Don’t Count to Three When Your Kids Drive You Crazy

After 25 years of working with thousands of families, I’ve found that many parents make the mistake of warning their children by saying, “I’m counting to three! One…two…” But, the warning rarely has the desired effect. Instead, it tends to exacerbate the situation even worse.

Doesn’t it feel sometimes like the popular “count to three” technique is more of an escalator of your own frustration than a motivator for your child? Children should be taught to stop appropriate behavior the first time they are asked. Counting to three actually trains them that it’s okay to keep doing what they should be doing until you get to three. “What a fun game to watch Mommy and Daddy get madder and madder as they count! As long as I stop before three, nothing happens to me!” Looking at it from a child’s point of view, you can see that it’s just not a productive form of discipline.

There are many strategies to discipline your children, including time-outs, removal of privileges, saying the behavior you want to see, or partnering correction with encouragement. But, at the foundation of any technique is the importance of correcting your kids with the right attitude – one of love and peace.

For example, when it’s time for my kids to clean their rooms, I usually incorporate a warning with positive instruction. I say something like, “Hey, I’m coming back to check your room in 15 minutes, and it needs to be clean. When it is, you can go outside to play.” I outline what I expect. I remind them of the privilege that is attached to the job, and I encourage them to get it done. If I come back and the room isn’t clean, then they lose their chance to go outside and they still have to clean their room.”

Don’t let your emotions take the lead in your discipline. The key to removing your frustration and anger from the equation is to plan your responses to disobedience in advance so that you can stay calm, cool, and collected. When yelling starts, teaching stops. Take your own time out if you need it. Or, “count to three” for yourself internally before your respond. Temper everything you do with wisdom and love – not emotions.

The Bible says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19, 20 NIV).

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