“GET. IN. THE. CAR. NOW!” I yelled in frustration and rage. My almost four year old son was backed into the corner of our garage. I was in standing in front of him punctuating each word by waving my arms in the air – breathless from screaming.
In the same moment, I saw the look of fear in my young son’s face. I stepped back. I let out a deep breath. His wide scared eyes were fixed on me. I took another step back. Even though I was still reeling inside with anger, in his eyes I saw how horribly, recklessly and irresponsibly I was acting.
I turned away from him and saw the frightened faces of his younger brothers, already in their car seats, watching it all. Watching me behave with unacceptable fury. I was upset and disappointed with myself.
I turned back to him. I whispered his sweet name. The sweet name I chose, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I reached for him. He slowly stepped towards me. Tears started to stream down his face. He obliged to my earlier request and we walked towards the car together both fighting back more tears.
The next morning, I boarded a plane to Miami with my oldest girlfriends. I recounted the last few weeks to them: all the struggles we were having with behavior.
I admitted that I was losing my patience and just yelling because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know how else to get through to them.
One friend listened intently and patiently. She didn’t judge me. She didn’t correct me. She simply said, “You have to read 1-2-3 Magic.” (same friend who gave the advice here. Everyone needs this girl in their life. We joked that she mooched off our snacks at field hockey camp, but really we’ve been mooching off her infectious smile for years.)
Two years earlier, I had purchased 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 following the recommendation of another friend. For two years, I let it gather dust next to my bed. I remembered my friend’s words from two years before: you have to put in the work. I was not putting in the work.
Rather than putting in the work, I fell into the cycle I knew: child pushes the limits. Mom loses her temper and yells. Child and mom make up. Mom feels terrible – swears to never do it again. Keeps her cool for a few weeks, until the next time. (The book has a term for this: Automatic vs. Deliberate Parenting.)
After I behave this way, I inevitably feel sick. Sick because I knew what he felt like. I’d been on his side numerous times. Sick because I didn’t want him to feel that way. Sick because I knew I was responsible for making him feel that way.
I know better. I know that swearing to do my best without actually learning how to do my best is just an empty promise. I knew my child deserved more. I owed him more. I owed myself more.
1-2-3 Magic was sitting next to my bed one thousand miles away. I needed to fix this now. I needed to read it now. I went straight to the bookstore. I bought a second copy and Shark vs. Train (I couldn’t go home empty-handed).
For my return flight, I was blessed with a line of thunderstorms that kept me in the Miami airport for 8 hours. Nothing else to do, but read 1-2-3 Magic!
As I turned each page, I was humbled. 1-2-3 Magic teaches effective methods of disciplining young children, but the foundation of the approach requires well-behaved adults. Before the book even talks about the kids, it teaches the importance of adults practicing the “No Talking and No Emotion Rules.” Adults must stay calm, not yell and not escalate. This is what they call the “magic” part.
The book was for me! Not for my misbehaving 3 year old son. I was the one behaving badly. I was the one acting like an out of control child. I was the one who needed to change.
Last week, I wrote about love. As much as I always want to be love, I fail sometimes. I still get mad. I feel myself falling into my old habits. But that’s when the No Talking and No Emotion rule is most important.
This exercise is a constant practice for me. I walk away if I need to. I hand it over to my husband if I need to. But I’m getting better at it and I can feel that staying calm is starting to become my new default.
More and more, I have better self-control and I don’t escalate with my kids. Everyone’s behavior still has room for improvement in our house. But as my behavior has improved, so has everyone else’s.
Like, comment and follow. But this is a tough truth one, so I totally get if you want to read it in anonymity, just know I’m with you sister!!