I brought Little A to the pediatrician for some shots last week and mentioned that her big sister was acting up a ton. The pediatrician recommended a book called 1-2-3 Magic, which I hustled out to buy.
I have a love-hate relationship with parenting books. When Big A was a wee baby, I enjoyed looking up the basic developmental info, such as when she might be expected to roll over, or if three teeth was enough for her to eat porterhouse steak. But once she hit toddlerdom and her language and behavior got complex, I became much less of a fan of books. They just didn't help much. Some books presented a parenting model (i.e., losing your shit will damage your child and means you are evil). Others sympathized with me for being exasperated with my toddler or preschooler, but didn't provide effective advice on how to curb those bad behaviors.
What I first liked about 1-2-3 Magic was the basic assumption that it is normal for kids to act out. They said you could cut down on the craziness a lot, yet shouldn't expect it to go away completely. I found this idea that it was never going to be perfect oddly comforting and realistic. (Finally, standards our family could live up to!)
The program itself is pretty simple. When your kid does something you want them to stop, such as whining or badgering, you count. The kid gets to the count of 2 to stop what they are doing. If you reach number 3, the kid goes into time out immediately. After the time out, you don't demand apologies or even discuss what happened afterwards, you just go on with life without further mention.
The trickiest thing is that while counting, parents are supposed to follow a "no emotion, no talking" rule. In other words, don't shriek "That's ONE, why did you hit your brother? You KNOW you are not supposed to hit your brother! That's TWO -- why do you keep doing that?...", etc. Nor do you engage in conversations or debates during or after the time out in most circumstances.
I wondered if Big A would not understand why she was being counted for something if I didn't explain it. I also had my doubts that counting would prevent time outs, since the warning-followed-by-timeout-for-repeat-behavior method I was using didn't work. And I also felt dorky about counting aloud in front of others in public, and following through with time outs in those instances if it came to that. But the recent nonstop screaming and tantrums had filled me with desperation, so I was willing to try it.
One week into this, I am astounded to report that life with Big A is sooo much easier. Whining and badgering have been cut in half. Full-out tantrums have probably been reduced by 80 percent. Usually all I have to say is "That's one," and Big A stops whatever I don't like. Life in casa Wabi is so much nicer. Amazing!
Even though counting is the obvious change in our lives, the "no emotion, no talking" parental part of the program seems to be the real key to success. While trying it out, I realized that I was always explaining to Big A why she is in trouble. Not only does she find my talking irksome (which only gets her into more trouble ultimately) but she is not listening anyhow, and is simply getting me to postpone her punishment. Plus, it makes me look less than decisive and firm, to always be explaining reasons. Of course she is going to try to argue or debate discipline if I give her the opportunity. Not allowing any talking stops all that.
Likewise, the "no emotion" rule means that Big A isn't as clued into when she is pushing my buttons, so over time she seems less likely to do the things that drive me the most wild (like screaming). This simply makes it easier for me to maintain my cool. Since I don't stoop to her level during an episode, afterwards there isn't the icky emotional residue surrounding us that can spoil the mood in the house for hours. Most of the time, I get good control from her at the count of one or two, and the emotion level in the house stays pleasant and steady even with the counts. But on those occasions where time outs still happen, they tend to be gotten over by all much quicker.
So phew. Here's hoping we stay in this stage for a few months at least. Once Little A is a toddler the sibling rivalry is likely going to amp up more, and we'll have to see how that goes. But for now, things are much improved.