Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Power of 3

There is a dirty little secret about correcting children: It relies entirely on an unspoken contract between parent and child.  The contract goes something like this: 
“Wherefore I am the adult and the only party with any type of long-range planning skills and knowledge about the wider world I will make the rules.  Whereas you are a high-energy, low-knowledge individual with a need for immediate gratification that can be both destructive and dangerous, you will follow those rules for both your betterment and the betterment of the world at large.  Decreed that since as adult I am bigger, stronger, generally faster and for the time smarter you will listen to these rules and obey the consequences.”
 Some of us parents are breaking the compact.

You see that last clause in our contract?  That part about being stronger, smarter, etc. etc.?  The dirtiest secret about correcting your kids is that if they simply don’t listen you really have nothing you can do.  You can tape them to their time out chair, but the reality is that there is nothing you can do that really will have any impact.  Some kids are genetically rebels and will push really hard, but all 2-year olds push boundaries.  But lets face it, no matter how far they push that boundary, you will still feed and love them and give them toys.  It is an occupational hazard of loving what amounts to a sociopath.  
The greatest video game of all time knew the Power of 3
The Power of Three.

What is more, our contract includes small print that essentially gives the kids the option to opt out of the contract at any point.  I haven't included the language, because its a state-of-the-art secret among toddlers.  You'll have to ask Honest Toddler.  Anyway, thanks to this small print hidden in our contract, your kids will eventually stop listening to you at some point.  With any luck they will be 25 when that happens.  At that point they are pretty much fully formed adults.  At any rate, if they do something stupid at 25, the parent is usually off the hook.  The scary thing is that kids can stop listening just as easily at 2.5-years old as easily as they can at 25-years old.  It's your choice really.  Do you want a fully educated, fully competent 25-year old not listening to you or a stark raging mad 2.5-year old hell bent on crayoning a wall doing it?  Because if you aren’t following through with your threats and punishments, then you are just asking your 2.5-year old to figure out that the contract is a nullity if they don’t want to follow it and crayoning that wall.

I choose the former, so I follow through.  As a result, I’m really, really good at counting to 3.  Really good. And I get lots of practice, because I count to 3 a lot.     

I mentioned last post that I - to the horror of the Twitterverse - recently took my two-year-old triplets to the grocery store by myself.  I felt completely comfortable doing this because we respect the Power of 3.

***

Let me explain

When one - or two or three - of the triplets is doing something we don’t want to encourage, we give them a solid three count to stop.  If they don’t, its either into time out or we force them to do what we want.  So if they are screaming or hitting its time out, and if they are dilly dallying going upstairs, getting to three means we go and pick them up. Consistently; every time.

One of the things about two-year olds is that they really, really want to do everything themselves.  Everything.  If you tell me your kid’s first sentence wasn’t “Me do” I’ll call you a liar-liar-pants-on-fire.  The trick is that a two-year old wants to take those steps themselves, or lie down for a diaper change themselves or walk to the car themselves.  Anyway, you want to twist that to your advantage.  If they know that after “3” they will be carried to their destination, well, they get a pretty good hop in their step at “2.” 

The second is that kids are much, much smarter than we give them credit for.  Sure, their minds may only be able to verbalize 150 words and string together 3-word sentences, but inside that brain case neurons are firing at rates that would shock you and I.  I’m pretty convinced two-year olds are as smart as 5-year olds but simply lack the ability to express it.  This second point mean you have to follow through.  If you sometimes just let it go or don’t follow through, well, they won’t care, or fear, when that 3 comes.  If you don’t follow through they know its probably only 50-50 that you’ll come get them that time.  Why give up playing time now when they can garner a couple more minutes and end up in the same place – i.e. upstairs/timeout?  When you don’t follow through only you, the parent, loses.  The kids gets the “now” part of his play and still ends in the same place.  Its only you, the parent, who gets frustrated and angry.  Follow through.  

Seriously.  Its your only weapon because, as I've explained, the kids can break the contract at any time. What are you going to do when that happens? 

So lay out the repercussion; count to three, and then follow through.  Its in the contract.


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