We’ve all done it! The thing where you ask your kid to do something and they don’t listen. You repeat it, with a more stern voice and they still don’t listen. So finally, you give a stern, “One… twooooooooo….” And usually, they listen. Like magic, they do whatever it was that you told them to do two tries ago. The funny thing is, most of us don’t actually know what’s going to happen after we get to “three” when we’re counting, which is exactly why the pause gets longer and we draw the numbers out longer to give them more time to move! But why is this counting technique so magical? Why didn’t they listen the first two times?
It took me awhile to figure this mystery out with my first kid. I was getting so tired of asking and nothing happening until I started counting. But without fail, he listened as soon as I started counting. SO frustrating!! Then I stopped to think about what changed from the first time I asked him to do something and when I started counting. I noticed a few things: 1.) I was no longer asking, it was a command. 2.) My voice was stern and I meant business. 3.) He knew this was the end of the road and a consequence (whatever THAT mystery was supposed to be…) was going to happen next. I used this information to try to hone in on a better system.
I changed my delivery of these commands. And let’s face it, they’re commands. We might “ask” them to go pick up their toys, but in reality, there’s no question about it. We want them to pick them up. We don’t care if they don’t want to or if they don’t feel like it! Why do we even ask them to do it? We need to just tell them. That helped a little, however, I think I had already created a bit of a monster. By asking twice (or more) before the counting/possible consequence took place, I had trained him not to comply until then. I had let him know that it was okay to ignore me until he heard counting. Whoopsie! Here I thought I was being patient, but instead I was feeding the problem. So I realized I needed to move that possible consequence up to the first request. And what do you know? It worked! I would say, “I need you to stop and clean up your blocks. 1…” and like magic, he would go pick up the blocks, then come back to whatever he was doing. Totally evidence that it had been a “me” problem and not a “him” problem.
He’s 14 now and I’m happy to say that I don’t have to count every time I need him to do something. Thank GOD! Ha! I actually don’t even have to command him to do everything. I can ask him to do something and he’ll go do it. I just had to retrain him. I continued the command/counting sequence for awhile and then I could start to leave off the counting. He wasn’t even waiting to hear it anymore. He knew when I told him to do something, it needed to happen immediately and there wasn’t a way around it. Gradually, I could make it more of a conversational thing instead of a command and he would still listen because he was in the habit of doing things immediately as I asked. Luckily, his compliance helped train the rest of the kids as they were growing up. They would see him acting immediately and they started doing the same thing. They’re not perfect and we still have our moments, but for the most part, they know they are to comply with what they’re asked to do the first time. All I had to do was retrain myself!