Saturday, December 18, 2010

Smiley and Magalene

Toddler discipline has evolved remarkably since I wrote in May.  Four things happened, building upon each other.

1. The Benefits of Listening

As Smiley grew older and more aware of consequences, we taught him that when he was a Listening Boy his life became a continuous stream of nice things.

Our main tool was noticing his favorite parts of activities and reminding him about these.  When grocery shopping, he likes pushing the cart and pressing the "okay" button on the credit card reader.  When at the library, he likes to read together, play with the puppets, and talk to the librarian named Barbara.  And so forth...

"Listening Boys get nice things," we would say.  "If you are a Listening Boy today then when we go grocery shopping you can push the cart and press the 'okay' button."

Of course, when we was not being a Listening Boy he would not get those favorite things.  Then he would fuss and cry, which we calmly ignored.  Soon he was always a Listening Boy, unless overtired.

2. Introducing Magalene

Any educator values "compare and contrast" as a teaching method.  So I decided to reinforce how much nicer life is for Listening Boys by inventing "Magalene Stories".

(I chose the name Magalene because I doubted he would ever have a childhood friend with that name.  I was having trouble thinking of a name, and picked the first part of the name from the Magalena-Pagalena song.)

Originally these were short stories I told while driving somewhere.  Here is an example.
Smiley and Magalene went grocery shopping.

Smiley was a Listening Boy.  He stayed with his daddy.  He did not touch things on the shelves.  When he wanted something, he asked politely and said "please".  He was not too loud, and was friendly.  So he got to push the cart, and when they paid for the food he got to press the "okay" button.  He was very gentle pushing the cart and did not bump any people or shelves.

But Magalene did not listen.  She ran away from her mommy, saying "Nah, nah, can't catch me!"  She grabbed things from the shelves.  She threw things.  She yelled and hit people.  So she did not get to push the cart or press the "okay" button.  Her mommy took her to the car and said, "Magalene, you are misbehaving".  Then they went home and Magalene had to go in her crib with no stories.
(Smiley has never hit strangers or been sent to nap time without stories.  Including the hypothetical is not a problem as long as I do not tempt him by prompting him to consider bad behaviors he would otherwise not think about.)

These soon became Smiley's favorite stories, even replacing the tradition due of a Broken Car Story and Sad Car Story before bedtime.  Smiley liked being the hero who was rewarded.

(In January I had mentioned bedtime stories about what Uncle Nathan did today.  Those soon turned into a duo of an Uncle Nathan Story and a Bubba Story.  Uncle Nathan would do extravagant things like learn to play the tuba or visit the moon.  Bubba usually ate brunch at Denny's and went shopping.  In June his growing fondness for cars eventually led to switching his bedtime stories for one about a broken car that needed to be repaired at a mechanic and a second story about a sad car that was really muddy, dirty inside, or covered with leaves.)

3. Getting Attention Without Misbehaving

At the end of Summer an unexpected and positive development happened.

When I was busy with housework, Smiley began vying for my attention by using Magalene to vicariously misbehave.  For example, I might be doing dishes and he would come into the kitchen holding a toy and say, "Magalene would throw her toy in the kitchen".

For safety's sake, we do have a rule that in the kitchen toys need to stay off the floor: Smiley can bring in toys but must hold them.  He could have broken the rule to get my attention.  That would be normal and age-appropriate for a two-year-old; waiting is very hard, and negative consequences are unpleasant but more desirable than not getting any attention.

But Smiley invented a better alternative.  I felt obligated to reply to his statement, and thus he got the attention he wanted without any negative consequences.  "Yes, Magalene would do that," I replied.  "But you are a Listening Boy and you know the rules very well."

I was quite happy with this development.  What a nice way for him to let me know that his toddler-size patience for my housework was wearing thin.

4. When Magalene Behaves

In early December another unexpected development happened.  Smiley began requesting stories in which Magalene behaved.

I am not sure why these stories are suddenly so preferable and satisfying.  Perhaps Magalene is slowly turning into an imaginary friend.  But Smiley is a bit young for an imaginary friend, so I expect he instead is vicariously enjoying her victories.

So now most of our impromptu stories start like this:
Smiley: Tell me a Magalene story.

Me: Is Magalene behaving today, or is she not listening?

Smiley: She is behaving.

Me: Okay. Once upon a time there was a girl named Magalene, who was being a good Listening Girl today.
Now Smiley's favorite stories involve Magalene, Duck, and a Nightingale visiting his house to join him playing with his toys.  Those other two pretend playmates were simply random characters from stories he enjoys, who do not have much personality so they are easy to adapt.  (Unlike Little Bear or Peter Rabbit, who are well-developed characters.)

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