Thursday, November 19, 2009

1-2-3 Magic, Thank You For Being You

We have been having quite the crisis around my house lately. No, not the one where I lost my jobs. No, not the one where I have lost my mind with stress and depression over having lived with my in-laws for five years, the entire length of my marriage. No, the one I am talking about is the one in which my 3 1/2-year-old daughter, the former angel baby, glorious sleeper and perfectly behaved little model child decided that being well behaved was, like, totally 2008 and she was going to do what all the "cool toddlers" were doing and make everybody's life miserable.

What a little joiner.

I've talked about it before; how the week before she turned 3 it was like a switch flipped and she became a different child. Well, that was nothing folks. Because that child was Cindy fucking-Loo-Hoo compared to the Damian clone that has been running our household for the past month or so. She's bossy, she's obnoxious, she's whiny, she's demanding. Oh, and did I mention she was abusive? Yeah, mommy was getting punched, hit, kicked, scratched, bitten, and pinched on a daily basis, and was about ready to run away from home and join some welcoming group of gypsies if it didn't come to an end.

But all this began right about when my hours increased with work. And, working from home, as you can imagine, this meant that less attention was paid to her. Also, I was more stressed and had less patience. This created a vicious cycle of her feeling ignored, acting out, me overreacting and losing my patience, her getting out of control, then me giving her her way just to get some peace so I could work.

Not good. Not good at all.

Then I lost my jobs. Bad news, yes. More stress? Yes. Toddler's behavior? Ten times worse. We all know that kids are like dogs and bees. They can smell fear. And she could tell something was wrong with the family and acted out accordingly. So last week was probably the worst week we had ever had and an all time low in my parenting career. But I got smart, and remembered what we did when my stepson was completely unmanageable as a toddler. We called on people much smarter, more experienced and less messed up than we were. Out came the parenting books.

The one parenting book that we found to be extremely helpful with my stepson, who happens to be ADHD and had severe speech and developmental delays and learning disabilities as a toddler (now only struggles with the ADHD, has a come a LONG way and doing really well) was 1-2-3 Magic. It was easy and effective and we ended up using it for years with him. We even used a modified, watered down version of the technique of it up until now with our daughter, but had gotten away from being completely consistent, which is key with this program. So I made a command decision this week, that I was going to get the new edition of the book, read it cover to cover and devote myself to carrying it out and making a positive change in our household.

I forgot how hard the first few days were. I felt like a zookeeper in a crazy zoo full of psychotic animals who won't stay in their cages. One, two, three, time out. One, two, three, time out. One, two, three, time out. All. Day. Long.

Good thing I was out of a job.

Day 2 wasn't much better. We spent most of the day counting and putting her in time out. But she seemed to understand the system better and would anticipate the third count and know she was going to time out and wish she hadn't pushed her limits. This was promising. It gave me hope for Day 3. And at least I got 3 minutes of peace every time I put her in time out in my bedroom about 50 times a day which equals approximately 150 minutes of peace for mommy. That's not bad for a mom who has not been getting ANY peace for months. I savored it.

Day 3 (yesterday) yielded much better results. It started off on shaky ground, and she was in time out within 30 minutes of waking up, but then she went to preschool and came home a different child. She didn't get a time out ALL AFTERNOON. Yes, she got to 2 quite a few times, but never got to 3. And there were a few times she said out loud, "if I get to 3, I get a time out," almost like a little toddler mantra, reminding herself to behave, and not only was it adorable, but it was a perfect little internalizing tool for self monitoring. I almost cheered out loud when I heard her say it.

So I think we are going to be OK. I know it isn't the end of the road. I know we are still going to have a lot of tough days, and she may regress to her rotten behavior and we will have to start all over again, but at least I know I have a plan. I know what to do.

And as a wise man once said, knowing is half the battle.