Why Counting 1-2-3 Isn’t Magic (Plus 4 Tools to Use Instead)

angry dad in grocery store counting to sonangry dad in grocery store counting to son

angry dad in grocery store counting to son

You’ve kindly asked, begged, and bribed–but he just won’t budge. 

It’s time for the final countdown

“Justin, you have three seconds to put that toy back on the shelf.” 

Your 5-year-old remains motionless–despite your warning.


Still nothing.

“2 ½, 2 ¾…”

As you raise your voice, the eyebrows of fellow bystanders raise, too. This is becoming a public battle of wills. 

You definitely don’t want to cause a scene, but you also need immediate cooperation. 

“Justin, I told you we weren’t going to buy a toy at the supermarket. If I reach the count of 3, you’re going to be in BIG trouble!!……..”



Maybe, after your final warning, Justin will budge. 

But, maybe–and just as likely–he won’t. You might even have to chase him down the crowded aisle and pry the toy from his tiny, yet iron-like, fingertips.

In either case, counting for compliance is not an ideal tactic. 

Though many of us regularly rely on this strategy, there are a few reasons why it isn’t going to help our kids–or us–in the long run. (To discover more effective disciplinary measures, sign up right now for our FREE CLASS: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Yelling, or Losing Control!)

Want the scoop on this age-old tactic? 

Here are 4 reasons why counting “1-2-3” doesn’t stop bad habits–it prolongs them.

1. We’re Allowing Kids to Ignore Us

Think about it: counting to three teaches kids they really don’t have to listen the first time. Instead, they learn they have several opportunities before they have to respond to us. 

Even though our blood increasingly boils each moment of a countdown, our kids’ minds read something like this:

“Okay, I’m good here for a while. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”

“He just started counting. I don’t have to do anything quite yet. I’ve got time.”

By counting “1-2-3,” we’re actually giving our children 3 or more chances to ignore us. We probably asked them once or twice before we started counting. Add a “two and a half” and a “two and three-quarters,” and we’re up to 6-7 opportunities to be tuned out. 

Effectively, our kids have learned to ignore us–and wouldn’t we rather them listen the first time we make a request? 

Plus, teaching our kids to listen the first time and be more cooperative helps them outside the home, too. After all, a student can’t delay submitting his book report until the teacher has requested it several times. Not if he wants to get a good grade, anyway. 

Nor will a coach play a student in the next big game who repeatedly fails to listen to team strategy and instructions.

Our children won’t always get multiple opportunities outside the home, so it’s important that we set the expectation for listening the first time while they’re in our care.
Counting 1-2-3 quote

2.  Our Kids’ Responsibility Becomes Ours–and Entitlement Grows

When we feel the need to count, who isn’t listening and helping? Our kids. But who is getting angry, frustrated, and doing the work? Us. 

When children don’t cooperate, parents often (mistakenly) deploy discipline strategies–punishment, time-out, countdowns, etc.– that turn those misbehaviors into the parent’s problem.

In short, it becomes incumbent on the parent to force the child to comply instead of placing the onus on the misbehaving child. 

This, my friends, is WAY too accommodating. 

Occasional leniency may be relatively harmless, but a lot of it can lead to entitlement.

Breeding entitlement is surprisingly easy, because it usually doesn’t come from a parent’s conscious effort to reward their kids or spoil them beyond measure.

Instead, it sneakily arises from small, everyday actions that give kids more leeway, advantages, and excuses to shirk responsibility. 

Counting to 3 is one small action that does this by transferring responsibility from the kids to the parents. And, over time, when kids push the limits on the countdown, they will get away with more and more–increasing their feelings of entitlement.

3.  “1-2-3” Means We’re Willing to Wait…and Negotiate

No means no, right? 

But when a lot of parents say “no,” this isn’t the case. 

In the scene above, 5-year-old Justin knew he couldn’t have the toy. His dad said, “I told you we weren’t going to buy a toy at the supermarket.”

Telling our children “no” is good–and necessary! It’s important in situations like these to teach our kids they can’t have everything they want. 

But, saying “no”–and subsequently counting down until they finally give in–leaves room for children to re-interpret the situation.  

“He said ‘no,’ but now he’s counting–so I guess I still have time to play with this toy. Maybe he’ll even change his mind and let me keep it.” 

Even though parents see a narrowing window as they count, kids see increasing negotiation power. Depending on how often we rely on counting “1-2-3”, kids may even start to doubt our words and when they need to take us seriously.

4.  Counting Sets the Stage for a Power Struggle

Whether our dear 5-year-old, Justin, tightened his grip and ran down the supermarket aisle, threw himself on the floor in a writhing tantrum, or finally–begrudgingly–put back the toy, this was a classic showdown between parent and child. 

Children have an innate need for power and control and if those needs aren’t met in legitimate, positive ways, they’ll seek those needs through other means. For the power-seeking child, when given an inch, he’ll take it–and a mile more. 

Cue the power struggle.

Power struggles can be common, epic, and ugly. But they don’t have to be. 

If Justin still chooses not to listen to his dad–even after he reaches the dreaded count of “3”–what will he do next? He might say, “I’m serious now!” but he probably won’t believe him. 

Or, what happens when dad continues to lose control–both literally and figuratively? He might feel the need to yell, spank, or apply other totally ineffective consequences in an attempt to re-instill his authority. Justin, in turn, would further roll up his sleeves for the fight. 

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4 Tactics to Try Instead of Counting

Luckily, you don’t have to go down this road! Nor do you need to negotiate, accommodate, or be ignored.

Are you ready to take heart and switch gears?

Here are 4 alternate ways to encourage–and earn–your kids’ compliance:

1. Prevention Through Power

Naturally, life would be a lot easier without all these standoffs in stores, at playgrounds, and at bedtime, right? 

We all want our kiddos to behave appropriately–without having to employ discipline tactics–but that doesn’t happen without some proactive planning on our part.

The best way to encourage positive behavior is to look at the misbehavior itself. Yes, your child is interested in the toy at the store, but he’s also gaining a HUGE power boost at your expense as you jump through hoops and embarrass yourself to get his cooperation.

So he might want the toy; but even deeper than that, he wants to fill his need for personal power and prove who’s boss.

In fact, Adlerian Psychology–which is what all the tools in the 7-Step Parenting Success System® course are based on–tells us that once physical needs are met, all people have an innate need for attention and emotional connection and a sense of autonomy and personal power. 

In kids, when these needs aren’t met positively and proactively, this shows up through misbehaviors like tantrums, whining, arguing, backtalk, and all the rest. They don’t want to misbehave but they don’t have the awareness or the skills to communicate which needs aren’t being met. 

But, if we help our kids get that powerful feeling before their power bucket is running low, they will no longer feel the need to lash out, argue, talk back, and more.

It sounds incredible…and it truly is! 

So, if that’s you in the grocery store with a 5-year-old, instead of waiting for your child to act out, you’re going to help him feel super empowered. 

Give him the list and a pencil so he can check off the items. Let him decide the yogurt flavor. Ask him if he can find the Cheerios box in the cereal aisle. Weigh some vegetables. 

Through these small tasks, your son will feel such a strong sense of power that he’ll be more likely to take your “no” for an answer and put the toy back without complaint when asked.

This works wherever you are: during your routines, in the car, as you’re getting ready to leave the park, or any other tricky times of the day. Preplan some empowering activities, and you’ll be much less likely to even need other strategies. 

But if you do…

2. Start by Maintaining a Calm Voice

As much as we need to be firm when we make requests of our children, we need to be equally respectful and calm. 

Maintaining a Calm Voice, a tool we use in our positive parenting online course, is more powerful than it sounds. Because, in a way, it compels kids to listen without using force

When your 3-year-old refuses to get in her car seat after several requests, simply replace the urge to count by getting down on her level (physically), making eye contact, and stating the desired behavior in your calm but firm voice. 

“Becca, we need to pick your sister up from school now, so I need your help getting in the car seat. You can do so many things by yourself now! Show me how you buckle yourself in!

If your toddler has been loud or screaming, she’ll have to quiet down to hear your voice. Plus, without you yelling, she won’t have to raise her voice to respond. Using a calm voice has immediately blockaded a power struggle because you aren’t angry, upset, or emotional.

Becca is also pleased she can buckle herself in! This added dose of encouragement and self-positivity has further helped her comply.

But if she doesn’t, and continues to ramp up her reaction, you’ll feel much more prepared if you…

3. Train Your Child to Manage Big Emotions 

As we follow through with whatever it is we need our child to do–leave the playground, give a snatched toy back to a little sibling, or stop jumping on the couch–children are likely to pitch a fit…especially at first. 

As long as no one is in danger, that’s fine. There’s no need to lecture or get angry; empathize that you know he’s disappointed or that it’s hard to share, but move on. The tantrum will pass and your child will learn the valuable lesson that when you say something, you mean it

In a public place, naturally, this isn’t so easy. And, of course, you’d rather the situation not repeat itself.

The thing is, counting “1-2-3″ doesn’t help our kids get a grip on their defiance, anger, and willpower–it intensifies it!

Instead, training children to manage their feelings and express them appropriately–even in the heat of the moment–is a great alternate solution. 

When a child is at his wit’s end and refusing to listen, take a moment to first find out why. 

Maybe you purchased Justin a toy the last time you were at the store and he assumes he can have another one. Or maybe he just struggles to hear the word “no.” You can start by asking him why he is upset or encouraging him to describe how he feels. 

Also, for kids too young to express their feelings, we can help by labeling their feelings for them. 

“Anthony, I know you’re frustrated and angry that your brother gets to listen to Hamilton on the car ride today. It’s hard not to always get what we want.”

After a moment or two, we can add: “But that doesn’t mean you can yell and make noise during his songs. I know you wouldn’t want him to scream over your Disney tunes. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be, too?”

Labeling our kids’ feelings and showing empathy, despite how frustrating their behavior may be, helps them learn to express their emotions in a less dramatic way. 

And this helps curb their misbehaviors. 

Even a teenager struggling to cooperate can benefit from this tactic. Maybe you’re inclined to give your tween daughter a 5-second countdown after you’ve asked her four times to put her phone away. Instead, you can say:

“Alysha, I know it’s hard to put down the phone. It’s important for you to connect with your friends–and I respect that. But now, it’s time to do your homework.” 

Often, this is the only step you’ll need to take. But if your kids are still putting up a stink, your best bet is to ignore the fuss and avoid getting drawn into the power struggle. Leave the room if you need to, but act completely disinterested. They’ll soon get the point.

And what about that dreaded scenario when your preschooler is losing it in public? Usher kids to a location that can withstand a tantrum (outside, the car, or maybe an out-of-the-way corner) and let it run its course. We can show empathy during this process by holding them and acknowledging their disappointment. 

Empathy doesn’t mean we’re giving into their demands–it just helps them feel understood. 

When they see we’re not budging, kids will, eventually, lose interest. They’ll get the message that pitching a fit doesn’t get them what they want. What’s more, they’re less likely to lose control next time. 

4. Take Action with Redirection

Sometimes, parents resort to punishment when counting goes ignored–spanking, time-outs, etc. Other times, counting is an idle threat with no follow-through. 

But occasionally, both scenarios can be avoided when we take immediate action and redirect our kids.  

Poor Justin may be approaching his wits’ end over this silly toy, but if you quickly whisk him away to see the crabs and lobsters in the seafood aisle BEFORE he erupts, he may just forget it. Or, if you ask him to pick out his favorite brownie mix to make over the weekend, he could be happily distracted. 

If you and your 11-year-old are nearing a high-noon showdown over his wanting to stay up past 10, try talking about some of his favorite subjects while tucking him into bed or asking what he’d like to do with you tomorrow after getting a good night’s sleep. 

It seems simple, and it is. But taking our kids’ minds off the idea that they’re struggling against us and distracting them in healthy ways is an amazing way to get their cooperation. 

The key is to do it before the tension mounts. Once you’re in the middle of a battle, they’re less likely to take your bait and switch gears.

Kids still need to learn to cooperate without distraction, so this tactic may seem like the avoidance of a hard, but important, lesson. In reality, our kids will have plenty of opportunities to hear “no” and other words of opposition. 

Picking and choosing our battles and avoiding constant stand-offs will eliminate tension. It will also make conversations about what behavior you expect from them smoother and better received next time. 

Final Thoughts

We all want our children to listen the first time we ask, and while counting to 3 might be working for you right now, it’s not the best long-term solution for helping your child become more cooperative and compliant.

So whether you’re counting to 3 out of desperation or conscious choice, I’d love to encourage you to try the strategies above next time you find yourself in a battle of wills.

Or, better yet, you can join me for my FREE CLASS: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Yelling, or Losing Control where I’ll share another favorite tool from my parenting toolbox–the 5Rs to fair and effective consequences. 

But for now, which tactic (or three, or four) will you try next time, in place of counting “1-2-3?”

Is Spanking Harmful? Here’s What You Need to Know

Little Boy Hugging DadLittle Boy Hugging Dad

Little Boy Hugging Dad

A few generations ago, if you acted out in class, you could have been met with a paddle or yardstick to the bottom–and possibly gone home with bruises. But it wouldn’t have stopped there. It’s likely another painful spanking would have awaited you at home. 

Thankfully, today’s standards are more child-friendly. Many parents are abandoning certain, if not all, forms of spanking. And school corporal punishment–though not yet banned in all 50 US states–is mostly frowned upon. Still, many teachers, parents, and caregivers remain certain that spanking is a reliable behavioral remedy for unruly kids.

If spanking falls under the umbrella of corporal punishment, and corporal punishment is still legal in some schools, it might be logical to think that a certain degree of spanking–especially in the privacy of our own homes–is harmless.

After all, the spectrum of corporal punishment is wide. A light spanking or flick of the hand can cause far less damage than an angry strike with a stick–and the short and long-term side effects of a simple swat could be minor, some might think.

Spanking remains controversial because it’s a difficult subject to study. Researchers don’t have an exact way to differentiate between a family’s use of more severe corporal punishment and basic spanking. The causes and effects of spanking are also incredibly subjective. 

“Some research suggests that the effects of spanking differ depending on the reasons parents spank, how frequently they do so and how old children are at the time–so the conclusion from the meta-analysis that spanking itself is dangerous may be overly simplistic.” 

The Scientific American

We don’t want parents to feel overly guilt-ridden for spanking when they did so with the best of intentions–helping their children learn.

And we certainly don’t want to lump parents who use spanking into the same category as those who use more severe forms of corporal punishment or even resort to child abuse.

However, evidence still suggests that spanking has negative effects.

In the same way that doctors don’t encourage alcohol consumption during pregnancy, psychologists certainly don’t recommend the use of spanking. Why take a chance, especially if there are plenty of potential risks and zero proven benefits?

The Risks of Spanking

Continued–and Encouraged–Misbehavior 

It’s important to know that spanking of any degree can escalate a child’s behavior. It makes many kids obstinate and motivated to fight back. What’s worse, a child that’s misunderstood and discouraged long enough can begin exhibiting revenge-type misbehaviors. 

Let’s say a 4-year-old is spanked for drawing on the walls. He’s now mad because either he doesn’t know he wasn’t supposed to draw on the walls, or he really doesn’t understand why he can’t draw on the walls. After all, the walls are just standing there, all clean and white–aren’t they just begging for color?

He tries again the next day to draw his masterpiece because he figures yesterday’s spanking was a fluke. Besides, he really wants to use his new crayons, and as a 4-year-old, his ability to control his impulses is limited at best.

But, he gets spanked again. 

Now he’s fuming. He turns his anger–which he isn’t sure how to contain–towards his parent. This, in turn, inspires him to draw on the walls of the entire house; just to show how displeased he is. 

Naturally, this further escalates his parent’s response and everything gets blown way out of proportion. What was originally a spanking intended to make him stop coloring on the walls–evolved into another spanking and a lot more anger and frustration.

And what could possibly be next? Hopefully not another, even more aggressive spanking.

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Children who are spanked also tend to lie. 

Think about it. To a child, it makes sense to lie to a parent to dodge a painful or embarrassing consequence or avoid a parent’s disappointment. A little white lie–or even a big one–seems like the easier choice. 

We all want kids who tell the truth. But spanking undermines their motivation to come clean. If kids think they may be spanked for making a bad choice, why would they ever want to approach us with the truth? 

What if there’s something we need to know, like that our 4-year-old was jumping–uninvited–on the neighbor’s trampoline when she fell and broke her wrist? If she wasn’t supposed to be on the trampoline in the first place (especially without zipping the safety net closed and without adult supervision) and she’s accustomed to being spanked for not following instructions, she’s likely to hide the true cause of her injury. 

These omissions may not seem like a huge deal when kids are younger, but how will these situations play out when kids are older and the stakes are a lot higher?

Lying and spanking can become a vicious cycle. Lying can further motivate a parent to use spanking as a consequence, can undermine parent-child trust, and, ultimately, can damage the parent-child relationship by making children feel unworthy of our love. It’s best to choose a discipline strategy that doesn’t pose this risk.

Why Kids lie and How to Get them to tell the truth ebook


The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary’s definition of spanking is “a series of hits on the bottom, given to somebody, especially a child, as a punishment.”

A little “hit” on a child’s bottom may not be a life-changer and likely won’t instill life-long psychological trauma. Still, we want any discipline we use to be effective long-term–and we certainly don’t want it to be harmful.  

While we may be applying the Pavlov’s dog conditioning technique when we spank our children (through an attempt to make them stop their actions in fear of pain), the idea of teaching this through hitting is–at best–hypocritical. 

We certainly don’t want our children hitting us, or anyone else. Most parents would be appalled to get a call from school saying their son or daughter had been hitting kids on the playground. But from a child’s perspective, there’s no difference between being spanked and hitting a friend for taking away a toy. 

Despite even the best intentions, spanking teaches that hitting and aggression are appropriate ways to resolve conflict and vent frustration. So studies understandably show that children hit through spanking are prone to aggression. 

If a spanked child is showing aggression, it’s time to consider spanking’s harmful side effects.

Cognitive Effects

Spanking our children may also result in negative cognitive effects. 

A 2009 study from the University of New Hampshire said that children who were spanked had lower IQs than those who weren’t. 

Lasting cognitive effects on young, developing brains isn’t hard to imagine. After all, “…children who spend more time responding to conflicts…spend more time thinking with their primitive brain (which is mostly autonomous) than their cerebral brain, (which is mostly wired for logic).” Subsequently, “…they perform more poorly on cognitive tests designed to measure a child’s competency in using logic.” Ugo Uche, Psychology Today

A similar decade-old study from Duke University also concluded that children who were spanked had lower scores on tests that measured thinking when they were 3. The study went on to say “when parents use physical discipline through childhood, their children experience more behavior problems in adolescence.” 

While advocates of spanking usually insist there is a difference between spanking and abuse, it’s important to note these studies did look solely at spanking and not other forms of corporal abuse.

Adding Insult to Injury: Additional Effects of Spanking

It’s still likely that spanking with an object–like a stick or a belt–is going to be the most physically and mentally harmful to a child. But once again, what about a light spanking? Do we really need to worry about long-term side effects?

It doesn’t just matter how hard–or not–parents hit, or what tool may or may not be used. 

It can also be the intention behind spanking that’s a big problem.


Shame is arguably one of the most uncomfortable feelings humans experience. It makes us want to hide in a corner, disappear, and pretend the situation never happened. 

It may seem like spanking a child with the intent of embarrassing and shaming her for her actions is teaching a good, memorable lesson. To some extent, embarrassment is just a part of life and a normal feeling to experience now and again. 

However, it isn’t necessary for a parent to shame or humiliate a child to make her understand she did something wrong. 

It isn't necessary to shame or humiliate a child
There are other much more effective ways to discipline our children that won’t lead them to believe they’re “bad kids” or make them feel unnecessarily shamed.

Public spanking is additionally humiliating for a child. Even though we often want to address misbehavior immediately and in the heat of the moment, it’s better to remove a child from public before dealing with the misbehavior. (This also gives both of you time to cool down and allows you to figure out what would be most helpful to your child.) 

Instead of spanking a four-year-old–in front of her friends and other parents–for opening her friend’s present at her friend’s birthday party, we should calmly take her outside and explain what she did wrong. It’s completely shameless–and much more effective.


It’s certainly easy to blame our children for their misbehavior. After all, they’re the ones that came up with the bad ideas and executed them. It’s quite literally their fault. 

Even if it is their fault, there’s always a reason behind misbehavior. And blaming and spanking our kids won’t combat it.

Imagine your daughter screaming at her little brother. You enter the room just as she pushes him over. You immediately spank your daughter and blame her for bullying her brother. After all, she’s older and should know better. 

What you may not have seen was your son pulling your daughter’s hair three times before she’d had enough. 

We aren’t always there to witness what may have happened to cause misbehavior. Therefore, laying blame isn’t exactly fair. We also never know, without a doubt, what’s going through our kids’ minds. Even if a behavior is clearly unjustified, our kids are still learning how to manage their actions and emotions.  

We don’t want our kids to feel less worthy or less capable after misbehaving by inflicting blame. It just damages their self-confidence. Instead, we need kids to know that it’s not only okay–and normal–to make mistakes, but that those mistakes also help them make better choices in the future. 

This certainly doesn’t mean we should never apply consequences to misbehavior. Nor should we avoid teaching our kids self-reflection and humility. 
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But, instead of spanking your daughter and saying “What’s wrong with you?! You need to set a better example for your brother!” avoid spanking her and say, “I know you love your brother, and everybody makes mistakes sometimes. So let’s talk about what we can do differently next time.”

The thought of using a statement like this with a kid whose behavior is getting worse may not seem firm enough. But I’d like to emphasize that the kids who need encouragement the MOST get it the LEAST. This means the kid who always causes trouble and seems SO bad and is SO easy to blame–doesn’t need to be berated or spanked. Instead, he needs to be helped through positive parenting–and quickly. 


To our children, we are big, knowledgeable, intimidating, and–to our younger ones especially–we are their world. As their guides, they rely heavily, and for a while even solely, on us. 

Because we have so much power, we can also–if we’re angry–be terrifying. Children are vulnerable, easily influenced, and prone to fear

When spanking comes from a place of anger, or even reaches the point of sounding threatening, our children are justifiably scared. We are stronger than them–a giant to them–and they feel powerless. 

Nothing can make a child feel further defeated than fear. And although we may want to “win” battles with our children over misbehavior, to do so in a way that makes them afraid, unsettled, and unstable? Now that can produce life-long psychological effects. 

The Harmful Effects Spanking Can Have on US

Unfortunately, the use of spanking can backfire and harm us just as much as our kids. 

Anything that adversely affects our children will adversely affect us. We want them to be happy. We want them to be healthy. We love them unconditionally. 

We also have the added responsibility of taking care of and parenting our kids in the best manner possible. So when our spanking causes them harm (or is ineffective at best), we’re left to pick up the pieces. 

Added Frustration

Nothing is worse than inflicting pain on our beloved children to no avail. When we spank our kids and don’t see any results, we are rightfully fed up with them and the situation.

Maybe we spank our kids and DO see some immediate results. But a few weeks later, the same misbehavior likely returns. The frustration from a lesson unlearned just adds to our parenting woes. 

Continued frustration can wear us all down, my friend. We need to be intentional about the discipline strategies we choose and make sure they aren’t adding unnecessary stress.


Maybe we’ve spanked our children on occasion and haven’t felt an ounce of guilt. But when spanking increases misbehavior and decreases positive results, it’s also natural to question if spanking was the right choice. 

Guilt harms our confidence as parents and adds more unpleasantness to the emotional roller coaster we’re riding. 

My advice for you is to choose a discipline strategy that is not only positive and without harm, but EFFECTIVE. Our children will still learn tough lessons from positive parenting techniques, but it will be in a way that doesn’t risk harming your child physically or emotionally. Nor will it leave you questioning your choices.

Final Thoughts 

I’d like to share a quote with you from Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pippi Longstocking, that made a big impact on me when I first read it years ago: 

Above all, I believe that there should never be any violence. In 1978, I received a peace prize in West Germany for my books, and I gave an acceptance speech that I called just that: “Never Violence.” And in that speech I told a story from my own experience.

When I was about 20 years old, I met an old pastor’s wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day, when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking-the first in his life. She told him that he would have to go outside himself and find a switch for her to hit him with.

The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock that you can throw at me.”

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy into her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because if violence begins in the nursery one can raise children into violence.

– By Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking. Originally shared by Vivian Brault, founder of Directions, Inc.

Although I understand many parents feel the need to spank their children, my years of work as a positive parenting educator have helped me conclude that spanking is neither effective nor harmless as a discipline strategy. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s a light swat on the bottom or a painful strike with a belt. Spanking will always be a risky way to teach children to behave. And why would we want to take any more chances with our children’s futures than necessary?

So, please–I encourage you to take the first steps towards positive discipline today.

And remember–never violence.

Not sure what to do instead of spanking? JOIN ME FOR A FREE CLASS. You’ll not only learn how to implement fair, effective, and non-physical consequences for your children; you’ll start shedding remorse and frustration over the methods that have failed to work.

We are here for you on this wildly wonderful road of parenthood!

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When Parents Disagree on Discipline: 9 Steps to Harmonious Parenting

sad little boy with parents arguing in the backgroundsad little boy with parents arguing in the background

sad little boy with parents arguing in the background

You vowed to be together for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, but now you’re in a parenting standoff and can’t seem to agree on A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

You’re tired of yelling at your kids. Your partner is tired of their disrespect. You try to implement positive parenting strategies. Your partner insists on sending them to time out. You dread mealtime. Your partner dreads bathtime.

The tension is palpable, and your kids notice. They know you’re the strict one and your partner is more lenient. They know who will cave under pressure and whose fuse will blow first.

If there is one thing you can ALL agree on, it’s this: Something has to change.

The standoff can’t continue.

Your kids are too important. Your marriage is too important. Your family is way too important to let discipline differences wear everyone down.

So what should you do about it?

First, take a deep breath. A REALLY deep breath.

There is hope for you and your family, my friend. Lots of hope.

I’m here to suggest 9 tangible steps you and your partner can take TODAY to set a new foundation in your home – a foundation you can both feel comfortable standing on as you continue your parenting journey.

Step 1: Find (Any) Common Ground

Assuming a partner needs to get on YOUR parenting page immediately puts you in a power struggle. It’s not “my way or yours”–it’s about coming together with a philosophy and strategies you both feel good about.

Start by identifying the aspects of parenting and discipline where you DO agree. You’ll be more successful identifying similarities than focusing energy on the areas where you disagree.

Look for the positives. Identify the parenting strategies your partner uses that you appreciate.

Are they encouraging?

Do they use a respectful tone?

Do they play with the kids?

Are they consistent?

Do they have reasonable expectations of your kids?

Are they loving?

Even if all you can say with confidence is “I appreciate how much you love our children,” that is a positive foundation to build upon.

After all, your partner DOES love your kids. And even though his/her parenting style may differ from yours, their discipline approach comes from a place of LOVE.

This is not a time for blaming or rehashing – this is a fresh start for everyone involved, so build on your commonalities.

Step 2: Explore the Underlying Reasons Why You Disagree on Discipline

The greatest influence on our discipline methods is undoubtedly our own parents. Whether you agree with your parents’ discipline style or not, the choices you make today as a parent are due, in part, to how you were raised.

Without new knowledge and outside influences, parents are often predisposed to repeat the same patterns of behavior as their parents. This is why you’ll hear moms all over the world catch themselves in a moment of shock and mutter, “Oh no! I sound just like my mom!”

For those with negative childhood discipline experiences, these parents often vow to not repeat the same discouraging behaviors with their own children.

Or conversely, (and more frequently) those who agree with the discipline techniques used by their own parents will repeat the same strategies and use the same language they internalized as a child.

This scenario plays out when you hear a parent say, “My parents did _____ and I turned out ok!”

This justification for parenting choices is a slippery slope, because you are taking your experience as a single person and applying it to an entire group of people.

For example, you might hear someone say, “I never wore a seatbelt growing up, and I turned out fine.” Chances are, if this were the case, the same person probably wasn’t in a messy car accident, either.

This person’s one experience can’t be used to justify banning seatbelts because, inevitably, someone is going to get into a car accident and need a seatbelt to save their life.

In parenting circles, you’ll often hear someone say, “I was spanked all the time, but I turned out ok.” But the truth is, we can’t let a single person’s experience justify spanking ALL children who come from a plethora of different backgrounds and who have different predispositions. Or, when multiple scientific studies tell us spanking has a negative effect on children.

And sure, this negative effect might be something as simple as a quick-temper or mild anxiety, but it could also create emotional trauma that is much deeper than you ever intended.

If you find yourself using the “I turned out fine” argument to justify your position, I’d encourage you to really dig deep and evaluate where these feelings are coming from.

To find common ground with your parenting partner, it’s critical you each do a little soul-searching and discover WHY you disagree.

What parts of your childhood influence your perception of appropriate parenting techniques?

Additionally, what parts of your childhood influence how you feel about your partner’s parenting techniques?

With a little self-reflection from you and your partner, you’ll be well on your way to uncovering the roots of your deeply held parenting beliefs.

Step 3: Start Small

Begin with the non-negotiables for your family.

The non-negotiables are typically the health and safety rules (wearing bike helmets, driving before dark, etc.) and other areas your family values like education (homework before playtime) and respect (name calling will not be tolerated).

Agree on the limits and expectations for the non-negotiables and clearly communicate those to everyone. If the rule is “no cellphones in a bedroom,” be sure you both follow through each and every time on that non-negotiable. Your kids will immediately observe you are a unified front.

free parenting class

Step 4: Think Long-Term

Remember that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint – and that requires us to think long-term.

Visualize your kids when they show up for their first day of work. Imagine who they’ll be when they have children of their own.

What attributes do you hope your children will possess when they become adults?

Compassion? Work ethic? Thoughtfulness? Respect? Motivation? Resilience?

If you and your partner can agree on 3-4 words you hope will describe your children as adults, you’ll be able to view parenting with a far-sighted lens.

Then, when tackling the day-to-day discipline dilemmas, ask yourselves the question:

“What do we want our child to LEARN from this experience or discipline opportunity?”

It’s not about winning. It’s not about proving “you’re the boss and they WILL OBEY!”

It’s about teaching your child to make the best possible choices in the future–and learning from mistakes along the way–so they can grow into well-adjusted adults.

When you and your partner have a long-term goal of raising responsible, compassionate, respectful children, you have a framework to make short-term decisions.

For example:

If you and your partner can agree on some long-term parenting goals for your family, the short-term decisions will be easier to make.


Step 5: Select a Signal

It’s okay if you disagree on some discipline issues–the key is not to argue about them in front of your children.  

Establish a non-verbal signal between you and your partner that indicates “we clearly don’t agree on this one, let’s discuss it away from the kids.”  

Since 95% of issues don’t need to be solved on the spot, this gives both parents a chance to take a breather and decide on a course of action later.

Step 6: Avoid Good Cop, Bad Cop

In the same way you shouldn’t disagree on discipline in front of your children, it’s vitally important you don’t pigeon-hole one another into good cop, bad cop roles.

Well-meaning parents do this when saying things like, “Just wait until Dad gets home,” or “Mom is going to be very upset about this.”

What message does a kid hear when Mom says, “Just wait until Dad gets home?” A child hears that Daddy is the bad cop and is the only one capable of handling this situation.

Or if Dad says, “Mom is going to be very upset about this broken vase!” The child assumes Mom cares more about the vase than Dad does.

Statements like these only reinforce a child’s feelings of viewing one parent as the “loving one” and one parent as the “strict one”.

In reality, if you’re trying to present yourselves as a unified front, you should both try to be consistent in your reactions. Each parent should feel equipped and empowered to handle any situation that arrives when the kids are in their care without threatening the other parent’s involvement.

In a similar vein, it’s important not to undermine your partner’s parenting decisions in front of the children. If your children see you have a lack of faith in the parenting decisions your partner made, they will undoubtedly share the same sentiments, and behave accordingly.

Step 7: Ditch the Scorekeeping

I’m the one who always deals with potty training.”

“If she’s not helping with bedtime, why would I want to help her get the kids ready for school?”

“He’s the last one to ever offer to help with homework…”

Scorekeeping is the silent relationship killer. It breeds resentment and puts you on opposite teams. 

If it has become second nature to keep a tally of rights and wrongs, consider how this is affecting your goal of more integrated parenting. 

It is time to start fresh and focus, again, on the things you appreciate your partner doing. 

Step 8: Commit to Consistent Communication

Set aside some time, one night each week after the kids go to bed, to discuss your progress.  

Take note of the issues that have come up most frequently and agree on a correction method to use going forward. Keep in mind that your goal is not to “win the battle” with your partner, but to find the most constructive plan to help your children make good choices–thereby reducing future misbehaviors and training them for adulthood.

Again, this is not a time for blaming or rehashing, but rather a time to come together and map out a plan for your current parenting struggles. Celebrate the little successes you’ve made and the changes you’ve seen in your children and each other.

Step 9: Seek Support

If, after some focused effort, you and your spouse continue to disagree on parenting and discipline issues, consider taking a parenting class together or visiting with an objective, third-party resource, like a family therapist.

If you’re not sure whether an in-person parenting course or an online class would be better for your family, you can learn more about the pros and cons of each type here.

No matter what route you take, just remember, you and your partner are on the same team!

Final Thoughts

While the task of solving discipline disagreements can seem daunting, these 9 strategies will put you and your spouse on the path to success. With these guidelines, time, and effort, it won’t be too long before the big discipline debate is happily in the past.

If you would like to learn more parenting strategies to help you on this journey, I’d love to have you JOIN ME FOR A FREE ONLINE PARENTING CLASS!

Time-Out: Do Time-Outs Really Work? Problems with Time-Out (And What to do Instead)

Boy in Time OutBoy in Time Out

Your pediatrician recommended it, your friends swear by it, and your child’s preschool uses it incessantly. But, every time YOU try to send your child to time-out, the 5-minute time-out turns into a 30-minute throwdown of epic proportions.

For most parents, using time-out to “teach kids a lesson” often increases the power struggle and ends in frustration, anger, and fails to achieve the desired outcome.

Or, in other cases, getting the child to go to time-out isn’t necessarily a battle, but the child continues to misbehave once their time in the corner is finished.

While well-meaning parents have used time-out as an alternative to more punitive methods like spanking, it doesn’t seem to reap the long-term benefits we hope for. After all, we are running a marathon, aren’t we?

When we take a short-sighted approach to discipline, we leave the door open for long-term problems. Sure, a time-out might curb behavior in the moment, but it doesn’t promote our long-term goal of raising emotionally stable, resilient, and empathetic children.

If you are a proponent of time-out, this is not a finger-waving post of judgment, I promise. I, too, was once a time-out queen myself. But, as I found the tool to be increasingly ineffective in my home, I knew I needed other tactics.

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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.