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Wednesday, 22 January 2014 13:52

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, by Thomas W. Phelan

This book distinguishes between two types of child behaviour: 'Stop Behaviour' & 'Start Behaviour'. Stop Behaviour is behaviour that must be stopped immediately, like whining, fighting or yelling. Start Behaviour is behaviour that involves a longer process that needs to be done by the child – particularly behaviour that is often delayed or difficult, such as getting ready to leave the house in the morning, eating meals or going to bed at night.

The two main principles of this method involve two parenting 'rules': no talking, and no emotion. Phelan says that the two biggest mistakes parents make are to discipline emotionally, which results in parents arguing or pleading with the child which can lead to yelling and 'hitting'. As a parent, I don't have anything against spanking in itself, although I entirely agree that when a parent is reacting to their own emotions, yelling at or spanking a child can become very dangerous. The other mistake is talking too much, or trying to reason with a child who is either incapable of understanding reason, or is too selfish to care about your reasons.

The whole basis for this method and these principles is the belief that children are not miniature adults who are capable of reasoning and empathy, but selfish beings by nature. I know that this view would not be held by everyone, but as a Christian who believes in the sin nature, and based on my own observations and experience, this completely rings true for me. This method is about stopping bad behaviour using mild but consistent and emotionless discipline, while gradually training a child to develop their own self-discipline. Later in the book, the author reminds readers that part of the goal of parenting is to raise people who can leave their parents' homes and take care of themselves, which is something I try to keep in mind constantly when making parenting decisions and it was comforting to hear the author of this method emphasis the importance of this.

The basic 'Stop Behaviour' method outlined in this book is counting – when a child is misbehaving deliberately: whining, yelling, teasing, fighting, etc., you count to 3, giving about 5 seconds of silence between each count to give the child a chance to stop misbehaving. Almost always, the child knows what they are doing wrong, and so usually no explanation is necessary. If the child is legitimately clueless, the author says to quickly tell the child what they are doing wrong, but other than this to say nothing. Later in the book, the author describes situations and circumstances where talking and explaining are important and necessary for the parent/child relationship, but states that the time for talking is NOT during discipline. An emotionless parent can't be emotionally manipulated by the child, nor can the parent lose control of their own emotions.

So far, we have been following the method in this book for about five days, and despite its simplicity, it is difficult to remain emotionless and to keep quiet. I have always thought of myself as a calm and collected parent when it comes to discipline – I nearly always follow through on discipline without showing anger – but through this method I have realized how much I talk and allow myself to be distracted and manipulated before the discipline occurs.

For example, today Clara was asked to pick up her boots off the floor, and she began to babble about something and because I wasn't sure she had heard me, I asked her about three times before I realized I should count. I said 'That's one', and she continued babbling through 'That's 2...' and appeared as though she hadn't heard me at all. So, I stopped the count and explained to her again that I was counting, and if I got to 3, she would have a time out so she'd better clean up her boots. Finally, she started slithering (on her belly like a snake) sloooowly across the floor toward her boots. I was tempted to start counting again, since I had stopped proceedings to re-explain the situation to her, until she momentarily stopped on her way across the floor to examine a toy and I said 'That's 3' and she had her time out. What I should have done was to count right up to 3 – no explanations – when I started counting, and given her the time-out immediately. Based on her behaviour, she clearly doesn't take it seriously when I begin counting, and I need to make sure that I stay consistent – and quite strict - for a couple of weeks for sure to make sure she begins to take me seriously. Obviously I continue to give her reason to question my resolve.

The book goes on to discuss methods for encouraging children to complete certain tasks – like getting ready to leave the house in the morning, or to eat their dinner, or finish their homework – and although I think there is a lot of value in what the book spoke of here, many of these ideas will be more useful to me when Clara is a bit older. For now, it is my job to get her mostly ready in the morning and starting a kitchen timer to give her a limited amount of time to complete a task would – at this point, I think – still be over her head.

All in all, I appreciate this book – largely because it has given us a plan, and a simple methodology that involved principles that we had not yet considered. After realizing last week how very poorly we were doing in the area of discipline, we needed something different and this book was exactly that. 

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