Two weeks ago, Samantha Berry struggled to corral her 2-and 4-year-old boys, Ethan and Hunter, to do their chores and play nicely while she fed and rocked 3-month-old daughter, Mahala, to sleep.
“In the worst-case scenario, my 2-year-old would be playing in the bathroom, with the sink, toilet or trash, and my 4-year-old would be getting into the fridge and pulling things out while I am holding and feeding the 3-month-old in another room,” said the stay-at-home mom.
At wit’s end, Samantha and her husband, Sgt. Steven Berry, signed up for the “1-2-3 Magic” class offered through Fort Benning’s Chaplain Family Life Ministries Center in partnership with the Family Advocacy Program.
The parenting program, created by Dr. Thomas Phelan, teaches parents how to stop bad behavior and encourage good behavior through structured and consistent discipline without arguing, yelling or spanking.
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The class was broken into two, two-hour sessions taught by Military Family Life Chaplain (Maj.) Chris Wilson, a father of six who uses the “Magic” techniques with his own children. This is the first time the class has been offered at Fort Benning.
Six days after finishing the final session, Samantha said Thursday the couple has seen marked improvement in their children’s behavior. With the chaos gone, Samantha said the family is able to enjoy quality time together with minimal tantrums, rule-breaking or tears. “Before, they wouldn’t listen to me and it was constant chaos. I was so stressed out. Now it’s under control and I have the energy and patience to play with them,” she said.
Though Samantha is the main disciplinarian while Steven works, the couple learned that both needed to be on the same page discipline-wise. Because Steven wanted to enjoy what little time he had with his kids at the end of the day, he’d been lax in disciplining them. Multiple deployments added to the discipline disconnect.
“We were giving the kids mixed messages,” she said. “You have to use a consistent method of discipline in order for it to work. That way they know what to expect if they’re bad, no matter who is disciplining them.”
The couple now uses a counting technique to warn the kids when they are stepping over the line. At the first offense, the child hears “that’s one.” If the child gets to three, they go to timeout, which Samantha has designated with a timeout stool in the hallway of their home. Samantha said the boys’ initial reactions were to test the limits.
“They would get to ‘3’ constantly the first couple of days. They didn’t think we were serious. Now, Ethan still gets to ‘2’ a lot but Hunter will stop at ‘1’ he will look at me and figure he doesn’t want to deal with the timeout, so he stops,” she said.
To encourage the kids to remain well-behaved, Samantha and Steven now use a sticker chart to reward them for being good and doing their chores, another technique they picked up at the parenting class.
Seeing his older brother get so many stickers for doing chores like putting his toys away, Samantha said her younger son is starting to help, too.
“In the short time we’ve used (1-2-3 Magic), it’s really helped us a lot,” Samantha said.The Berrys weren’t the only family to see immediate results.
Another set of “1-2-3 Magic” graduates, Spc. Henry Franklin and his wife, Sonya, were surprised by how easily 6-year-old Kelsey took to the new routine.
Kelsey was already familiar with the counting and “stoplight” techniques — her teacher uses them in her kindergarten class.
While the counting is used for minor infractions such as whining or not listening, the “stoplight” technique is for major infractions such as lying or hitting and goes from “yellow” to “red.” At “red,” the consequence may be grounding.
Though Kelsey behaved in class, when she was home, she wouldn’t listen, had a bad attitude and resorted to back talk to get her way, said Sonya, who admitted she gave in too easily to Kelsey’s bad behavior. Dinner time was always a struggle when trying to get Kelsey to eat. But all that changed Jan. 21.
“In the class, I learned I give in way too much and it’s not doing her justice. That’s why she’s doing what she’s doing. She’s from a previous relationship and doesn’t see her dad often so I thought, by giving in, I was making things better for her,” said Sonya, who also has a 7-month-old daughter, Audrey, with her husband.
Within a day, the couple saw improvement and believes it was because Kelsey, too, was ready to behave better.
“It’s fantastic hardly any fits, which is a big change. She’s happy, we’re happy,” her mother said.
Keys to success
The “1-2-3 Magic” parenting technique is targeted for kids from 11 years to 9 months old. The chaplain said the goal of the class is to help parents feel more in control of their home and empower them with ways to manage their children so they can enjoy their time together.
Wilson said he hopes to expand the class and add more slots in the future.The class is free and open to military families.
The Chaplain Family Life Ministries Center offers a number of classes and counseling services. For more information, visit https://www.benning.army.mil/garrison/chaplains/FamilyLife.html.