Everyone knows the counting trick. One, two, three… but what do you do when your child just looks at you rather than comply or listen? Yea, you know that look… and that’s the exact look I used to get from my kids when I would count down for compliance. My son would even finish the count for me. He would yell out “Three” after I got to two all while laughing. Yes, it was funny and cute at first – but I clearly needed a way to get my child to listen!
I found that the reason counting down was just not working was because I wasn’t consistent with the consequence. I would get frustrated and just walk away instead of getting to the root of the problem.
“Why even count down?”
You might be asking yourself, “Why even count down?” The answer is simple. Counting down gives the child the opportunity to make a better choice. This is much better than immediately throwing a consequence at them without warning. So think of counting down as a warning. You are letting them know that you are counting down and expect them to comply before you get to 0, or there will be a consequence. Not giving a warning like this usually causes melt-downs and can take away from the teaching that comes out of the process.
For counting to be effective there has to be an immediate consequence if compliance is not met before the count is over. Without providing the immediate consequence you might as well just count for fun. Providing an immediate consequence will also ensure that this method works when you are not at home.
Kids will learn that there are consequences to their actions, and they will make better choices when this method is consistent. I have worked with several different kids other than my own and I have seen it work every time. Kids notice inconsistency and will continue pushing until they know it is no longer acceptable.
I prefer counting back from five. The number one thing that has worked for me with my kids and the kids I have worked with is to provide that immediate consequence. Of course, this depends on the child’s age. Keep reading to find out how you can get your child to listen without losing your… cool.
Counting down with younger kids 1-3:
The consequence of sitting in time out gains compliance pretty quickly with younger kids. As you probably know, one minute per the child’s age is the recommended time for them to sit. It can take time for this to be effective. I had to re-sit my two-year-old son back into timeout 18 times before he finally sat there without getting up for the whole 2 minutes.
It’s important to note that as long as the child is sitting in the designated time out area there is no need to redirect them. Ignore any yelling, name-callings or attempts for attention. If you give these behaviors attention, the child will continue for a longer period of time. If you ignore the attempts for negative attention, the behavior will eventually stop because it gets boring and tiring for them when they don’t get what they want from you during their stay in timeout. If they do move out of the timeout area, let them know that the timer will restart each time they move and redirect them back to the designated timeout spot. Consistency is key. Stick to the timer.
I used an app on my phone called “Kids Visual Timer” You can find it in the APP store for android or iPhone. See the picture below to help you find the correct one. It is not clickable or an ad.
The timer slowly reveals a picture as the time passes. Once the time is up it makes a cool sound paired with moving visuals. My son is autistic and does well with visuals for many different things. This really helped him after he gave up and chose to sit in the timeout spot. I use this app at work with the kids I work with as well and it is the best I have tried so far. It also served as a visual for my son when he moved away from the timeout spot and could see that it started all over.
After he began sitting right away for time out and staying, I was able to use this strategy without the visual timer when we went into public. Even if you have to take your child to the car and use the timer at first, your hard work and consistency will pay off in the long run.
By the time he was three years old, I didn’t even need to sit him in time out because he began complying before I got down from five. He still has his days, as all kids will, but the improvement was amazing. All it took was consistency.
Counting down with 4-8-year-olds:
The consequence for this age group is more effective when something they prefer is taken away. For instance, my daughter responded very well when I began taking her screen time away. When I first tried this I had days where I would take it away from her and then later feel bad and give it back to her. I was not keeping my word. I realized how big of a problem this was when I would begin counting down and she would simply not comply.
Once I started really sticking to my word no matter what, she began complying before I even got down from five to three! That means if I say no electronics/screen time for the entire day then at no point in that day will she be on an electronic no matter how much she begs or cries, and no matter how bad I feel (the beginning is always the hardest!).
I felt bad so many times but that got better after I realized that I am helping my kids by teaching them that there are consequences for the choices that they make. They also take what I say a lot more seriously. If I give one warning they know I will follow through on the consequence and that there is no turning back. No matter where we are at.
Counting down with 9-13-year-olds:
This might seem a little awkward at first, especially with a child who is older than ten and also if this strategy has never been used.
Instead of counting it is best to give a warning about a consequence – count to five or ten even in your head, then deliver the consequence if compliance is not met.
With this age group be prepared for the child to over-react about the consequence and argue even. Stay consistent and allow them to calm down without further demands being placed or any yelling/nagging.
Redirect them to go take a minute to calm down and let them know you will talk to them after they are calm. They need to learn how to cope with things not going their way and especially when they make a bad choice and have to face the consequences of those choices. Stick to the consequence!
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