Ms. Curly Top and the Wonderful Couch Adventure


Ms. Curly Top  (age 4), has two parents and three older siblings, ages 9, 7, and 6.

She is, as her parents tell me, ‘tearing the family apart’. Their otherwise strong marriage is beginning to show signs of strain. In our meeting at the house, the little one in question was quite busy jumping and shouting on the couch and yelling “OLAY”. Where she got that word, remains a mystery. She had been asked many times to stop jumping on the couch, but that led to more jumping and even louder OLAY’S !Her three siblings were playing downstairs. The parents and I were in the family room with Ms-I-Will-Yell-and-Jump-on-the-Couch-and-Shout-OLAY-if-I-Want-to.

After repeated requests to get down from the couch, we gave some time warnings, counting clues, and at “That’s 3, no yelling OLAY and jumping on the couch”, all three adults got up and left the room.  We said nothing else. We literally removed her audience. She was so startled, she didn’t move. Almost immediately, we all walked back to where she had plunked herself on the couch and  I said, in an upbeat way, “Are you all done jumping on the couch, and yelling OLAY so that we can all be together nicely?” She yelled, “OLAY!” and did a jump worthy of an Olympiad.

We just said, “That’s 3, no jumping and yelling Olay” and walked back into the kitchen.  Within seconds, we all returned and I asked again, in a pleasant tone, if she was all set to be with us nicely. She gave an almost imperceptible nod.  We clapped and gave high-fives and sat back down with her. This time, she decided to play quietly with Dad who was the closest body to her on the couch.  There was no jumping. There was no shouting, “OLAY!” She had decided to stop.

Soon, Ms. Curly Top wanted an Italian Ice.

Her parents were fine with that. The other three had come upstairs and wanted some, too. We decided to continue practicing the process of sharing a simple request and then the follow-through. Mom and Dad asked for everyone to wait for 5 minutes for the Italian Ices. They were asked not to say one word about them until the timer went off.  We set it. If someone decided to say the illegal words, their time would, sadly, need to start again. We made it clear that we would be happy when it was time for the delicious treat.

Little Ms.-Has-Her-Family-Wrapped-Around-Her-Finger had NO idea what five  minutes was, but she ran back and forth to the kitchen, gazing at the timer. This was a very good sign: She was accepting the limit.

Soon, the kids formed a team, with the older ones letting everyone know what the timer information was.

No one said a word about Italian Ice. The timer went off. Italian Ices were produced for all four children.  Hands were washed, they all sat in their seats, and enjoyed their sweet treats.

The point of all of this was that Ms. Curly Top’s parents had not demanded anything. They had been respectful and clear. They got her attention without threats or punishments of any kind. All four children did a grand job of deciding to wait. Mom and Dad had set a limit, stuck to it, minus adult theatrics which had previously been the norm.

Of course, her parents were delighted when Ms. Curly Top decided to cooperate with their very reasonable requests and stars were added to her star chart.

Before I left, Little Cutie, now calm and loving, cuddled with me and said very earnestly, “Jean, I’m going to see some pretty fireworks really soon. It’s gonna be so so so pretty.”  Enjoying each other replaced ignored requests to stop illegal jumping on the couch.

Later that night, I received an email from the family, with an attached photo. When Ms. Curly Top’s parents checked  in on her,  she was found fast asleep, hugging her star chart!



Source: Today’s guest post is by Jean Hamburg, LICSW, a previous contributor to this blog. Jean is the  Author of Cooperation Counts! Life-Saving Strategies for Parenting Toddlers to Teens,  an effective guidebook for parents, to defuse family conflicts and help children make responsible choices.

Jean’s experience includes clinical specialties in the areas of child abuse and neglect, family therapy, developing and implementing treatment plans for at risk adults and children, anger management, crisis intervention, and classroom management issues.

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