The Problem with Counting 1-2-3

Why You Can’t Count on Counting 1-2-3

counting1-2-3Counting 1-2-3 to get kids to listen is a popular strategy especially among parents of young children.  The problem is, it really doesn’t work long-term—instead, it teaches kids to do the opposite of what we want them to learn. Think about it: counting to three teaches kids that they really don’t have to listen the first time.  They learn that they’ll have several more opportunities before they have to respond. And wouldn’t we rather they listen the first time we make a request?

If you’ve been using the “Counting 1-2-3” strategy in your home, you’ve probably noticed that your kids don’t exactly snap to attention when you first speak to them. Here’s what’s going through their minds: Read More

Transform Your Time-Outs To Time-Ins! Guest Post from Dr. Laura Markham

peaceful parent happy kidsWe are so pleased to have Dr. Laura Markham guest posting on the blog today. 

Do you use Time-Outs? They’re certainly better than spanking to show your child you’re serious about whatever limit you’re setting. But time-outs aren’t the best way to help kids want to behave and cooperate. Why?

1. Time-Outs don’t teach children to regulate their emotions.  You’re giving your child the message that his emotions are unacceptable in your presence – and that he’s all alone to learn to manage them.
Read More

“I’m sorry!”

image brother and sister hugging after an apology

How many times have our kids given the obligatory “I’m sorry” when we know good and well that they didn’t really mean it?

You know the drill…child does something unsavory to a sibling or friend and mom/dad require that an apology be issued. The child grudgingly complies with a half-hearted “I’m sorry” so he can “check it off the list” and get on with his business.

Teaching kids how to take responsibility for their actions and to sincerely give apologies requires these principles:

    1. Wait until everyone is calm before having a discussion about apologies!

    2. Don’t “shame” or punish the child for his mistake. This takes the focus off of learning for the future and the importance of “making it right” with the other person.

    3. Help the child process what he was feeling. For example, “What/how were you feeling before you hit Jenny?” This teaches him to take responsibility for his feelings. If the child is too young to identify the feeling, you can help “label” it by saying, “It looked like you were really angry.” This reinforces that feelings are okay, however, the action that followed was not.

    4. Tie the child’s feeling to the behavior and the effect it had on the other person. “When you felt angry and hit Jenny, how do you think that made her feel?”

    5. Focus on solutions to “make it right” with the injured party: “What do you think you can do to make it right with Jenny?” It can be an apology if it is heart-felt, but children often learn more by doing something to make the other person feel better – perhaps writing a letter, drawing a picture, etc.

Helping children through this process teaches them that:

  • mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn
  • feelings are okay although some actions are not
  • taking responsibility for your actions and making it right with the other person is an important part of being a friend or part of a family

Following this process will lead to more positive behavior from your child.


Counting 123 – What you need to know

I made a post on Facebook late Thursday night in which several people asked for more information about the counting 123 discipline method.

My Facebook post regarding the counting 123 method was as follows:

counting 123

COUNTING 123. Are you doing the “count” with your kids? Are you counting 123 when they misbehave or are not listening? This is counter-productive for long-term results. Why should we have to count to 3 for our kids to listen? Don’t we want them to listen the FIRST time we make a request? Counting 123 TRAINS children that they don’t have to listen/respond UNTIL you get to three.

It is not uncommon to think “counting 123” is necessary for kids to have time to re-group. Or that “counting 123” is an appropriate tactic to get kids to respond. Similar to “Time Out”, “counting 123” is a commonly used parenting technique. However, (also like “Time Out”) just because it’s commonly used does not mean it is effective for long term behavior change.

As you think about the effectiveness of “counting 123”, consider the following questions…

  • Can an employee wait until the supervisor asks several times before turning in the assignment?
  • Will a teacher ask multiple times before a student agrees to do what is asked?

Your child won’t get that many chances with adults outside the home, so why should he get so many chances inside the home? (In most cases, you’ve already asked him asked 1 or 2 times before you started counting.)

Two more questions:

  • During the slow, drawn-out counting process, is your blood pressure going up?
  • What will you do if your child doesn’t respond when you get to 3?

Parents often think of “Time Out” and “counting 123” as the go-to tactics for correcting behavior. But they’re just not very effective with most children.

When I talk to parents on an airplane or the soccer field and they learn about what I do, they always ask, “So how do I get my child to stop doing (fill in misbehavior here.)” And my answer is always the same.

There is no magic wand! There is no 1 minute fix.

Correcting misbehavior in children requires a layered approach and an understanding of:

  • the psychology behind the child’s behavior
  • why our reprimands aren’t working,
  • how we contribute to the behavior, and
  • specific tools to correct behavior in the moment and to prevent the behavior in the future.

Attempts at “magic wand” strategies such as “time out” and “counting 123” don’t work for long-term behavior change. In the case of 1-2-3 – it trains our children that we’re not serious until we get to 3. It trains kids that they have 2 chances (in addition to the times you may have asked before counting) before they really have to listen.

Why should we have to give three (or more) chances? Don’t we want them to listen the first time?

But – what should we do instead? As I said earlier, correcting misbehavior is a multi-faceted approach, but here is a place to start:

Get down on the child’s level (physically) and look him/her in the eyes and state the desired behavior in your calm but firm voice – including the consequence if he does not listen. The calm voice is important to avoid escalating a power struggle.

For example, say, “Jason, please put your toys away now or I’ll have to put them away and you will lose the privilege of playing with those toys for the rest of the day/week.” (Depending on the age of the child)

That gives Jason ONE chance. If he chooses to comply – great – everyone’s happy. If not – calmly and WITHOUT words, go and pick up the toys and put them in the closet for the day/week.

a little boy unhappy after counting 123

If he has a tantrum – that’s fine. Don’t get angry; don’t give a lecture; just go about your business. (Assuming the child is not in danger of hurting himself or others.) His tantrum will pass and he will learn a valuable lesson that when you say something, you mean it. (If the tantrum causes you to reverse your decision, Jason wins and the scenario will be repeated again tomorrow.)

Kids are much smarter than we realize. If you’ve been using the “counting 123” strategy in your home, here is what the child is thinking after your first request…

  • “okay, I’m good here for a while. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
  • “oh man – this is a drag. I know she’s going to start counting soon, but I know I don’t have to do anything quite yet. I still have a bit more time.”
  • “oh brother – she’s up to 2 – I guess I’m going to have to comply when she gets to 3.

When we use the counting 123, we mistakenly train children that they don’t have to listen the first time and they actually have three or MORE chances before they have to listen.

Instead – say it once, be clear about the consequence, and follow through with the consequence if necessary. Your child may “test” you a few times, but will quickly learn that when you say something, you mean it!

Praise versus Encouragement – Is there a difference?

Absolutely! In Positive Parenting Solutions Online, participants discover why praise can be detrimental to children. Parents learn the difference between praise and encouragement and how to use encouragement to help develop children to their full potential.

The attached article from the ABC News website is a MUST READ!  It describes the results of a research study by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., in which children were offered praise for being “smart” or “brilliant” versus being encouraged for hard work, perseverance and strategy.  Please take a few minutes to read the important outcomes of this study and see how the use of praise negatively impacted the children’s willingness to challenge themselves with more difficult tasks.

Ensure that you’re not raising a “praise junkie” and join Positive Parenting Solutions Online today!

Have a wonderful week with your children!

Is Time Out a good discipline technique?

Parents are often quick to use “Time Out” as a discipline tool because it is a widely used practice.  Physicians, teachers, and other parents frequently recommend “Time Out” as a way to correct common misbehaviors.  The problem with this thinking is, “Time Out” most often increases the intensity of the power struggle.

“Time Out” is not the same as removing the child from the situation.  For children under the age of 3, using one or more of the Remove and Redirect strategies are most helpful:

· Remove the object

· Remove the child from the environment  (This is not “Time Out”)

· Redirect the child’s attention

· Redirect the child’s activity

After the age of three (and even younger for some children), they understand that they are “independent beings” and using “Time Out” will only intensify the power struggle.  We cannot impose our will on another human being – even a child.  When we try to exercise power over a child, they will naturally fight back.  How can we possibly force a child to stay in “Time Out”?  Some children who are less “spirited” may do as they are told and remain in “Time Out” for the prescribed time – but what are they learning about their misbehavior? Are they sitting in “Time Out” thinking about their poor choice and about how they will do things differently next time?  Probably not!  Most likely they are “stewing” over how unfair it is that Mom or Dad sent them to “Time Out”!

How is “Time Out” related to most misbehaviors?  In most cases, it isn’t.

For consequences to be effective and to provide learning for future behaviors, they must meet the criteria of the 4 R’s.

You will learn about the 4 R’s as well as many other tools to address misbehaviors by enrolling in Positive Parenting Solutions Online.