Please note this is just ONE method based off the book 1-2-3 Magic. The link to purchase the book will be posted below. The book covers this model more in depth. There may be parts of this model that work for your child, and parts that do not. This article is written from the 1-2-3 magic model’s point of view on how to correct behaviors.
What is this method for?
This method is for “stop” behaviors. This includes all behaviors you want to discourage. It is not effective for “start” behaviors. For example, if you want your child to stop whining when it’s time to leave the house, you can utilize the counting method. For behaviors such as making the bed up in the morning, counting is not the most effective method.
Consistency is Key
This approach works best with consistency. Meaning, the more people in the child’s life who can get on-board with counting (teachers, grandparents, both parents, etc.) the better the chance of this method working for your child. This also means that you as the parent chooses to stick with this method and use it consistently.
How to Count
When using the counting method, it is important to remember two things: no emotion when counting and no talking/lecturing about what the child did wrong after or during the fact. This is because talking diminishes the ability for the child to connect their behavior and its consequence (ex: timeout, loss of tv time, early bedtime, etc.).
Simply, when your child does something you want them to stop doing, such as protesting when having to leave the house, you count to 3. This gives kids 2 chances to correct their behavior before hitting 3 which is the consequence.
Example: You’re running out the door to go to grandparent’s house. Child is painting and doesn’t want to stop and is whining about having to leave. You hold up one finger and say, “That’s 1…” The child may or may not stop what she is doing. If she continues to whine you hold up two fingers and say, “That’s 2…” This is the child’s last chance. If after 5 seconds she continues, you say “That’s 3, take 5” and employ the consequence. If using timeout, count 1 minute in timeout for each year the child is. For example, a 4 year old will spend 4 minutes in timeout. If you can’t spare 4 minutes because you’re on your way out the door, you can use no talking for 4 minutes, early bedtime, loss of screen time, etc. Just make sure it is a reasonable consequence for the behavior. This method also states if your child refuses timeout that you may have to direct them there or guide them there. They can be in the same room as you (just don’t pick a corner). For example, you could choose a chair or steps. The rule is no eye contact or speaking. This allows time for both parent and child to cool off.
You’ll have to do this method consistently for a few times before the child stops pushing you to three. The book says you should be seeing results by 3 weeks.
Practice Makes Perfect
Be sure to rehearse this with your child so she knows what you mean when you start counting. For example, you could say, “Listen, you know there are times when you do things we don’t care for, like arguing, whining, teasing. From now on, we’re going to do something different. When we see you doing something you’re not supposed to, we’ll say ‘that’s 1.’ That’s a warning, and it means you’re supposed to stop. If you don’t stop, we’ll say ‘that’s 2.’ That will be your second warning. If you still don’t stop, we’ll say ‘that’s 3, take 5 (or however many minutes equals your age).’ That means you have to go to your room for a timeout. It’s like chill down time. When you come out, we don’t talk about what happened unless we need to. We just have a reset and start over.” Let them know if it’s bad enough like hitting or swearing, it’s an instant 3.
If it’s a new behavior like a new curse word or something, your child may need to be talked to and explain why it’s not acceptable to use the word in your home.