How to Count to Three

With an astoundingly high frequency rate, many toddlers will stop dangerous or annoying antics and become immediately compliant if you simply announce that you’re about to count to three. Why? Maybe the human hatred for deadlines starts early. Or, perhaps when you count you set a time limit on their personal power. They know that if they don’t get into the stroller or out of the car seat by “three” they will have to bear the insult of being repositioned by you. We may never know why “I’m going to start counting!” are the real magic words of parenting. But if you are fortunate enough to have a child who jumps when you count, be careful not to squander this power. To avoid diluting the technique’s effectiveness:

  • Don’t wimp out. If your child doesn’t comply by “three” carry through on the promised consequences. This means thinking ahead before you announce a countdown. Are you really going to throw the stuffed giraffe out the window? Or do a turnaround at the airport and not go to Uncle Jeff’s for Thanksgiving? If you’re not, don’t say you are-otherwise your child will call your bluff, see the humbug behind the curtain and never again hup to it when you start counting. Or, in fear that this will happen, you will find yourself stopping the count altogether-which sends another message of weakness, and kids even this young can tell when you’re on the verge of wimping out..
  •  Don’t overuse it. Employ counting only as a last resort, after the failure of all of your far more creative attempts to get her to brush her teeth, like chasing her into the bathroom as if you’re the tooth fairy. If you’re responding to every act of sudden deafness on your child’s part by threatening to count, you’re using this tactic too much. Limit yourself to one count a day or better yet about three counts a week.
  • Don’t teach fourth-grade math to a three year old. Too many children become early whizzes at fractions because they’ve learned that before Mom gets from 2 to 3 a cozy cushion of time will be taken up with 2 1/4, 2 1/2, 2 3/4. In some families, the count even gets divided into eighths. Go ahead, tell yourself that you’re just trying to improve our nation’s abysmal math scores. This is a noble public service that will no doubt help to save us from economic collapse in 2030, but what you’re really doing is stalling. If your child typically needs more time to comply, count to five or ten, but leave fractions out of it. Kids learn soon enough that if you’re threatening them with fourths you’re hesitant to carry through on your threat-which from their perspective means there’s a good chance that you won’t.