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What to do when children start ignoring parents’ “countdown ultimatum.”
BY Dr. Ray Guarendi
When my 4-year-old son began to ignore the
sound of my voice, I started counting to three, and he’d move. Lately, though,
he has even started to ignore my counting.
Parents of preschoolers rely on one
of two countdowns: the compelling three count or its more tolerant,
metric-system alternative, the 10 count. Far and away, most prefer the three
Us: Tarry, come on in
the house now.
Tarry: (Dazed look,
as if to say): Are you talking to me or the grass?
Us: (Slowly, with
emphasis): One … two … thr —
Whereupon Tarry starts to aimlessly
drift toward the back door as fast as a snail on crutches.
Here we must note that no kid worthy
of the name “kid” will begin to think of moving before his folks reach the last
sound of the last number. Furthermore, once in
motion, Tarry will take another eight to 10 seconds acquiescing to your
original request — coming into the house.
common is the 10 count, reserved mostly for incredibly iron-willed kids. Almost
never used are other variants, like the six count or the count kids dread most:
the one count.
are popular because they work, at first anyway. But like playing any numbers,
in the long run, we wind up on the short end.
get results initially out of kids’ fear of the unknown, that is, our reaction
after hitting the final number and seeing that they haven’t budged.
most kids succumb to the temptation to find out exactly what will happen when
the count is completed.
mom of three boys used the 10 count (the more kids you have, generally the
higher you count) to round up everyone for supper. Early on, by about “7,” all
would be nearing the house. Then one day, mom reached “10” and only one of the
boys had even looked up. Temporarily stumped, she yelled “10” again, paused,
then climbed to “15.” Still no response. Out of numbers, she stormed back into
had let her count become her discipline and neglected to back up her numbers
pitfall of numbers is that they convey an unspoken message, which I’m not sure
we want to convey. In essence they say, “Newton, I’m asking nicely, and then
you have several seconds to answer.”
risk here lies in asking for a delayed contest of wills, because every kid is
going to make us use every allotted second. To do anything less would be to
surrender without a struggle. And that just ain’t normal kidhood.
do you wean yourself from playing the numbers? The best way is to go cold
turkey. Cease the count.
you’d like Hunter to come in for supper, instead of counting, tell him what
you’ll do if he doesn’t head for the door: “Hunter, if I call you again, you
won’t go back out after supper.” No threat, no nastiness — just a quiet
statement of a certain future, unlike numbers, which can be a loud statement of
an uncertain future.
is a bright side to counting. For grown-ups, counting is a basic
stress-reduction technique. That is, to calm ourselves in an emotionally tense
situation, we can silently count to three or 10 before we say or do anything
as our frustration builds while counting at our kids, we can use the count to
simultaneously cool ourselves down.
hard to say which emotion would win out.
The doctor is always in