How the 1-2-3 Magic Approach Supports Parental Consistency

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Categories Books, Discipline, Parenting, Preschoolers, School-Age, Toddlers44 Comments

I’m a huge believer in parental consistency. When the parent is consistent, it gives each child a feeling of security. In a world in which they have little power and even less context, they can trust that their parents will always follow through on what they say and can be relied on implicitly. By demonstrating self control, we teach them lessons that will last their whole lives. Yes, I know. It doesn’t much seem like they’re learning any self control at all at ages 2 and 3, but they are.

The challenge is that consistency is hard. Being sleep-deprived and pulled in eleven directions at once as a new parent makes it even harder. 1-2-3 Magic is a book by Thomas W. Phelan that provides parents with a practical approach to achieving consistency.

An overview of the 1-2-3 Magic approach to disciplining your kids. Actually, it's more about disciplining yourself to be predictable, which results in better behavior from the kids.

MandyE wrote a review of 1-2-3 Magic that is a good counterpoint to the summary I provide below.

I have to confess that I came to the book late, when my kids were at the tail end of the Terrible Awful Horrible Threes.  What I discovered was that I’d been practicing its tenets already. I had a leg up, though. My baby sister is 10.5 years my junior so got some parental practice as a pre-teen and teen. I also spent a lot of time in therapy before getting pregnant talking through exactly how I wanted to parent, in my attempt to break harmful family patterns. As my former husband put it, 1-2-3 Magic is just a matter of common sense, but it’s common sense spelled out with practical steps for application.

Premise

The basic premise of 1-2-3 Magic is that structure can help parents achieve consistency.

Phelan’s approach also assumes something that child psychologists know well: the ultimate reward any child seeks is attention. If a kiddo gets attention from her parent for bad behaviour, then she’ll continue it. If you withdraw attention for bad and give attention for good, you’ll quickly retrain his expectations.

That’s where time out comes in. Time out is simply the withdrawal of parental attention. It doesn’t have to have special chair, unless that’s what works for you. It certainly doesn’t involve talking or eye contact.

Goal

So, what is consistency? It boils down to two things:

  1. Parents do what we say.
  2. Parents are predictable.

Technique

The 1-2-3 Magic approach is a combination of counting and time out.

First, you set expectations. Tell your children that you are going to count 1, 2, 3 if they’re naughty. At 3, they’ll go to time out. Don’t worry if they don’t understand. They’ll pick it up.

When they do something against the rules, say 1. The next time they do something inappropriate, or if they don’t stop the original behaviour, say 2. At the next infraction, you say 3 and put them in time out.

If they come out of time out, don’t make eye contact. Don’t try to reason with them. Just gently pick them up and place them back in time out. The total time for time out should be one minute per year of age for neurotypical children.

When the time out is over, don’t try to reason with them or tell them what they did wrong. You can go over basic rules at a point when they’re not already upset. Don’t go back over examples of early indiscretions. They’ve already paid for the rule they broke, and listening to a lecture is a second punishment that accomplishes very little.

I’d recommend waiting a few hours, maybe until the next day.

My personal approach — I can’t remember if this is in the book — is to talk about rules when we’re happy and having a good time together. I don’t even bother trying to reason with the kids when they’re upset. I just say to my 9-year-olds, “I love you, but we can’t have a discussion like this. When you feel calm, we can talk if you want to.” What cracks me up is that my girls now use that on each other!

If you stick with the 1-2-3 Magic approach, your kids will know that you’re serious. Don’t let them get away with someone one day and punish them the next (except the day you start implementing 1-2-3 Magic). It gives them a feeling of safety to know what the rules are, and this is far more effective than talking it through. Yes, there’ll be a lot of screaming at first, but they’ll figure out you’re serious.

Personal Example

An overview of the 1-2-3 Magic approach to disciplining your kids. Actually, it's more about disciplining yourself to be predictable, which results in better behavior from the kids.

I haven’t had to count past 1 with my girls in at least 3 years. Seriously. I don’t think they have any idea what would happen if I got to 3. I don’t even know what would happen. My daughters are 9 and are generally reasonable human beings. But when they hear me say, “One,” in an I-am-not-messing-around tone, they straighten right up.

An even better example of effective use of the 1-2-3 Magic philosophy occurred with my nephew. By the time he was two years old, he hadn’t had consistent nutrition, much less consistent discipline. I had to go to London to take care of him for a week while his custody was being determined.

It took 6 hours for him to figure out the system. Six hours.

Sure, I had to pick him up and place him on the chair I designated for timeout 26 times the first time, but he got it. I just picked him up and placed him in a chair, saying the word “time out”. I avoided eye contact. Every time he slipped out of the chair, I gently picked him up and placed back on it. When the fifth time out came around, he didn’t try to escape. He sat there, crying, for 120 seconds. When the time was up, I picked up him up, hugged him, and told him that I loved him. We returned to playing with cars.

At the end of the week, when he saw his mom, he begged to stay with me (which broke my heart, because I couldn’t bring him to the US to live with me because of immigration laws). He didn’t see me as Mean Auntie. He knew that I was predictable, and that predictability made him feel safe.

If you want a much more well written explanation of the whole thing, buy the book. It’s a very quick read.

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Early Readers: Children’s Books Based on Movies

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My daughters, now aged 9, are fluent readers, several years ahead of where they need to be. Their elementary school librarian regularly requests books from the local high school library, since her shelves are targeted at less fluent readers than M and J.

Going through my old videos, I found this gem, taken when J was 4 years old. Yes, at that age both M and J wore butterfly wings more often than not. Seeing J’s hard work reminded me that, although reading came extremely easily to both my daughters, it took work and patience. In the video, J is reading a book based on the Disney movie Chicken Little.

I’m generally leery of using television as an educational tool for young children. However, one way to tempt a new reader is to offer him or her a book based on a film they know and love. Disney Little Golden Books are a great resource for this approach.

5 years later, J and M watched the first Percy Jackson movie, only to be appalled by the liberties taken by the producers. J pointed out error after error compared to the book by her favourite author, Rick Riordan. I agreed with her that I found film versions of my favourite books to be disappointments. I smiled inside about being able to share a love of literature with both my daughters.

What books got your kids over the hump of needing to spell things out?

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Twinfant Tuesday: Baby Bottle Care

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We’ve written quite a bit about our infant feeding experiences here on HDYDI, but I realize that I’ve neglected to discuss my bottle feeding experiences. That realization wasn’t a surprise. As I’ve told you before, much of my identity as a new mother was tied up in breastfeeding. Baby bottles were up there with gavage tubes on the list of things that I’d rather forget.

The fact is that baby bottles are genius.

A baby bottle can allow a father to feed a child. A baby bottle can allow a working mother to provide her child with breastmilk when she can’t be with her baby. A baby bottle can allow the bond of feeding between a mother and child when breastfeeding isn’t an option.

It’s been nearly 8 years since my daughters moved on from bottles, so I’m not the person to tell you about the newest and greatest development in baby bottle technology. What I can tell you is that, like every other aspect of parenting, it’s not just about what you like. You’ll have to take your child’s preferences into account. With twins, that means two sets of children’s preference, and they may like different things.

With M and J, we used Playtex VentAire bottles for formula and Playtex Nursers with Lansinoh storage bags for expressed breastmilk.

Baby bottles are for formula and expressed breast milk alike.

Once I returned to work, J and M went through 6-7 bottles a day, each. Every night, I had 12-14 bottles to wash. During my limited hours home, I had to breastfeed, eat, occasionally shower, complete household chores, and do that thing where you lie down and close your eyes. I’ve heard it rumoured that it’s called “sleep”. That last thing I wanted to spend my time on was scrubbing bottles.

Since all the bottles we used were open at each end, a bottle brush wasn’t a necessity. I didn’t use it much once the babies had outgrown preemie bottles. Instead, I used my dishwasher.

I had three of these handy dishwasher baskets. All the small parts associated with baby bottles and breastpumps fit in the basket for dishwasher cleaning and disinfection. I was a master of placing all the nipples, rings, bottle valves, pump valves, and lids so that each one was fully exposed to water.

This basket holds small bottle parts for dishwasher disinfection.For the first several months, I would take the washed bottles out of the dishwasher and boil them in a pot of water for disinfection, but over time, I grew to trust the High Heat setting on the dishwasher. Before long, the girls’ immune systems had built up to where disinfection was no longer called for. After all, they were getting plenty of immune exercise from their time a group daycare.

For simplicity, I assembled rings, nipples and lips and stored those stacked beside all the bottles. That way, there was no need to spend time unscrewing bottles or pulling through nipples when it was time to feed.

What are your timesaving tricks for life filled with baby bottles?

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Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday: Felt for Projects

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We have turned the spare room into The Activity Room. In addition to the guest bed and some storage for guests, the room is filled with crafting supplies. We have glue, tape, kids’ scissors, sequins, stickers, paper of all sorts, crayons, markers, paint, knitting needles, yarn and sewing supplies. These include felt for projects. Lots and lots of felt.

Occasionally, I propose crafting projects to J and M. For the most part, I allow them to come up with their own projects ideas. In the last few weeks, M has been getting deeply into sewing. She’s been making small purses for her friends and clothes for her toys. She took some photos of her daughter Valentina modeling her latest creations and allowed me to share them with you.

9-year-old access to felt, needles and thread translate into clothing for stuffed toys.

Home sick today, J was also inspired to try her hand at sewing, although she’s usually a knitter. She decided that she wanted to make a doll. We found the perfect pattern, Mimi Kirchner’s Felt Doll, at The Purl Bee. She’s made some pretty impressive headway for someone who learned to backstitch and whipstitch today and has never handled fiberfill before.

Mimi Kirchner's simple felt doll pattern is a good one for the beginning seamstress, aged 8 and up.

Ages 8 and 9 are just wonderful when it comes to learning new skills. Children this age have a sudden increase in patience and are able to understand that hard work pays off. They’re willing to put the time in for a satisfactory outcome. They’re on the young side to have lost faith in their abilities, so they’re quite willing to try new things. They don’t yet have the critical eye to be thrown by most newbie mistakes. A few tears may be shed, but a hug from Mommy can still make it all better.

That said, my daughters aren’t quite up to hand hemming their creations yet. That’s why I wouldn’t do without felt squares in our Activity Room supplies. The beauty of felt, in contrast to other fabrics, is that it doesn’t fray, and therefore doesn’t require hemming. It cuts easily, so I don’t have to make my fabric shears available to the children. They can use their own scissors. It’s stiff enough to hold up to small fingers instead of draping over a child’s hand as he or she learns a new stitch.

Felt is the perfect fabric for children learning to sew.

I picked up our latest stash of felt at Jo-Ann Fabric. I’ve bought it at Michaels in the past, and I’ve found amazing prices online for other crafting supplies at Factory Direct Craft. When my daughters were smaller, I’d cut small figures out of felt, sometimes people, sometimes animals, and sometimes abstract shapes. Against a background of construction paper, we put on plays. Or the girls created shapes. Or they made piles.

Wouldn't Do Without Wednesday at hdydi.com: This week, the gogo Kidz Travelmate.Felt is extraordinarily versatile. If your kids are old enough to keep it out of their mouths, I’d recommend picking some up. You never know what creations your creative children will think up.

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Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday: Daddy Dolls

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Monday was Memorial Day, the American remembrance to honour all who have given their lives in service to the USA.

Too often, we get caught up in the excitement of a day off work, family barbecues, and widely advertised sales, forgetting the Memorial part of the day altogether. My daughters’ father is a career soldier and has served 3 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we’re thankful that he has never been injured, I’m very aware that not all military families are so fortunate. On this day of the year, I always remember a waitress I met near where we live. We started chatting about our families when she noticed that my girls were twins. She was pregnant with her twins, she told me, when her husband was killed on duty at the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001. She moved back to Texas so that her parents could help her raise her three children even as she grieved.

It’s easy to overlook how war, especially war that takes place far from our shores, impacts children. It does impact them, though. My daughters have known all their lives that Daddy goes away to catch bad men. They know that he carries a gun, and so do the bad men. They also know that most of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan are just mommies and daddies and kids who don’t want any fighting. They just want to be together.

These conversations with my daughters were not easy. They were at least as hard as the conversations we’ve had about divorce and that mommy and daddy don’t love each other any more. Now that M and J are 9, they can verbalize how they’re feeling. When they were younger, it was much harder, especially with Daddy away more often than he was living with us at home.

To help my daughters talk about and process their father’s absence, I turned to Daddy Dolls, a company started by two Marine wives. They turn the full-length photo of a loved one into a doll for your child to interact with. Ours came out wonderfully. They held up through 2 years of daily hugs and countless runs through the washing machine, looking just as they did they day we received them. Sadly, they’ve been left at the bottom of the toy bin since shortly after the divorce, despite my efforts to bring them out to play.

I ordered the girls’ dolls the day that my now-ex left for his 3rd combat tour. We took photos of L in front of our garage the morning he deployed to Afghanistan. The company removed the background image and printed a smiling picture on each of two camo-backed dolls.

Daddy dolls give the military child something to hold onto while a parent is deployed.

When our then 4-year-old daughters received their dolls, they were completely enamoured. You can see their reaction in this video.

A few days after we received the Daddy dolls, I walked over to J’s bed after brushing M’s hair. J had her doll in her hand, facing me.

J (age 4, as Daddy): Hi Sadia!
Me: Hi L (ex’s name)!
J: So, how are you doing?
Me: I’m fine, but I miss you. I have a hard time falling asleep.
J: I just came by to say, “You’re welcome.”
Me: I see.
J: You’re welcome for the dolls.
Me: I love you!
J: I miss you all, even Penelope (the cat).
Me: And we miss you.
J: (as J, addressing the doll) You and me only have the … What’s the hole called?
Me: A dimple.
J: You and me only have a dimple.
M (age 4): Mommy and me have moles!
J: Does Daddy have a mole?
Me: Yes.

Of course, the utility and value of these dolls isn’t limited to families with a deployed parent. Any child suffering loss might benefit. I gave a gift card to the site to a friend for her son when her husband passed away. Moving away from the morbid, when it comes time for holiday shopping, a Daddy (or Mommy or Grandma or Sister) Doll might make for a good present. We received ours in less than two weeks.

Wouldn't Do Without Wednesday at hdydi.com: This week, the gogo Kidz Travelmate.As with all Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday posts, I received no compensation for this review.

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Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday: Common Sense Media

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We’ve come a long way from my early concerns about young children and screen time. My initial knee-jerk attitude that TV is evil has matured into a more nuanced one.

There’s no reason for children under 2 to watch television. In my opinion, some touch screen apps may be appropriate for toddlers, in a very limited way, since they are interactive and respond to the child’s actions. Older children can consume film and TV shows within reason, but I strongly encourage parents to watch with them to make for a shared and interactive experience. I also think that it’s important that parents preview the media that their children will consume to make sure that it’s appropriate and that any lessons not in keeping with family values are discussed. Advertisements should be limited and any that are shown should be explained as an attempt to sell and not a reflection of truth.

My children are 9 years old. They are allowed 2 hours of screen time on each weekend day. On rare occasions, if they’re done with homework and we have some time before bedtime, we’ll watch a movie together on weekday evenings. They are also allowed unlimited screen time to research and write their independent study projects, which are usually worked on in Google Docs.

There are occasions on which M and J want to watch a show or movie on Netflix that I haven’t yet seen. Very rarely, we go to the movies to watch a new release. My kids will learn about a new kids’ website at school and ask if they can visit it. In these cases, I turn to Common Sense Media. This website and its associated app are a goldmine of practical information for parents.

When you search for a book, show, game, or movie, the resulting list includes an age appropriateness rating for each result. This rating isn’t the one given by the movie/game studio or publisher, but is based on developmental criteria and the specifics of the content of the media.

Common Sense Media gives clear age ratings for books, games, and movies.

More detail is available for each item, including commentary about themes that might be worth discussing with your child. You can also read reviews and comments from both parents and children.

Common Sense Media provides helps parents decide whether a show, game, or book is appropriate for a child.

I recently turned to Common Sense Media when it occurred to me that my children might be old enough for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I hadn’t seen the movie in 18 years and couldn’t remember how overt its sexual content was. The review’s first sentence answered my question: “Parents need to know that some of the nuances of the storyline and much of the film’s innuendo-laden humor will go right over children’s heads.” Although the site recommended the movie for children 10 and up, I felt confident that my daughters could handle it. And they did. They loved it. They caught onto some of the darkness in the storyline, but completed missed the innuendo in the midst of all the slapstick. There was a teeny bit of language I could have done without, but the Common Sense Media review ratings had warned me of that.

If you haven’t visited the site before, I strongly recommend a visit to Common Sense Media at commonsensemedia.org. I wouldn’t do without it.

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Multiples in the Womb – National Geographic documentary

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As if we needed any proof that our multiples are miracles, National Geographic has a wonderful documentary about the life of multiples in utero. See 4D ultrasound of siblings interacting before they’re even born.

The In the Womb series also includes a video entirely about identical twins in the womb, which we just loved. Do be aware that there’s a scene in both films with a silhouette of the act of conception that you may want to skip through if you haven’t had The Talk yet. There are also diagrams of male and female anatomy. You may want to watch it all the way through without kids at least once.

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Sleep Challenges, Big Kid Edition

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When I went to check on my daughters last night before I went to sleep, I found J’s Kindle lying on top of the covers. It should have been under her pillow. I sought out her 8-year-old twin M’s bedtime reading and found her book under the pillow, but on the opposite side from where I’d seen her put it at lights out.

When it was time to get up for school, J was the first to wake.

Me: J, have you guys been reading after I turn the lights out?

There was a long, pregnant pause. J sighed.

J: Yes. Yes, we have.
Me: By flashlight?
J: How did you know?

I had to laugh, loudly enough to wake M.

Me: Because I used to do the same thing. Thanks for being honest with me. I know you were tempted not to.
J: You did it too?
Me: I did.
J: What did your mommy say?
Me: She never caught me, but my Nanu (maternal grandmother) did.
J: What’d she say?
Me: That she used to do it too, but by candlelight or moonlight. And that sleep is important.

We shared a laugh. This time, M wanted to know what we were laughing about.

Me: M, I know about your reading by flashlight.
M: Am I in trouble?
Me: Do I look mad?

She studied me.

M: No, I don’t think so. Why not?
J: Because she did it too!
M: You DID?
Me: I did.
M: Mom!
Me: I know. But here’s the thing. Sleep is important. Sleep is when you form your memories and…
J: What memories?
Me: All your memories you’ll keep forever. Everything you’ve learned and everything you’ve seen and your friends and silly things M says. Your brain needs time to rest and recuperate, and so does your body. A lot of the chemical in your body that tells you to grow is made while you sleep.
M: Did you have to stop?
Me: Well, my Nanu didn’t tell, but she made sure that I got more sleep, because I was tired.
M: Do we have to stop?
Me: Yes.
J: (disappointed) Okay.
Me: You have plenty of reading time. We can try to adjust things to give you more reading time. But you need all the sleep time too.

M handed me the flashlight she’d just dug out from under her pillow.

I’m not sure I handled this the right way. Perhaps I should have been harder on the children for actively misleading me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have confessed my own childhood disobedience. Maybe the consequence of not respecting bedtime should have been the loss of reading privileges.

I really didn’t want to punish the children for loving literature. I didn’t want to make them afraid to admit their mistakes to me. I didn’t want them to feel that it was safer to build lies upon lies instead of coming clean.

Our bedtime check-in seems to indicate that I made the right choice. When I asked J what she’d learned today, she answered, “I learned that I can’t get anything past my Mommy. I have lots of examples! Like reading… and wearing perfume… and brushing my teeth.”

What would you do if you discovered your kids reading after bedtime?

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Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday: Crane Humidifier

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I originally wrote this post singing the praises of our Crane humidifier in 2009. Almost exactly six years later, it’s still serving us well. Now, it helps keep J’s nosebleeds at bay, since we seem to be past our lung issues.

We run a cool-mist humidifier in the girls’ room every night. Our pediatrician recommended getting one during J and M’s first bout of bronchiolitis, at age 4 months. (Bronchiolitis is an infection of the bronchioles of the lungs. Preemies are particularly susceptible because their lungs are put to work before they are fully developed.)

We noticed an immediate improvement in both M and J’s breathing during that first attack of bronchiolitis when we increased the humidity of their room. The first couple of years, I ran the humidifier every time either of them started coughing. [In the winter of 2008], I realized that the humidifier seemed to prevent coughing in the first place. It ran every night, and walking into the nursery relieved the pressure in my head caused by lovely Austin allergies.

During the first horrible round of bronchiolitis in our tiny infants, my ex ran out to the grocery store and bought the first humidifier in sight, a Vicks Cool Mist one. It did the job, and we dealt with the annoyance of cleaning it. When I noticed mold (eeeeeeew) on the wire, I chucked it in the trash and decided to upgrade. After reading a number of reviews, I got a Crane humidifer.

I’m in love.

This cool mist humidifier is an unobtrusive element of nursery decor and can help decrease a number of respiratory difficulties. Okay, so the thing is cute. In addition to the penguin I selected, Crane makes frogs, bears, pigs, elephants, and other animals. They have an elegant modernist line too.

These crane humidifiers are effective and perfect for nursery decor. What I’m really in love with, though, is how well it functions. The humidity output is adjustable, unlike my old humidifier. Also, and this should be standard on any electronics, but wasn’t present on my Cool Mist, the penguin has an on-off switch. Imagine, not having to unplug the darn thing every morning! I can see the mist being produced, and my sinuses are a testament to its effectiveness.

Cleaning couldn’t be easier; I actually look forward to cleaning the water tank on Saturdays, because I feel like I’ve accomplished something and it’s so easy. Changing the filter is foolproof. The Crane humidifier takes up less room than our old one, but be aware that the instructions recommend not setting it on the floor.

Plus, did I mention that it’s cute?

Humidifer in nursery. cute and effective!If you’re in the market for a humidifier, I can attest to the durability of these Crane ones.

I am no way affiliated with Crane USA and received no compensation for this review. This product has served us very well for many years.

Wouldn't Do Without Wednesday at hdydi.com: This week, the gogo Kidz Travelmate.

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Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday: Our “OK to Wake” Clock

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I originally wrote this when my twin girls were three, as a review on our local MoMs’ group blog.  My girls are now six, and my love for this little gadget is still as strong as ever.

***

Since our girls started sleeping through the night, until they were about 18 months old, I could usually count on them waking up around 6:45 in the morning.  And then, when they dropped to one nap during the day, they began sleeping until about 7:30.  Those were the days!

When we began potty training, around 27 months, though, we experienced a drastic change in the girls’ morning routines.  I appreciated that they woke to use the potty…but there were some painfully early starts to our days for quite some time.

I then discovered a wonderful gadget that has made a huge difference in our morning routines, the “OK to Wake!” clock.  [There are several iterations of these in clocks and stuffed toys…just search “OK to wake”.]

OK to Wake

I set the clock to 6:30, at which time it glows green.  (As much as I’d like them to sleep until 9am on the weekends, I wanted to set a “realistic” goal.)  I tell the girls, if you wake up and the clock isn’t green, you can roll over and go back to sleep.

There are times when I hear them stirring shortly after 6:00, but they don’t usually call for me until 6:30…on the dot…and then I hear, Mommy!  The clock is green!  I slept well!

There are times that they wake up early, sometimes needing to sit on the potty.  After they use the bathroom, it’s been great to have an “impartial party” — the clock — to cite.  “The clock isn’t green.  It’s still sleep time,” I’ll tell the girls.  They almost always accept that they need to go back to bed.

I was worried that the clock would somehow wake them up in the mornings.  Its glow isn’t so bright that it disturbs them, though, and a handful of times they’ve slept an extra 15 or 20 minutes.  The green glow lasts for 30 minutes, so they still get to call out to me when they wake up (which they get a big kick out of).

I would love to one day get back to our blessed 7:30 rise and shine…but for now, I’m so thankful to at least have a consistent wake-up time.

***

(This is not a sponsored post.  I am in no way affiliated with the companies that make or sell these awesome gadgets.  It’s just been a lifesaver to us…for close to four years now!…and I wanted to share.)

MandyE is mom to six-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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