A parent says, "Billy, come make your bed."
Billy doesn't come immediately so the parent says,"One.......Two.........Three." to get Billy to come.
Have you ever done this? Everyone knows Billy better start running either at or before his mom hits the number three or else Mom could turn into a monster.
As I travel around, I notice counting to three as possibly the most common parenting control method. Counting has it's place in parenting, but the counting in the above story is either a threat, a power struggle, or a sign of a parent who doesn't really want to follow through with the consequence their child has already earned. Okay, it might also be all three of these options.
I wish I could say that I have never counted to get my children to do things, but I can't. Counting to three seems to be a culturally accepted parenting control method. Parents count for control everywhere. Some don't even talk to count. Have you ever seen the evil eye with the one, two, three fingers flipping up? I have seen it at stores, restaurants, parks, and church. Years ago, me and my husband had to make ourselves quit counting for control. Counting is so addicting. At least that was what we noticed.
There was a time, when my two oldest children were young, when my husband and I were in the habit of counting to get their attention or to force more immediate action from the children. I also noticed that we were more inclined to count in public because we didn't want our children to really earn negative consequences in public settings. If they really earned negative consequences, we would have to follow through with them. This would be inconvenient in public, so we started to count. It is often easier to give more chances than to follow through with what your family government system says they have earned. (If you calmly parent in public, you will inspire other people to communicate better with their children too.)
I was talking with a family member the other day who admited that she and her husband count all the time because they don't really want to be bothered with making their child do the earned negative consequence. She said that she knew this was not good, because they weren't consistently allowing their child to earn negative consequences when he chose to, but it was a habit.
It's really hard to want to quit counting when it offers power to the parent quickly and makes it so the children don't have to really follow through with the negative consequences from their initial wrong choices. But, if you want to stop initiating power struggles and teach you child how to think through his actions ahead of time by teaching your child that a good choice equals a positive consequence and a bad choice equals a negative consequence, then what are you going to do? I suggest this:
Teach Following Instructions
1. Look at the person
2. Keep a calm face, voice and body
3. Say "OK"
4. Do the task immediately
5. Check back with parents
These are the steps to following instructions. After making sure your child understands these steps, then you are ready to change your response to children who don't act immediately when given instructions.
When you feel the desire to count to three (or worse 10) instead say, "I am giving you an instruction." If they know how to follow instructions then they should take that prompt as a quick reminder to choose obedience.
If your child doesn't want to follow your instruction or use your one prompt, then simply start a corrective interaction. "Just now I gave you an instruction, and you didn't..............the steps..................You have earned............the consequence..........what you should have done was..................etc." (See steps)
Just so you know I still use counting at my home, it is just for a completely different reason. I use counting as a challenge now. I say, "Okay, it's time to do a 60 second pick up. On your mark. Get set. Go. One, two three...60. Wow, look how much you changed the look of this room in 60 seconds." Or I might count to see how long it takes to get into pajamas etc. I think this reason for counting has also taught my younger children how to count much sooner than my older children learned the skill. The older children could get to three just fine, but after that things came a little harder. My younger children never stopped counting at three, they knew the numbers kept going, sometimes even to 60.
Have you ever made a parenting habit that you knew wasn't really helping your children make good choices by themselves? Me too, but I have found it is never too late to teach new things. :)