1-2-3… Not as magical as they claim.

123magicWhen I was a first time Mom and very young, I tried my best to be the best mom I could be. But let’s face it, a lot about being a parent is trial and error. I was having a VERY hard time controlling my very active and rebellious 3 year old at the time (Steven) and was offered to attend a class called “1, 2, 3 Magic”. Being the teachable mom that I was (and willing to do anything at this point), I agreed to go. I learned a lot in that class. I took a lot of notes and felt great when I left. I think the thing that helped me the most was seeing LOTS of other moms and dads in there going through the same thing I was. All in all, the class information was good and helped me with my follow-through of consequence once I got to 3 but I realized over the years that the “1, 2, 3” was giving my child time to ignore me. I would give an instruction or direction and suddenly I couldn’t say ANYTHING without reverting back to the “1, 2, 3”. Over the years, I have changed it up a bit… now I count down “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” when I want my kids to hurry to do something or come to me, which has helped their feet move faster… mostly for fun. But my old tactic, “1, 2, 3 Magic”, has since retired. And here’s why… 

 The problem with 1-2-3 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. Here’s what’s going through their minds:

  • “Okay, I’m good here for a while. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
  • “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’ve got time.”
  • “Oh brother – she’s up to 2 ½. I guess I’m going to have to get moving right before she gets to 3.”

The fact of the matter is, by counting 1-2-3, you’re actually giving them up to 5 or 6 chances to ignore you before they have to respond.  You probably asked them once or twice before you started counting.  Add a “two and a half” and a “two and three-quarters” and you’re up to 6-7 chances before your children respond. You’ve effectively taught them to ignore you, and it’s a tough habit for them to break.

Parents often turn to counting because they mistakenly assume that kids need the “1-2-3” to re-group or refocus their attention.   However, as you consider the effectiveness of “1-2-3,” consider the following:

Will a teacher ask multiple times before a student agrees to do what is asked?  Can an employee wait until the supervisor asks several times before turning in the assignment?  Not if he wants to keep his job. Your child won’t get that many chances with adults outside the home, so it’s detrimental to give him so many chances inside the home.

And what about your response?

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? Repeat yourself again, this time with an “I’m serious now!” qualifier?

What To Do Instead

When you’d like to request something of your child—whether to pick up his toys or stop splashing in the bath—get down on his level (physically), make eye contact and state the desired behavior in your calm but firm voice, including the consequence if he ignores your request. The calm voice is important to avoid escalating a power struggle.

For example, say, “Jason, please put your toys away now or I will put them away and you will lose the privilege of playing with those toys for the rest of the day/week.” (Adjust the time frame depending on the age of your child.) That gives Jason one chance. If he chooses to comply, then everyone’s happy. If not, calmly and without words, pick up the toys and put them in the closet for the day/week.

As you follow through, your child is likely to pitch quite a fit. As long as no one is in danger, let him. There’s no need to lecture or get angry; just go about your business.

His tantrum will pass and he will learn a valuable lesson that when you say something, you mean it. Remember, parenting is about teaching and training.

If the tantrum causes you to reverse your decision, Jason wins and the scenario will be repeated again tomorrow.  Your child may “test” you a few times, but will quickly learn that when you say something, you mean it!

Soon, your child will be listening better, and better prepared for the future as well.


 I few things that work for me:      Making-eye-contact

 Always make eye contact!

 Also, I have learned to use these three questions when approaching one of my boys when I find they aren’t doing what they are told…. (very calmly and with that “look” in my eye)

1. what are you doing? (wait for a response… and “I don’t know” isn’t an answer.)

2. what are you supposed to be doing?

3. when do you plan to start doing that?

 This amazingly seems to work almost without fail. (Another tip from our wonderful counselor) Sometimes I have to give a warning and then REALLY stick to the consequence when one doesn’t obey but this usually nips the behavior in the bud before it gets that far with, my 8 and 12 year old.

And one more tip, I had to learn this one the hard way… if you think your child or children are not doing what they should, GO TO THEM. I had such a hard time with this. I would be downstairs (cooking, keeping an eye on the baby, telephone ringing) yelling upstairs “boys, I hear you messing around up there…. 1…. 2….. 2 1/2…….. BOYS!” I decided to change things up and stop all the yelling one day. I started just walking up the stairs, or going into the other room, or walking out into the back yard and seeing for myself and confronting the situation right then and there when something was going on. Ah Ha! Things began to change between the boys and I… they realized they couldn’t get away with as much. :)

I pray this encourages some really great parents (and grandparents) today and you can learn a little from my experiences!

If you ever need prayer or have questions, please contact me. I would love, love, love to help in any way possible! :)

Thanks for stopping by today!


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