How 1-2-3 Magic Stops Power Struggles

You want him to do his homework, and stop tormenting his sister. He has other ideas. Put an end to behavior problems with these techniques.

1-2-3 Magic, Part 3

Your child may fight the 1-2-3 Magic system, especially the first few times you use it. Hang in there. Parents who have tried the system say children respond amazingly well within a week or two - as long as parents avoid their old patterns of lecturing, arguing, scolding, and so on.

"Give it an honest try!" says Susan, a mother of three who has used 1-2-3 Magic for three years. "If you quit too soon, you'll never know what peace 1-2-3 Magic could have brought you."

Jonathan's transformation

Nancy knows firsthand how hard it is to discipline a child with ADD. The Seattle mom's third-born, Jonathan, now 13, was frequently disobedient, despite taking medication for ADD and oppositional defiant disorder and seeing a cognitive therapist. Nancy and her husband, Steve, first heard about 1-2-3 Magic when Jonathan was 11. They were skeptical.

"It seemed too easy," recalls Nancy. "The idea of getting a big, strong, angry kid to take a time-out - well, it didn't seem likely."

"The first day, Jonathan was more startled than anything," says Steve. "I think we counted him for talking back to us. What got his attention was that we didn't talk at all, just tried to count calmly as the video says to do."

After counting Jonathan to three, Susan says, "Steve led Jonathan up to his bedroom, and he actually sat there! Well, it was not that easy again for a couple of weeks. At first, Jonathan was madder than ever - I guess he had gotten used to us arguing with him. When we didn't, he went out of his way to test us. I thought we would have to put a lock on his door to make him obey the time-outs. But within two weeks Jonathan was hardly ever counted past two! "Nancy and Steve are amazed at the transformation in Jonathan's behavior. "This is a kid who gets mad if you look at him cross-eyed," says Steve. "It really has been magic."

Help for "forgetful" Erin

For Fiona, a mother from Phoenix, the problem wasn't an explosive child but one who was habitually inattentive and disorganized. Fiona's nine-year-old, Erin, drove her mom crazy by forgetting to do her homework and by failing to get ready for school on time each morning. Fiona was run ragged because she had to help Erin with almost everything (or felt that she did).

"I'd pull out the spelling list and have to sit there pointing at each word while the dinner burned," recalls Fiona. "Or I'd hunt down the reading book or Erin's pencils, her eraser, markers, paper, and on and on. In the morning, I was practically dressing her myself. She couldn't pour a bowl of cereal without wandering off and goofing around. When the bus came, she was still in her pajamas, and her backpack was who knows where."

Fiona helped Erin become more responsible by finding ways to shift the responsibility for getting things done back to her daughter.

"I started out using a kitchen timer to keep Erin focused on her homework," says Fiona. "I made it like a game, to see if she could get all her supplies together herself before the timer went off. We also began a chart, a daily calendar with stickers to add if she got her homework done and showed it to me before eight at night. If she got a certain number of stickers, she could pick from the 'date jar.' I put in slips of papers with ideas for activities for just the two of us, like 'make cookies' or 'take a walk to the park.'"

Another strategy that proved effective with Erin was forcing her to face the consequences of her mistakes. Once Erin forgot to change for school - and went to class in her pajamas. "I didn't do that again," says Erin.

If you use charting, agree in advance how many successes it takes to win a prize (which might mean staying up late, having a special date with mom or dad, or another nonmaterial thing).

Alternatively, dock your child's allowance each time he neglects to do what's expected of him (for instance, withhold 25 cents each time you have to feed the cat because your son forgot). If fining your child doesn't work, dock another prized commodity, such as access to TV or to a favorite game.

Children, especially young ones, like to try to win time-limit contests. For example, you might say, "I see four things in the playroom that need cleaning up. I bet you can't find them and clean them up in 10 minutes." Chances are, your five-year-old will say, "I bet I can."

Before You Try 1-2-3 Magic

  • Think about your current approach to obedience problems. How will the 1-2-3 Magic approach work differently? How is your child likely to react - and how will you handle it?
  • With your spouse, consider role-playing typical conflicts so that you can work better as a team.
  • Make sure you understand the differences between the techniques used to stop misbehavior (whining, nagging, and so on) and those used to start desired conduct (doing chores or homework).

This article comes from the April/May 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: Behavior Therapy for ADHD, ADHD and Discipline, Alternative Treatments for ADHD

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