“1…2…2 and a haaaalf….don’t make me get to 3”


If we could put together a top ten list of common parenting phrases, I think counting to 3 would be near the top.  “Don’t make me come in there,” “what was that noise?” “you’re awfully quiet in there” are probably in there somewhere too.  

Counting to 3?  Really?  What is that?  You want my answer?  Here is what your child hears:

  • “Its OK for you to continue doing that until I get to 2 and a half, so wrap it up, but don’t be in a hurry.”
  • “I might or might not get to 3 and will usually ask you if you want me to get to 3 before I actually get there, so carry on.”
  • “The counting has less to do with time than it does with my current level of patience.” 
  • “Getting to three really depends on how quickly I can physically get to you, so the further you are away from me, the less likely I will get to 3 or actually be able to follow through with what 3 means if I do get there.”
  • “Oh, and by the way, I don’t know what the ‘or else’ is quite yet.”

Do you count to 3?  How many times do you get to 3?  Do you find yourself using this a lot?  The more you use it, the less it is working, by the way.  I want your directions to mean something other than what you are probably teaching by counting to three. Here are some quick to dos:

  • Before you ask your child to do something, be ready for both responses (he is either going to do it or not…its pretty predictable).
  • If she does what you ask, praise and reinforce socially… “thank you for listening and picking up your shoes”
  • If she does not do what you ask, be close enough to follow through by taking her (nicely and calmly) to her shoes and saying, “OK, give me that shoe, please.”  This takes the place of being further away and saying, “you need to pick those shoes up before I count to 3!”  Reinforce and praise when she does it, even though you are there making #$% sure she does it.
  • If you ask 5 times then say, “this is the last time I am going to ask you,” do yourself a favor and be there for the follow through as close to the first request as possible. 

You might be amazed at how much more compliant your children are when you actually follow through with your initial requests, both positively and correctively.

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