my child is downright disrespectful or hits?" If the obnoxious offense is super obnoxious and giving them three chances to repeat the behavior is out of the question, then immediately say, "That's 3. Take ?" Time out or other alternative consequence ensues.
You think you can do it? Maybe it sounds simple on the surface, but there are two really important things to watch out for, according to Phlean. One, remember that kids, especially young kids, cannot be reasoned with so the more you keep talking at them and trying to change behavior by changing minds, the more frustrated you will become. This leads us to the second thing to be mindful of: do not become emotionally triggered. This Counting technique, and all ofparenting, requires not becoming so emotional that you have your own tantrum. I get it, those little ones push us and prod us, poke us and pull us, but we have to stand strong. Their happiness, character, and well-being (not to mention ours) depend on it!