One… Two… Three… Then What?

While I was at the store last week I rounded a corner just in time to see a little boy pick up a plastic sword he saw leaning against the return counter and heard his mom say, “Anthony! One”.   At that moment I had several questions come to my mind,

“Will she get all the way to three or will her young son know that hearing “One” means he better stop what he’s doing immediately”?

“What will happen when the mom gets to “three”? Then what will she do”?

“Perhaps the kid knows that if he hurries he can play with the sword for three seconds before his mom does anything”.

            Actually, this whole counting to three thing has always been mysterious (or silly or interesting) to me. As parents, what are we really doing when try to terminate a child’s actions by counting to three? Are we giving them time to consider what to do? Do they know what’s going to happen if they don’t conform before we say, “three”? It’s all so arbitrary to me.

I think we should throw the whole counting thing out as a discipline technique. Rather, we should tell our child what we would like to have happen, or give them a choice. For example, the mom could have said to Anthony, “Son, we did not pay for that so we should not play with it” or “Put it back because if you play with it and break it, we’ll have to pay for it and we don’t want to buy a broken toy”. These type of comments help a child understand what’s happening better than just hearing, “One, two…”.

Of course, the tricky part comes when we give some nice explanation and they still choose to continue with the undesirable behavior. There are so many ways to explain what you would like your child to do, which do not contain any numbers or counting. For more on this see: Set the Expectation and Consequence and You Have Two Choices.

Labels- They Stick

Recently a lady I know said to me, “You carry yourself so well- so dignified” Up to that point of my life I had not considered my posture as a positive quality. However, now, every time I see her I stand up a little straighter and walked a little more gracefully. Her simple comment changed how I felt about myself and how I acted.

When you were a child do you ever remember an adult giving you a label or title? Did they say, “Oh isn’t she pretty, look at the curly hair”, or “My second son is so wild I really can’t take him anywhere with out him acting up”? Children believe what they hear said about them and those comments can shape who they become.

Recently I was at a neighbor’s house with another friend who is a young mom with two children. The oldest child is 5 and the younger one 3 years old. Much to the mom’s embarrassment the younger one was into everything. She was constantly getting up to follow him and keep him from bothering things on the shelves, opening drawers or going down the hall into the bedrooms. As we were leaving she said, patting her 3 year old on the head, “This one is my little terror, he gets into everything”. The child was listening and hearing himself be labeled. I could imagine the child thinking that if that’s what his mom thought, that’s what he should do.

When I hear a parent say something really negative about their child, while the child is listening, I wonder:

-Do they think their child can’t hear them?

-Do they think the child isn’t paying attention to what the adults are saying?

-Perhaps they are more concerned about what other adults think about them as a parent than what the child thinks about himself.

All children have good qualities, even our most challenging ones. So make sure your child only hears you mention their positive attributes to others. Even if you don’t think your child is listening remember, kids tend to listen even BETTER when they feel like they are listening in to what adults are talking about. If you feel like you need to say something negative about them, don’t say it when they can hear you.