Showing posts with label Behavior. Show all posts

Potty Training in an Apartment with One Bathroom

If there was a top five list of parenting tasks that I wish I could outsource, potty training would probably take up 3 of the items on that list. (The other 2 places on there would be devoted to cleaning up other bodily fluids in the middle of the night and dealing with children during daylight savings time mayhem).

The conventional wisdom in the US (potty training is a developmental milestone highly influenced by culture) is that most children potty train some time between 2 and 3 years old.  I took that recommendation as a directive to spend the entire year panicking about... were we starting too late? to early? did we miss a window? how about now? does a window exist? do we have enough cleaning supplies? is there really NO way to outsource this? pretty please with a cherry on top?

When one considers this complete panic and barrage of confusing information, it was a super convenient excuse that our second child didn't sleep at all as a baby.  "We're too tired to deal with this" we told ourselves every time the topic came up for discussion.  Then finally, the baby started to sleep and we were ready to face my daughter's upcoming 3rd birthday.  We decided to our big parent pants on and just do it.  We signed up for a class at a local parenting center (The Loved Child, for the local crew), we bought some gear, and we got down to business.

Now because things on the internet are forever, I'm not actually going to discuss the details of potty training.  I will say however, that it went far more smoothly than I would have guessed.  I will tell you about gear you may need before you start, especially if you live in a house with only one bathroom and/or don't want to be trapped in your house for a month.

Potty seat for families with only one bathroom

When choosing a potty accommodation for your little one, there are many options, but all of them basically solve 2 problems - the kid is too short to climb on the toilet by herself without assistance and the kid's backside is too small to sit comfortably on an adult ring without falling through.  So here are the options we considered and what we ended up with:

  1. 1. Standalone kids' potty (for example). 
    1. Pro - it's easy for the child to get on and off by themselves and it adds a 'second' bathroom for those times, especially in the beginning, when the child is having to go constantly.

    2. Con - you have to clean it and god forbid it gets knocked over.

  2. 2. Separate child's seat for toilet and a step stool (screw on version, removable version, folding step stool).
    1. Pro - I think the screw on option is awesome if you have a dedicated bathroom for your kid and the folding step stool is easily operated by the child.

    2. Con - If you only have one bathroom, as we do, having an extra ring on the seat seems like a pain as does having 2 removable parts.

  3. 3. Ring and step stool combination (Mommy's Helper is the one we have)
    1. Pro - It's one piece of equipment that's foldable and easily operated by the child. It can be stored folded when not in use, thus not interfering with adult bathroom use.

    2. Con - It's a larger item to store than a ring and stool. Also the kid can and will figure out how to bang the stool legs on the floor while sitting on the potty. 

    3. That said, this is the set up we've been using for months and we've been quite happy with it.
You may also need other equipment for your bathroom - such as a separate step stool for your sink (if you go with the seat/stool combination or stand alone potty) and/or a faucet extender.

And finally, as with all child related things, you may have found the perfect piece of equipment for you only to find it rejected by the child.  Thus, the best potty set up is the one your kid is willing to use.

Teaching your child the potty ritual (aka "for the love of god wash your hands!")

There's a lot to learn when becoming a person. Things that are obvious to you - why you shouldn't dip your hair into the toilet - are not obvious to a child. It's helpful to have a couple books on hand when climbing this mountain.  Personally we've enjoyed The Potty Book for Girls (there's a boy's version too). Also the Daniel Tiger episode about going to the potty is particularly instructive (Season 2, Episode 10 - available on Amazon Prime Video).

Potty seats for families on the go

So that's all great but what do you do if you ever want to leave the house? I really recommend getting a portable, folding potty seat. (Note: Amazon has a bunch of identical seats like this one - down to the singing teddy - by purportedly "different" manufactures. It seems fishy to me and I'm guessing my link will be broken shortly. Regardless, the seat is good)  This seat folds and thus easily fits in your diaper bag or purse for convenient transport.  And it makes the child comfortable and confident in unfamiliar settings. It's also hard plastic and thus easily wiped down.

And with that - may the spirits of good hygiene and compliant behavior be with you!


Thinking and talking about race with kids: Our Friends at We Stories

This post that is a bit off our normal programming, but seems especially appropriate this week. Unfortunately, the topics are evergreen. 

As our then-two-year-old became increasingly observant, we were suddenly no longer been able to hide in a world where we didn't have to talk about race or other obvious physical differences between people. Living in a diverse city, taking public transit, and seeing people with all sorts of appearance, abilities, and cultures made the issue quickly a topic of everyday conversation (and occasional embarrassment on the train).

Because our children are still very young, and because we have the privilege of being able to choose at times not think about race (i.e., we are white), this is an issue where we are very far from experts. Luckily though, I grew up with someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about these issues professionally. For that reason, I would like to take this post to highlight some of the great resources at We Stories.

Note: We Stories's primary activities are focused on a) the St. Louis area and b) figuring out how to make race something that white families think and talk about. That said, the resources, posts, and other materials linked to by them are appropriate across geographic areas and many are intended for audiences of any race or background. 

Consider this post mostly a round-up of links with commentary by me.

Why talk about race at all? Aren't kids color-blind? 

Post: It turns out they're not, even (in fact, especially) if we never talk about race. 

You can also read more about this in NurtureShock - a book we discussed in a post of our own: Some Stuff Science Says about Parenting.

Just thinking about how to do this is terrifying. 

Post: Where to Start: 12 Small Steps for White Families who Want to be a Positive Force for Change on Racism 

While I like all of their suggestions (really, go read that link), numbers 7-9 on their list about diversifying your bookshelf and mixing up your media really stuck with me as it’s something I’ve confronted over the last year. I know I was startled when I realized just how few black (and other) voices I was hearing - let alone my children - without ever having consciously chosen one way or the other.

Side note: Thanks to the past year’s changes at Comedy Central, we’ve all had the opportunity to experience some new perspectives about the news. Much as I loved Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the cast of the Daily and Nightly Shows have brought to the fore voices and experiences otherwise lacking in much mainstream media. (see Roy Wood Jr., especially at the 2:50 mark for a moving example).

This whole book thing seems doable. What should I get? 

Post: How to use Children's Books to Talk to Kids about Racism 

One day our daughter came home from school talking about pink and brown people. The next day, she assumed (loudly and in public) that a black man busking at Park Street was the same black man on our Green Line train. We knew books would be our first attempt at discussing the topic. From We Stories, we saw recommendations for The Skin you Live In and We're Different, We're the Same and our daughter has loved them both.

Side note: The latter book is a Sesame Street book from the 90s, which means it
  • a) has someone with a flattop, 
  • b) has characters that are no longer on the show (looking at you Barclay), 
  • c) does not have new characters (Abby), and 
  • d) is pretty awesome all around. 
One more aside: It's easy to think of Sesame Street as old, boring, and square, but they have consistently and justly discussed diversity, accepting all people (including yourself, see Segi's I Love my Hair for a powerful example), and living among density and occasional grime (bonus for our target audience).

Any other posts I should be sure to check out? 

Post: What they See. What we say, and don't

That post is a bit of a manifesto for We Stories and helps me understand their mission and how we’ll take their lessons and apply them at home. The stories we tell our children and the stories we tell ourselves matter. Many of us chose urban, vibrant environments for our families in order to engage with diversity. But that choice (or even frequent trips to the Korean grocery market) can't be the end of our story. For our family, it's something we spend a lot of time thinking about, and increasingly, it's something we're spending more time talking about. It is also one (of many) topics that came up in my appearance on the recent TransitMatters podcast.

These guys seem great! How can I find out more? How can I help them? 


For readers on the East Coast: St. Louis? Didn't they lose to the Sox a lot recently? 


Fear not, childhood friend and co-founder Laura Horwitz has spent significant time in Boston, NYC, and Philly.

For readers in St. Louis: Sounds like an Outsider... What High School did this person go to? 

Where was I during Jose Jimenez’s almost second no-hitter in 2 weeks against Randy Johnson? Laura’s basement, as the party drifted toward the TV and away from whatever else was going on. Also, the whole high school thing seems a lot less cute when you realize why it's such a useful statement about your childhood. Our city/county school systems are disturbingly tied to race, income, religion, and other factors that really homogenize childhoods, whatever part of town you are in. 

Totally nerdy policy wonk note 

I absolutely love that the site includes a section on the "Theory of Change." Program Evaluation for the win!

      

Getting Chores Done with a Toddler

I have two facts for you today:
  1. 1. Chores are REALLY hard to get done when kids are awake and generally being kids.

  2. 2. Toddlers LOVE doing what adults are doing.
So let's take advantage of these two facts, get some quality one-on-one time with your kiddo, and teach a bit of responsibility and/or life skills while we're at it.

The way we split up our household duties, I generally have the most Sisyphean of tasks: dishes and laundry. Forget any old gender-normed jokes - anyone doing a family's dishes can safely be called Dishyphus. Anyway, their frequent repetition (and in the case of laundry, spread of the task throughout the day) and extreme similarity from day-to-day makes them great places to solicit some toddler help.

Why have your toddler help? Won't that just make moderately unpleasant tasks unbearably sloowwwwwwwww?

Yes, it will be slow. Of course, just about anything your toddler does is slow, so this isn't really much of a change. But, more importantly, this is a key case of "compared to what?"

Can you empty the dishwasher by yourself in less than an hour? Of course, but do you want to spend your precious time when the children are asleep doing it? Or, more realistically, you can now spend their sleeping time doing the inevitable additional dishes (there are always more dishes), but with a much smaller stack.

And even if it does take an hour to do "together," so what? My daughter pretends in her ever-elaborate toddler ways to do the dishes anyway. Why not at least play together and wind up with some clean real dishes at the end?

Also, of course with practice, they'll need less supervision and be faster. Continuing with the emptying the dishwasher example, we've approached a speed pretty close to having me do it alone, but with all the benefits of having her help too.

How about just playing with your kids? 

So first, who says that play and chores aren't the same thing? But even if I accept the premise, kids and family and chores and everything else live in the real world. Dishes and laundry and grocery shopping and cooking and all the other things have to get done. I'd much rather live in a world where we have a good time doing these things together than have the weight of the list on my shoulders while Trying Very Hard to HAVE FUN and then having a million things to do after bedtime and no time to relax. Less anxious parents are also better parents.

PLUS... the line between play and work is pretty fine for kids of this age. Left entirely to their own devices, kids playact the things they see in their lives. Just today my daughter has, when playing, pretended to cook dinner, wash dishes, bring all her dolls to the bathroom, and have them line up for the potty just like they do at daycare.

And if that wasn't enough convincing (and let's be honest, anyone who knows me knows that I don't understand the concept of "enough convincing"), experts and even science agrees with me. One-on-one time, even when done as a joint project, or smooshed into other activities gets the approval of Dr. Harley Rotbart (of No Regrets Parenting, a book I haven't read, but have heard of) and this New York Times article. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal cites multiple studies, scientists, and experts who find kids who do chores (and start them earlier in life) are more empathetic as well as more able to be self-sufficient.

So let's give this a shot, what kinds of activities do you do? How do keep it useful, safe, sane?

Laundry

From about when she could walk, our daughter was interested in watching and helping with the laundry. Given that it's a long series of small tasks, it's pretty easy to find something for almost any age kid to do for at least part of the cycle.

Sorting

  • * Do they know clothes types? "Put all the socks in this bin," since they're all washed warm anyway.
  • * Do they know their colors? "Help me find all the white shirts and put them in this pile."
  • * Working on shape recognition? Learn the laundry symbols together! "Can you count the dots or lines on this tag?"
  • * Early reader? "Can you find the word 'Warm' or 'Cold'?"
  • * Plus a dive or two into a pile of dirty clothes is admittedly pretty fun, and no grosser than anything else they'll do.

Filling the machines

  • * Living on one floor, with hardwood floors, and with low-friction laundry baskets, our daughter started insisting on dragging the (lighter) hampers to the laundry room on her own before she was two.
  • * She's also found great joy in me turning the hamper on its side, her crawling in, pulling out a few items, and placing them directly into our front-loading washer. It's slow as hell, but my back has also found great joy in this too!
  • * If she can put them in the washer, she can take them out and hand them to me to put in the dryer (stacked way too high for her at this point). My back thanks her again.
  • * Like all modern washers, ours has a multitude of buttons. For now, I do all the setup, but she knows where the start button is and when to press it. She's also getting the hang of the soap dispenser; she's not quite ready to empty soap into it or pour from the bottle (though she offered this morning). Depending on your interface, you may have other buttons or knobs that you can use to match the laundry labels or practice some reading.
  • * While I haven't done this one yet, I remember the first thing my parents had me help with is cleaning the lint trap. I think I'll wait until she stops sucking her fingers before teaching her this one...

Putting away clean clothes

This may be something you only want help for the kids' loads, but it's another great way for them to take some ownership of their lives and to give you a hand.
  • * Sort the clean clothes into what goes into the closet vs. the drawers
  • * Sort own clothes from any applicable siblings
  • * Learn to fold pants
  • * Match socks!
  • * Or even just hand you one item at a time to hang, again helping out your back.
We just lowered the baby's crib, so maybe this back thing is just me...

Dishes

Just because you're doing chores,
doesn't mean you can't wear a fun hat!
Obviously the dishes present more safety challenges than the laundry, but there's still plenty to do. First, and most important, we put her cups and bowls in a bottom drawer of our pantry so that at mealtime, she can get her own things out and help us set the table.

Because of this, our first stage of helping with the dishes was putting away her own clean plates, bowls, and cups (after washing her hands, of course). I'd take them out of the dishwasher and put them somewhere she could reach (first placing them out one at a time, and then later in a stack). Busying herself running back and forth to the pantry one plate at a time bought me lots of time to empty out the rest of the dishwasher.

Next, she's started helping put away all the silverware, which is frequently all I have left after the time she spent putting away her own things. After I first put away all the knives, she sits in one of our high stools and matches forks and spoons from the dishwasher basket to what's in the drawer. As of right now, she still doesn't have much intuition for what goes where, but it's a great opportunity for me to suggest she "run a experiment to see where it fits."

With that under her belt, she became more interested in how things get put into the dishwasher. So now, when I start loading the dishwasher (usually while she's still sorting cutlery), I set aside two piles:
  1. 1. I place all the dirty cutlery (except knives) on the open door of the dishwasher for her to place back into the basket once it's empty and returned to the dishwasher 

  2. 2. Her plates/bowls/cups for her to place where I point to in the dishwasher.  

Other household tasks you can do together

  • * At the grocery store, help steer the cart (this also helps them stay close with a hand on the cart).
  • * Also at the grocery store, carry the box/can/etc. to the cart and place in or hand to another adult. Helping at the grocery store is also a good way to keep little bodies active and little minds from getting bored enough to start causing mischief.
  • * Help set the table for dinner. Even if you don't want her carrying your fine china (you don't), she can place napkins, bring over her own plates and cutlery, and as you trust her more, carry small containers of food or toppings/condiments to the table. 
  • * And as you loyal readers know, they can help cook!

Carrying cheese home from the grocery store

The Caveats

Ok, so, after all that discussion of my amazing help with chores, I have to remind you, this is the real world with a real kid. 
  • * Some days she disrupts my ability to get anything done. She's a toddler, and like all parents, I do some combination of roll with the punches (preferred), fume (acceptable backup plan), and actively get frustrated at her (we all do it sometimes). 
  • * Some days she has no interest in helping and prefers to play by herself while I get some things done. This is obviously fine and the fact she can articulate her preferences and feel confident playing alone is great! 
  • * Some days she will want to help with one step of the process but not others. That's fine too; we're still too young for these to be chores/responsibilities and we're not forcing her to do any of it, so if she wants to help sort but not fill the washing machine, that's great. I got help sorting!
  • * Something will get broken at some point. Life will happen.
Regardless, the final upside to all this is that my child has some basic understanding of what it takes to run a household - clean dishes and clothes don't just appear out of thin air, and neither do groceries or dinner. In our house, they take work. At this age she can help or she can entertain herself while that work happens. Either way, she sees that the world doesn't entirely revolve around her moment-to-moment desires.

And, of course, we get to spend some great one-on-one time that fills her need to feel like a big girl and my need to have clean pants for work.

Toddlers and Toothbrushing a.k.a. Baby's First Toothbrush

So kids and oral hygiene is not exactly the world's most fun topic, but like needing to know how to clean poop off things and picky eating, it comes with the territory. And since we've had to think about it, we're here to tell you what has helped us.
From the first week or so of toothbrushing.

Our favorite baby book (Baby 411) will remind you that one really should start wiping down a newborn's mouth after every meal and switch to a toothbrush as soon as they get their first tooth. I suppose I just reminded you of that too, but also, it's more-or-less as realistic as when your dentist tells you to floss after every meal (or the even more laughable advice to floss your kid's teeth after every meal)... So let's get real...

We added toothbrushing to the bedtime routine at around 14 months, when our child could reliably climb up the stool, stand in front of the sink, and do something that approximated the motor control consistent with tooth brushing.

So, When Do I start Taking my Child to the Dentist?


Referring to the American Association of Pediatric Dentists, approximately 12 months is when you should first take your child to a dentist. Even without necessarily tons of teeth, the reasons are pretty good 
  1. 1. Someone can check for unlikely, but important medical issues regarding her teeth.

  2. 2. It gives your child a "dental home" in case you do have some urgent/acute need later on. 

  3. 3. It helps your child acclimate to a strange (and often scary) environment. Because very little needs to happen medically on the first few visits, it allows time to see (and hear) the equipment and doctors and everything else. We picked a pediatric dental practice which has been amazing. She has a great time and has been surprisingly compliant with all of their requests.

Toothbrushing Routine

Yeah, talking a toddler into toothbrushing, even with the promise of something that tastes like "Bubble Fruit," is not easy. For a while we got away with with making up relevant verses to "If you're happy and you know it." (If you're happy and you know it get on the step stool... if you're happy and you know it brush your back teeth... And now you know how your parents went from the normal people of their 20s into the crazy people you know today.) When that stopped working, we started to make nightly use of our Time Timer, setting 5 minutes for toothbrushing at the risk of losing a bedtime story. This strategy, learned from 1-2-3- Magic, generally works well enough that we're not messing with it for now. Perhaps someday we'll write up the whole bedtime routine for those interested.

Children's Toothbrushes

To make things a bit easier and fun for her, we went with the Baby Banana Toddler Toothbrush. It's made of silicone so it's ok for teething kids to chew on, and, of course, looks like a banana. We went through a couple of these as her chewing eventually began to take a toll on the bristles. After her 2.5 year dentist's appointment, we officially switched to the regular style (kid-sized) toothbrush she picked out there.

Obviously after letting her have some fun chewing on the brush, we'd do some actual brushing on her behalf, but the practice is paying off. At 2.75 years, she now does something that's pretty darn close to brushing her own teeth with some follow-up from Mom or Dad.

Kid's Toothpaste and Fluoride

Now what to put on the brush? If you're like me, you have vague memories of very sweet "Children's toothpaste" one could smear everywhere and was OK for kids to swallow as it had no fluoride. Those products still exist, but the latest recommendations from the AAPD suggests all kids use fluoridated toothpaste from the beginning. Of course, fluoride is still not great to swallow so the official guidance is to use a "smear" or "single grain of rice's" worth of toothpaste for kids under 3.

That said, we're still using a children's fluoridated toothpaste for the sweet flavor (and slightly higher fluoride content per volume). One smear at a time, it's taking us quite a while to get through the tube. In fact, we're still using the first one we bought a year and a half ago. I'm pretty sure we picked whatever sounded like the least disgusting flavor available at the CVS we stopped by, but for what it's worth, we have the Colgate Kids oddly-titled Bubble Fruit flavor.

Avoiding Anti-Science

It wouldn't be an authentic blog post by me if it didn't include some righteous indignation. Today's target is the anti-science wing of the natural/organic folks. Long ago, on my first foray into the parenting blogosphere, I read a website I had previously assumed to be reputable - BabyGizmo.  I then discovered a pseudo-science review by them of a toothpaste "so natural, you can swallow it." It was a perfect storm of anti-science fallacious thinking. (Let's start with the fact that fluoride, the reason you shouldn't swallow too much toothpaste, IS A NATURALLY OCCURRING ELEMENT. I could go on, but will not.) I found myself commenting and engaging them on Twitter. When their response was effectively "it's what the manufacturer said, don't blame me," two things toward this blog were set in motion. 

  1. 1. I realized I could not trust BabyGizmo as they apparently uncritically passed along manufacturer-speak, leaving us with one fewer source of reasonable information on baby gear. 

  2. 2. Our previous one-way love affair with Grounded Parents became two-way as they published an article on the topic. Since then, I've been lucky enough to guest post my own rant there too.

In any case, find a dentist, listen to the folks at the AAPD, find some ways to make it a fun part of your nightly bedtime, and toothbrushing won't be at all like pulling teeth </dadhumor>.


 

Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - How to Combat Picky Eating

As I've mentioned a couple of times on this blog already, I have a bit of a food obsession.  I love cook, to go restaurants, to talk about food, to think about what I'm going to eat, and pretty much every other activity surrounding food. And like all parents who have a kind of intense hobby, I wanted to groom my children to be into it too from the time they were born.

I had read the studies about babies learning to like the flavor of the food mom ate because it was reflected in the amniotic fluid.  I knew that data showed that babies were most receptive to the taste of new foods between 4 and 8 months, and that items introduced at this time would feel like culinary home to them for the rest of their lives.  I had seen the papers describing the fact that children who grew up in homes where adults consumed a varied diet would be far more
likely to grow into adults who did the same. I had done my reading and I was ready to raise little gourmands.  

I ate a healthy, varied diet full of fruits and vegetables while pregnant and breastfeeding, I made all my own baby food, and we fearlessly fed our first born from our plates once she developed the pincer grip.  When my daughter was a year old, she ate everything. I remember bragging about this to my boss at the time and him saying 
"Oh yeah, my daughter ate everything too until the day she didn't."
"Obviously" I thought to myself, "this will not be MY precious snowflake of a child.  I have read the studies and perfectly executed the plan.  My child will continue to be an amazing eater forever!"
Have I done enough foreshadowing here? Do you see where this is going? I think you do... At roughly 15 months of age, my daughter started dropping foods she previously ate with gusto.  First it was a refusal to eat blueberries, then beans, then eggs, and so on.  Foods previously eaten with joy were taken off the list of acceptable foods one by one until she was only willing to eat a handful of foods.

Eating what's for dinner - quinoa and tofu!
This was a dark time filled with much gnashing of teeth and soul searching in my house. I mourned the loss of my voracious eater. I wondered what I did wrong.  Then, after I had decided that I had wallowed in self pity long enough, I started to look for a book with answers. That is how I came across Ellyn Satter.  All across the internet, grateful parents whispered her name. I got one of her books - How to Get Your Kids to Eat: But Not Too Much and I started reading.

Ms. Satter is a nutritionist and a compassionate writer. She talks at length about the separation of duties between parents and children.  Parents have a responsibility to present their children with appealing nutritious food.  Children have the responsibility to eat how ever much they would like to eat.  This is exceptionally wise advice but very difficult for parents to internalize.  It's hard to sit at the table, having rushed home from work and prioritized cooking above everything else, only to have your child whine at the mere sight of what you've produced.  It's almost impossible not to feel like a monster when the toddler eats nothing at dinner.  Though, of course, Ms. Satter is right that no child has ever starved in a house with a full refrigerator.

It took awhile for our family to go "full Satter."  Once we did, it took about a month for our child to accept that the food on the table was all that was on offer.  However, in the last month we've had a real breakthrough. My daughter is trying (AND EATING!!!) new foods right and left - mangoes! green beans! horseradish cheddar! quinoa! This is a child who refused white rice a year ago. This method has not only been incredibly successful in getting our daughter to eat, but it has also reduced much of the stress around food in our house.  I plan and cook meals without obsessing about whether they'll be eaten.  After all, that's not my job. If you're struggling with this, I very much recommend her books.  She is a kind-hearted lady that saved this Mom's sanity at dinner.

   

Working Through your Toddler (and Older Baby) Behavior Issues - Discipline

As our daughter turned about 15 months old, we realized we needed some idea about what we'd do for discipline. We really had no specific plan besides the obvious points of no hitting, always let her know we love her, and, um... she should do the things we want her to do. This obviously wasn't enough. We'd heard good things about the book 1-2-3 Magic from other parents, and I had some expiring United Airline miles that could be cashed in for eBooks, so we figured it was at least worth a read. (Note: 1-2-3 Magic really suggests a minimum age of 2, so we just ad hoc'ed our own variant that worked until her 2nd birthday.)

Broadly, 1-2-3 Magic is parenting information you have encountered or heard before. The parent counts when a child misbehaves.  If and when 3 is reached without the undesirable behavior ceasing, the parent gives a time-out or similar punishment (something akin to removing an item being banged or otherwise abused). What the book does provide you with is specific answers to questions such as 
"What do I do if we're at the grocery store?"
"What if they say no to the timeout?"
"What if they claim they don't know what they did wrong?" 
Having these answers helps you train yourself so that the system becomes a reflex. Importantly, because it establishes clear, consistent ground rules, the kids learn it by reflex too. This reduces the frequency of ever even getting to 3. Similarly, it helps you focus on the your goals for having discipline in the first place, which can be hard when your child is annoying the crap out of you. Example: What if my child starts playing with a toy during time out and wants to keep doing it after it's over? Answer: Be happy that they are no longer doing whatever annoying thing caused you to count them in the first place.

Explaining and working through the various iterations of count and do a time-out takes up about a third of the book. The next segment is devoted to helping find alternative punishments when timeouts won't do and/or that are more appropriate for tweens and teens. The final third focus is on promoting good behavior (getting ready in the morning, bathtime, etc.). Since she was pretty young when we started, we used those sections less, but it all seems reasonable and we reference it as needed (sticker charts and timers feature heavily). In fact, we have since purchased a Time Timer (to be featured in another post, surely) and that fixed some bedtime problems we had when she got to be about 2 years old

All around it worked pretty well, accounting for the adjustments we made since we started before she was 2.  (Main tweak: extra warnings that we were going to count, which the book cautions against for older kids because that's what the "one" is for.) It took a few weeks for her to get the hang of it, but she mostly stopped the behaviors that got her counted and usually at least paused them for a while when counting got to 2. Now that she is two and a half, just hearing a "That's one" from us usually elicits a "no time-out" exclamation from her as she stops the behavior.

Our two criticisms are relatively small, but worth pointing out:

  1. 1. You can easily skip any set of paragraphs where the book begins to get too self-congratulatory. The authors definitely recognized that they will make their cash by selling a "system" and so there's lots of asides about how many people's lives it fixed or how you can supplement it with other 1-2-3 Magic products (1-2-3 Magic for Teachers, 1-2-3 Magic for Kids, 1-2-3 Magic for Christian Parents, 1-2-3 Magic Guacamole, etc.) and the first chapter or two are pretty heavy on this stuff. The book was good, but telling me in advance how amazing it is feels a bit like an infomercial and makes me want to continue reading it less. 

  2.  2. The book is pretty critical of treating your child as a "little adult." As both my wife and I were children who very much wanted to be treated as little adults, I bristle at this line of reasoning. That said, they are certainly correct about avoiding verbose explanations in the midst of undesirable behavior. We try to engage in "little adult" conversations once we have some distance on the event when things are calm and the children are able to think and communicate. During a wrap-up of the day (at bedtime or dinner) is good for this. 
These critiques are relatively minor and we are happy to recommend 1-2-3 Magic as a good first-line for developing your discipline strategy with kids of any age. It certainly has provided us the bonus of practically eliminating the need or desire to yell when in the throws of particularly intense frustration at toddler antics. Obviously once you need specialized information (be it by age, or by personality) there are plenty of other books that can help you build your full repertoire of strategies.

Note: This review is for an earlier edition of the book, though given the systematic nature of the book, I do not expect the major themes to have changed much. 

Note 2: Depending on what type of eBook person you are, this may be a good one to have virtual, rather than on paper, so you can quickly search/reference when needed.




Photo credit: Kid Daniel under Creative Commons License.

Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - Tantrums

Despite the fact that I am a firm believer in the idea that toddlers are easier than babies, I would be lying if I said that everything was smooth sailing once the kiddo hit 12 months.  Obviously, toddlers just go through their own phases and weird behavior issues.  We have faced our fair share and have the reading list to prove it.  So this installment will focus on how we got through some truly spectacular tantrums.

How to deal with toddler tantrums

When my daughter was 21 months old I would have told you that I knew what a tantrum was.  We had a summer of many tantrums when she was right around 1 because her desires outstripped her non-existent language skills by a mile.  Usually, the outbursts peaked right before we hit a language breakthrough (ex. said her first word, learned some verbs, started stringing together simple sentences, etc.).  Once the skill had been mastered, she would go back to being a relatively predictable little girl who thrived on routine.

Then, not to go all cliche on you, and I do think it was largely coincidence... but... we hit her second birthday.  It turns out what I thought had been tempestuous behavior flares were mere match strikes compared to the volcano eruptions she was apparently capable of.  Our 20 minute bedtime routine that had remained unchanged since she was 6 months old suddenly turned into a hour and a half knock down, drag out fight.  We spent an hour one morning trying to convince, bribe, cajole, threaten and anything else we could think of to do in order to get her to put on a pair of pants.  There was screaming and crying on everyone's parts.  And don't even get me started on bathtime. We were completely shocked and lost for what to do.

Cue a lot of frantic Googling and soul searching about whether it was too late to get out of this parenting gig.... and we found our way to the book The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old. I will confess that I approached this book with a very high degree of skepticism.  The recommendation for how to talk to your child in simple exaggerated sentences seemed idiotic and frankly disrespectful to the child. Then again, we were completely at our wits' end and a lot of people seemed to recommend the book.

Upon reading the book cover to cover (it's quite short and easy to get through), I started to implement the suggestions at the next tantrum. Once I expressed my daughter's feelings to her in a way she could understand, her screaming instantly stopped.  I was so shocked and unprepared for that to happen that I forgot what the next step was supposed to be. This method helped us get through the month long tantrum phase (and as all things, it really was a phase) with all of our collective sanities intact.

Though a bit gimmicky, I recommend this book very enthusiastically to any parent out there struggling to communicate with their pint-sized terror.  I also found Dr. Karp's chapter on the "personality" types of toddlers incredibly reassuring.  He allowed me to re-frame my previously somewhat negative view of my daughter's willful character traits and see them as potential positives. There is a lovely discussion in the book around how giving children what they want often results in even worse behavior - a fact I have found to be true.  This has allowed me to strengthen my resolve around enforcing boundaries for my toddler even when, in the moment, this occasionally results in more screaming.  

His writing is so kind and wise that I often find myself referencing his ideas, far beyond the suggested communication method, in discussions with other parents. And when everything is said and done, Dr. Karp is quite forgiving of the occasional bribery tactic and has given me ammunition when trying to convince my husband that at least occasionally he should let my daughter win. We have no lack of willfulness in this house!