Recently I overheard a parent counting to a child 1 2 3 and by three the child stopped what he was doing and came to his mother. I then wondered what would’ve happened at three if the child hadn’t come to his mother. So I came up with my own 1-2-3 method.
Before I start counting I say to Greyson, “I am going to count to three and on three you are going to get into your car seat. You can either climb in all by yourself or I am going to put you in it, but either way, on three you are going in your seat. He tested me only twice to see what would happen. Unfortunately we both ended up upset and I tried to tell him (as if he’s listening) that if he would have just done as I asked him to do that we both wouldn’t have ended up being upset and he wouldn’t have “given mommy a hard time.”
Once again on the third attempt and so far every attempt after he does anything I ask him to do by the count of three. YEAY!!! I believe this method has been working because he is given the choice to make a decision and then he is doing it by himself, which at this age (and I am sure every age) is a big deal.
No Longer in the Trenches “Expert” Mom
I am learning a lot from Mary and Greyson. Their experiences are inviting me to rethink and change my mind about some ideas I once felt strongly about. For example, I once thought it was ridiculous to count to three because of my belief that this simply taught children that parents don’t mean what they say until they reach three. What I have learned from Mary and Greyson:
- Counting to three gives them both time to process change—something they both need.
- It is true that Greyson may not do what he is supposed to do until Mary reaches three, but at least he has had some time to get used to the idea. He also has time to choose how to use his personal power—to choose to do something by himself, or to fight to the end while Mary does it for him. For now, he is choosing to use his power to do it himself.
- Mary needs the count to three to give her the courage to follow through on what she says. Some parents may not need time to process change. They can say something once, mean it, and follow through. However, most parents are more like Mary and need some time. This works just as well—so long as she does follow through on the count of three.
Tips for more effective use of the 1-2-3 count
Be aware of what you want for your children. Bottom line—do you want your children to learn to use their personal power in useful, cooperative ways? Do you want them to feel capable, resilient, and respectful of themselves and others? When you keep the bottom line in mind, the following tips will help you achieve your goals for you and your children.
- Understand development issues. At some level Mary knows that Greyson doesn’t “listen” to her “lectures.” It is all about power and power-struggles. Mary wants Greyson to “cooperate.” To her, “listen” means “obey.” Greyson wants to be a typical 2 1/2-year-old and dawdle, explore, experiment—and not obey.
- Avoid win/lose power struggles. Power is a very subtle thing for young children. They are just discovering what their personal power is all about and they love it. They don’t want to lose their power by “giving in.” Parents interpret this to mean “defiance” or “not listening.” When you think about it, if Mary wins, that makes Greyson the loser. If Greyson wins, Mary feels like a loser.
- Give limited choices. Whenever possible, giving your children a limited choice provides them with a sense of power, but not tyrannical power. When this is successful, you have created win/win. When it doesn’t work, see the next tip.
- Be kind and firm at the same time. Sometimes the “needs of the situation” (such as the law requiring that children be in car seats) requires that you do what is necessary even if your children won’t participate in a win/win scenario. During these times you may need to use the Positive Discipline tool of “deciding what you will do.” In other words, you may need to force your child to sit in his car seat. The key is to do this kindly and firmly at the same time. Sometimes the best way to do the kind part is to skip the lectures and the anger and keep your mouth shut while kindly following through on what you have to do. This will be easier to do if you remember the developmental issues. Your child isn’t trying to be defiant “against” you. He is trying to keep his personal power in tact “for” himself.