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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.
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