1-2-3 Magic: Newsletters
Anyone who is a parent knows that the job is tough. Really tough. If we moms and dads were really honest with ourselves, we’d have to admit that we had almost no idea what we were getting into when we brought that first baby home.
The old saying about kids not coming with a training manual is true. And the problem of “What do I do with this kid?” is intensified for parents in our contemporary rush-rush, worry-worry world. The problem is that when parents don't quite know what they’re doing and they’re too busy to find out, they tend to shoot from the hip. Shooting from the hip can lead to two opposite, out-of-control parenting styles, neither of which is good for children. Let’s call these two styles “Underdog” parenting and “Big Dog” parenting.
Who’s in Charge at Your House?
True or False? Kids’ self-esteem and creativity are both higher when they can “do their own thing” and they are not exposed to external limits imposed by adult authority.
Believe it or not, this statement is false. A number of studies have come up with the conclusion—which makes sense when you think about it—that kids feel better about themselves and perform better, creatively and otherwise, when they learn the boundaries for reasonable behavior.
The world itself has all kinds of limits and rules. There are rules for how to treat other people, speed limits, laws about property rights, rules for sports, interest payments, taxes, marriage. You may not like all these regulations, but if you don’t recognize them, you will get hurt and wind up more frustrated than you would be if you followed them. Parents are the ones who introduce their children to life’s boundaries.
How parents establish rules and set limits—or fail to set limits—not only has a tremendous effect on the self-esteem of a child, but it also affects the relationship between parent and child, the parent’s own self-esteem and the overall atmosphere for everyone around the home. These effects are enduring. They involve not just a particular hour of a given day, but they involve weeks and months and years.
The parents’ job here is complicated. It first involves coming up with reasonable rules. These must then be communicated clearly to the children. Then they must be enforced on a regular basis. And finally, when they are being enforced, children rarely say, “Thank you for your efforts.” Instead they test and manipulate.
My kids are fourteen and sixteen and are graduates of 1-2-3 Magic, which isn’t surprising, as I have co-written two of the companion books to the original 1-2-3 Magic! I’ve been doing this parenting thing for quite some time and I will tell you that the behavior that my kids exhibit that drives me the most bonkers is fighting with each another. I’ve never been a fan of conflict. In my own life, I tend to avoid it (for better or worse!) like the plague. Since I try not to engage in battle myself, it makes me slightly nuts to listen to my kids engaging in it with one another. I can’t stand it.
I have good news and bad news for you regarding sibling rivalry. Bad news first—you simply cannot eliminate it completely. Believe me, I’ve tried. Siblings have been going at each other since the dawn of time (Cain and Abel, anyone??). Siblings will continue to go at each other until the end of time. My two teenagers still regularly spar.
Now, having said all of that, I do have some good news for you! While you can’t eliminate this behavior from your children’s repertoire, you can manage it. You can keep their little spats from escalating into all out wars. I have some tips that will help you.
The 4-year-old tore open a Christmas gift from his Grandma. Realizing it was a pair of pajamas, he screamed “No! I don’t want any stupid clothes!” and threw the PJs onto the floor. The problem? Grandma was sitting in the room.
“I can still remember this scene when it happened,” says Dr. Phelan, psychologist and author of several parenting books, including 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. The gift giver was Phelan’s mother and the rude recipient was his son, now 41. “The incident shocked me, and it probably almost killed her.”
The family all survived that Christmas, but the episode may have something to do with Phelan’s attitude to this day. “Big Christmas get-togethers can be a bit of a chore,” he says.
The two biggest mistakes that most Dads make trying to use positive discipline with their children are these: Too Much Talking and Too Much Emotion. Does this nighttime conversation sound familiar to you?
Dad: “Honey, don’t you think it’s time for bed? It’s 9:15 already.”
Honey (7 years old): “No.”
Dad: “But you don’t want to be all tired in the morning, do you?”
Honey: “I want to read another story.”
Dad: “We’ve already done four stories. I think that’s enough.”
Honey: “I never get to do anything.”
Dad: “You never get to do anything?! What do you call the zoo ALL DAY? Nothing!?”
Thinking of kids as little adults and talking and chattering too much is bad because it either doesn’t work or it takes you through the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit Syndrome. Ironically, too much talking and explaining makes kids less likely to cooperate because it irritates and distracts them.
Why is too much emotion destructive?