Rule of 3 – Didn’t expect to go here today

Parenting Transformation Journey – page 4
(Click here for page 1)

This morning my youngest two daughters came to me complaining about each other. We had already role-played last night the what ifs about tattling vs. reporting, and I have to hand it to them – they were doing really pretty well at reporting.

But as soon as they heard the other reporting things in a way that they didn’t agree with, the feelings of frustration resurfaced, and they both fell out of calm. One fell out of calm in front of me, but both had fallen out of calm when they were arguing with each other, prior to the report.

So I said, “It seems to me that you’re having trouble with ‘calm’ right now. I appreciate that you are reporting to me what happened, but it looks like both of you chose to not be calm. Because you chose not to be calm, you have both earned an extra chore. ________, I need you to go clear the red table. ________, I need you to wash the spills off of the yellow table.”

One immediately said ‘okay’ and went to do it, and I praised her for that.

The other scrunched her face and growled. I said, “Sweetheart, I need you to say ‘okay’ and do the extra chore immediately and calmly…”

She growled again and stomped her foot.

I said, “Honey, because you have chosen not to accept a consequence with a calm face, voice, and body, you have earned a second chore. After you clear the red table, I need you to clean up the shoe closet.”

With that, she became even angrier and turned to storm away. I said, “[Her name], come here.” I had to say it twice… because I could see that the first time, she had stopped, but she hadn’t returned yet. Finally, she came back and stood in the doorway so I could only see half of her body. Her face was scrunched and her arms were stiff.

At this point, I would have gone into the “Rule of 3” that Nicholeen describes for children who remain out of instructional control, as she was. However, I hadn’t taught it to her yet, and there’s a strict rule within this system that you don’t enforce a plan if the child hasn’t been pre-taught about it.

(Remember, my plan was to only take the first principle of “calmness” and focus on that for a week, but I was finding that the rest of it was needed already, in just the first 16 hours!)

So I had a dilemma. I’m trying to remember exactly how it went next… I believe I reiterated to her that she had now earned two chores, and I reminded her what they were. I asked her to go do them now. She stormed off and angrily headed to the red table. I could hear her growling and throwing a tantrum about it, so I followed her to the kitchen. She was getting ready to throw some dishes into the sink, so I took hold of her hands, helped her put them softly into the sink, and walked her to a chair. I sat her on my lap and calmly explained, “After you earn two chores, if you’re still out of control, I have to do something else. But I haven’t taught it to you yet. So let me explain what happens when you stay out of control after earning two chores.” (This whole time she is thrashing on my lap, growling, and kicking.)

A little background: When she was younger, and when she would throw a tantrum, I’d get angry to get her attention and make her stop. It scared her into stopping, but it didn’t feel right. I would always eventually feel sorry for my outbursts, and realized that I was – by my example – teaching all of my children that outbursts are ‘sometimes necessary’ to achieve your objectives. Not good instruction.

Eventually, my husband discovered that she stopped her tantrums more easily if he would just sit her on his lap and hold her lovingly until she calmed down, while telling her how much he loves her. So I began to try that and realized how much better the results were. The tantrums stopped, and our relationships were stronger on the other side of it. She learned to trust us more.

The problem was, though we were always able to get the fit to stop, this approach failed to teach her accountability for her lack of self-control. I think our approach was rewarding it to some degree, instead.

So I’m excited about this new approach, because it allows me to hold her calmly and express my love to her, AND explain the consequences of her behavior so she can LEARN from the experience. I see now that the love without consequences was better, but incomplete.

So back to the tantrum on my lap:

I continued to talk to her in a calm voice, telling her the truth about life. I truly felt right in my heart – I wasn’t frustrated or impatient. I was ready to sit with her the rest of the day if that’s what it took. I continued, “Did you know, that you cannot be out of control and happy at the same time? Happiness and freedom only comes when you have self-control. Do you want to be free? Do you want me to let you go? I want you to be free, and happy, but I can’t let you go if I don’t feel that it is safe. If you take a deep breath, and try to be calm, I will be able to praise you and give you a high-five for doing something that is really hard. And then we can get those two jobs done and you’ll have freedom, and you can be happy again.”

(Kicking, twisting, and fighting my embrace continues…)

So I continued, “Okay, so, I can see that you’re not choosing to take a deep breath and calm down, so let me tell you what happens next.” (I didn’t talk about Major Maintenance at this point… I think I forgot that part.) “When you stay out of instructional control, even after the two chores, I have to do a SODAS with you – and that’s not like Sprite. If you stay out of control after earning a SODAS, then you have to go without your privileges for 24 hours. That means no computer time, no television, no snacks, no treats, and no friends.”

(Thrashing, kicking…)

By the way, a SODAS is having the child write out the following. It can also be done verbally with the parent if the child is young:

  • S – Situation – describe it
  • O – Options – list about 3 options for how the situation might be handled
  • D – Disadvantages – list 3 disadvantages for every option
  • A – Advantages – list 3 advantages for every option
  • S – Solution – describe the solution you choose

This is actually something that I had gone over with her last week, but only briefly. I did have a list on the wall that shows us what to do, and she’s had opportunity to read it over, so really, my teaching it to her in this moment was more of a reiteration.

I continued, “Are you ready to calm down and do your chores?” (Thrashing, kicking.) “Okay, I can see that you have chosen not to calm down. I see that you are choosing to be out of control, which means you have just earned a SODAS, and I will be happy to help you do that. Are you ready to calm down now?”

I could see that she was too deep in her mood to just snap out of it immediately, and I didn’t want to be unreasonable. So I said, “I know it can take some time to calm down, would you like me to let you go, so you can take some time to calm down first?” (Thrashing, kicking.) “Would you like to have 5 minutes alone to give you a chance to calm down?” (Thrashing, kicking.) “Honey, this is not going to get you what you want. This is not how to get your way. The sooner you can get in control of yourself, the sooner you will be free and happy again. I’m prepared to hold you like this all day if I have to, but would you rather have time time alone?” (Thrashing, kicking.) “Okay. That’s fine. I can see that you are choosing to continue. So, because you are choosing to continue your tantrum instead of calming down with a deep breath and beginning your chores, you have just earned 24 hours loss of privileges. But the 24 hours will only begin when you have decided to be calm and in instructional control. When you have decided to calm down and do what you’re supposed to do, the 24 hours will begin. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Then I stood up, let her go, and walked away.

She went up to her room and shut the door. She didn’t even slam it. Kind of surprised.

Pretty soon I had to leave to transport my 18 year-old to his work, and my 15 year-old to her piano lesson. Before leaving, I checked on her but the door was locked and instinct told me to give her space. When I returned, my 14 year-old told me that she was still in her room.

Her younger sister came on her behalf and asked if she was allowed to have some food for lunch. She said that she is hungry, and feeling sad, but in control. (This is so much better than the anger and out-of-control-ness, so I was encouraged.) I explained that she didn’t have to stay in her room – she was welcome to come down and eat, it just needed to be real food and not a snack or a treat. I was told she wanted to stay in her room because she was afraid that she might lose control again. I had her sister remind her that the 24 hours begins when she’s ready to follow the instructions of the chores she had already earned (and the SODAS), and to let me know when she wanted to start.

Funny follow-up: the sister began telling me about what they were doing in her room – she said, “we were drawing a nerd with a goatee – but it wasn’t YOU – we were just trying to draw a funny guy…”

Sounds like the time in her room is turning out to be therapeutic. She’s still there right now, and her sisters have rallied around her to help her feel better. One made her lunch, and the other has been keeping her company, coloring with her and cheering her up.

But I am determined to carry out the 24 hours of no treats (even though we always have a treat on Monday nights), no computer, no television, and no outside friends. Nicholeen has assured me that a child only has to experience the 24 hour thing once or twice to realize that it’s not worth it to go there.

She says that she can’t remember the last time now that her children have needed that consequence. All she has to do is the first step in the Rule of 3, and it’s enough to stop the behavior in its tracks.

Rule of 3 for children older than 7:

First, a basic Correction, which can earn the child up to TWO extra chores. If s/he continues to be out of control (during the same incident):

  1. Major Maintenance 
  2. SODAS
  3. 24 hour loss of privileges

The steps are explained in detail in her book, Parenting: A House United – I strongly encourage you to get a copy!!!

I have to say that the miracle in this for me today, is that I totally felt at peace and in control of MYSELF through the whole thing. Okay, there were 2 seconds while she was thrashing on my lap that I felt myself clench my teeth and feel angry – but I caught myself and let it go right away. It was the image of Nicholeen in my head and her promises that this will pay off that helped me relax again so quickly.

If you disagree with anything I’m doing, then before leaving your comments, all I ask is that you please first watch this BBC episode so you can see where this is going. They say that in the middle of a life-saving surgery it can appear as though there has been a murder in the room. It might get a little messy in the middle, but I do believe and trust in the end result. Each of my posts – standing alone – will not provide the big picture… but the episode does. Enjoy!

Leslie Householder

One Response

  1. I’ve heard of Nicholeen and her method many times over the years, and I’ve heard a lot of praise for her method and some outright horror over it. As I read through what you were doing to/with your daughter, I felt a sinking feeling in my heart and a pit in my stomach. It just seemed so cold and calculating and controlling, particularly the phrase “out of institutional control”. So I appreciate your last paragraph. I’ll watch the episode and consider giving the book a chance.

    I’m curious about Nicholeen saying kids only need the 24-hour consequence once or twice. Maybe it only works if you’re using the rest of her method? Two of my kids have lost all their privileges far more than a couple times.

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