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Counting to Three (But Not Like You’re Thinking)

Many kids have an inherent panic response when Mom or Dad starts counting, “1…2…3…”–the three most fearsome numbers of childhood. Although the consequences differ from household to household, counting is often code for imminent trouble.
Peaceful parenting can change that. Numbers can be your child’s friend, once again (and yours, too). Here’s how.
  1. When you’re upset with your child, silently count to three, just for yourself. For those brief seconds, recall a tender moment when your little one was a baby. Alternatively, imagine your “baby” being older and moving out. Picturing either extreme will automatically ground you and help you remember how fleeting this moment is.
  2. Say “yes” to whatever your child wants to do and allow it for three seconds (or three minutes, or whatever you can manage). Does that mean you agree to every request? Of course not. However, you can reevaluate whether you can say yes more often. Example: walking past a playground today on our way somewhere else, my daughter wanted to stop and swing on the swings. We really didn’t have time. I could tell by looking at her, though, that it was important to her. So, I said, “Yes, you may swing for three seconds before we keep walking. I’ll start counting as soon as you get on the swing, and when I get to three, it’ll be time to go.” She agreed, and was so happy to get a “yes” that she happily complied. No tears; no negotiating for more time (aside from my agreeing that it was reasonable for her swing to slow down before she hopped off). Even these little “yeses” can go so far in supporting connection with your child. Some might argue that their child wouldn’t get off the swing so easily, but I wonder if they’d consider the time they’d lose in managing their child’s disappointment, and the missed opportunity to connect.
  3. If a transition from one activity to another is hard (as it often is for kids), use your “three” to give them a few moments to adjust to whatever needs to happen next. In our house, it takes the form of “Would you like to go put on your shoes now, or would you like me to hold you while I count to three so you’ll be ready?” It’s amazing. It’s as if my child really needs that count of three to mentally prepare for whatever’s coming next, even if the task is as mundane in adult eyes as brushing teeth or walking to the car. Three seconds to adjust is often just enough time to connect and make the transition easy. 
“Three” can be a place of peace. It can be a “yes” space for both of you, child and parent, where you ground yourselves for a better interaction and greater connection. And it can be as easy as 1, 2…well, you know.

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