After disagreeing to do something she was politely asked to do, with gentle nodding and smiling we reminded our daughter that “Mamma knows best”, “No” she replied with as stern a look as a three-and-a-half year old can muster, “I know best … I’m three, and I know everything!”, “Oh okay, what’s the capital of France?” I asked her, “Red” she replied instantly.

Rick recently blogged about bad behaviour and tantrums, and as my daughter gets more confident, stubborn and demanding I’ve been trying to get around to reading a book ‘Tears and Tantrums’ by Dr Aletha Solter. I’m having a bit of a middle-aged internal  tantrum myself trying to find the time to read it but one quote from the foreward stands out for me – ‘Children need the most love and attention when they act the least deserving of it’. I know other fathers of toddlers are also dealing with this type of challenging behaviour , displays of anger and temper tantrums as our little ones’ brains mature and they begin to experience new emotions for the first time. For those that haven’t seen it, here is a classic tantrum on YouTube – what is the point if no one is watching?

A couple of screaming fits in the same week and a sudden dash out of the supermarket into the street led us to seek support in how to best deal with our daughter’s behaviour and help us help her through this stage of development. She’s at an age (three-and-a-half) when there’s a lot going on in her little head, plus her mum has just brought home another cute little girl so there’s changes in her nursery and her cerebral core.

I enquired what sort of support was available locally and was told of two programs. First, ‘Triple P’ – The Positive Parenting Program. This would give us broad guidelines for relating to our kids, (for example, see help sheet on tantrums). Second, and the one we were more interested in, ‘1-2-3-Magic’ which we were told would give specific recommendations on what to do when our toddler doesn’t want to do what we want her to do.

There was a class starting in a local community hall on the evening I enquired (three Monday evenings from 6-8pm although it was also run as a weekend course and individual coaching was also available at a time that suited). We didn’t feel like failed parents with a uncontrollable child, but we did feel that we both had things to learn (if my computer wasn’t behaving as I wanted it to I’d go and talk to someone!). We thought at the very least it would give us a consistent way of interacting with our daughter, but in the end we got some much more from it , for example learning about emotion coaching, and I’ll highly recommend it to any parents (and recommend that both parents attend, fathers and mothers) .

I was first impressed with the results of this program when I mentioned it to my sister-in-law who was visiting from America. “Oh yes, we used it and still do, and our son is now 10”. Her son was sitting at the computer, we went into the room and she said “Come on, we have to go now”, “But mom, just one more …”, “That’s 1” she said and he immediately jumped out the chair and started getting his things together. Wow.

Other friends told me that they used it when their children were toddlers and were still using it as they approach adolescence, one said “I still get mileage out of it even with my 12-year-old. He really starts to panic when I get to two. I think 1-2-3-Magic works best in a family where children feel they are getting a reasonable deal generally.”

So what is it? Well initially it suggests you put bad behaviour into groups, things they won’t stop doing – like hitting their sibling, things they won’t start doing – like getting dressed, and MBAs – minor but annoying behaviour that it’s not worth having a battle about. Identifying these MBAs was a great insight and when we made a list we discovered there were plenty of things that it really wasn’t worth getting bothered about. This is also a very useful tip when considering what annoys you about your partner or other family members’ behaviour.

I won’t go into detail about the rest of the program but hey, it’s called ‘1-2-3-Magic’ – have a look their website, read the book, or hire the DVD from the library if you’re interested, or call your local neighboured centre and see when the next classes are being held. Where we live in Byron Shire we are lucky that the council supports the program and it’s run regularly and free with their funding support.

At the course, we also found comfort listening to the other parents that attended, all going through exactly the same type of experience (and some stories made our experience look trivial). We were all just striving to understand our toddlers better so that we could support them in a caring, consistent way to become good people, who were reasonable to live with – and to make parenting more fun. And funnily enough now that we’re skilled up from the course, we haven’t had one issue or tantrum since. It’s like she thought, “Well if they’re going on that course, they’re serious about this, so I may as well cut it out.” – Remarkable results without having to do anything. I have put it into practice the few times I’ve needed to hurry her up and it’s worked, like, well, magic. And good practice for the teenage years yet to come.


2 comments on What to do when your toddler doesn’t want to do want you want them to do

  1. yari says:

    A great reminder that help is at hand Neil, sometimes we get so bogged down in our own way of doing things and forget to look around and see what else is working out there.

    To be honest we’ve not done the 1-2-3 Magic course, but kept hearing about it from our friends and made up a quasi-magic version of our own, which works as well as you describe.

    Good luck, I don’t know about trying it on a teenager!

  2. neil says:

    We also were already using our own version of consistent discipline, this course reaffirmed and improved our version, including ’emotion coaching’. It”s worth remembering the old ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’ approach.
    I think it’s hard to start with a teenager, but it seems if you introduce it when they are 2-3 years then it’s a common understanding within the family and everyone knows how it works and the consequences so you spend less time arguing/negotiating.

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