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How to Make "1-2-3-Warnings" Work

How to Make "1-2-3-Warnings" Work

You're probably used to giving your kids warnings ("That needs to stop right now!"), but do they work? You may find that your warnings are more effective when you tailor your approach to your child's temperament.

Here's a question to help you figure out what kind of approach to take: 

How does your child react when you say, "This is your warning, if you do it again I'll have to . . ."

One of my children used to interrupt my warnings as a personal challenge to "bring it on." My other child reacted as if my warnings were an assault on his tender emotions.

Some children need warnings to be very direct and firm so they know you mean business. Other children do much better when you use a soft, gentle voice and confine the warning to information only. And some children need a blend of the two. Only you know what your child needs.

Many, like Jaymie G., have asked about using counting as a warning. Jaymie writes that she is at "wit's end" and wonders if other moms who use counting as a warning have found success.

The Keys to a Successful Countdown

We've all said to our child, "You don't want me to get to three!" Some parents even add, "I mean it." That's the point when a lot of parents wonder, "What am I going to do when I get to three?"

Many experts say being consistent is the answer, and I agree. But it's not the full answer.  If you don't know what you're going to do when you get to three, you can't be consistent.

Most parents say, "I'm going to send her to time-out if I get to three." But time-out tends to stop working when it's overused, so consistently using time-out isn't the answer either.

You can increase the chances that your child will listen if you say what's going to happen as you count and if you say it in a way that's suited to your child's temperament. Your follow-through then becomes effortless because you've already announced what was going to happen.

A Script For Warning Strong-Willed Kids

A strong-willed child needs clear, emphatic, direct, firm directions and no wiggle room. Firmly say:

"Do not write in the book; that's one."

Wait five seconds to see what he does. If nothing happens, say:
"I will come and take the book and the pen if you don't stop now; that's two!"

Wait five seconds to see what he does. If nothing happens, say:
"I see you chose not to listen; that's three. I need the book and the pen right now."

Notice: There's no way for the child not to comply aka no wiggle room, as long as you immediately get up and take the book.

A Script For Warning More Tenderhearted Kids

A tenderhearted child requires a softer voice and maybe some eye contact. Calmly and gently say:

"Sweetie, please put my pen down. You're not allowed to use it to color; that's one."

Wait 10 seconds to see what he does, then repeat if need be:
"Honey, put my pen down. You can use crayons or a pencil, but not my pen; that's two."

Wait 10 more seconds to see what he does, then repeat if need be:
"Sweetie, that's three. You didn't put the pen down. I need to take it right now."
Silently take the pen.

Notice: The time in between warnings was 10 seconds with a tenderhearted child and five seconds with a strong-willed child.

What These Scripts Have in Common

Both scripts . . .

  • Are basically the same; you've just adjusted your tone and words to fit your child's temperament.
  • Allow you to enforce the choice your child made to either listen or not listen.
  • Take less than one minute and keep your child engaged enough to listen.
  • Teach him you mean what you say and you'll take action, without anger, if need be.
  • Require a slight change in your tone of voice to match your child's temperament.

Remember, warning works best when you tell your child what's going to happen as you count and when you match your tone to your child's temperament.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be and the anywhere, anytime Online Skills Class, a webinar that addresses reacting, new ways to use teaching discipline, being proactive with outbursts, and mistakes.

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