Saturday, July 17, 2010

The 1-2-3 Warning

The 1-2-3 warning is a handy strategy for parents in the early childhood years.  Toddlers are on their own time, and sometimes we adults can't always wait until they are ready. There are times when we have to do something "now."  This is especially true of those times you need to get children into the car for daycare,  preschool, or a family event.

Toddlers hate to stop what they are doing and want to be in control of themselves. By plucking a child away from something interesting without warning, a major outburst might erupt. Transitions are more difficult for some children then others, so a warning of sorts is helpful.

I started using the 1-2-3 warning with Little M when he was about 18 months old because he was never in a rush to have his poopy diapers changed. Whenever I suggested it was time for a change, M would stare at me blankly or inch further away. Not wanting to force my will on him, I announced that I would count to three, and it would be time to change his diaper.  I told him that he could walk with me or I would help him by picking him up and carrying him.  The 1-2-3 warning served a few purposes: 

1.  It got his attention
2.  It let him know that a transition would soon occur
3.  It offered him a choice of two actions

So, this is how it went:

"It's time to change your diaper M."

Blank stare

"Okay, Nan's going to count to three and then it will be time to change your diaper.  One, two, three.  It's time!  Would you like to walk with me (reaching out my hand) or do you need me to pick you up and help you?"

Blank stare

"Okay, I'll help you." (as I picked him up and carried him off)

The first few times M was NOT HAPPY to leave his toys, but soon the 1-2-3 warning worked its magic. It signals a predictable routine, which children really thrive on.  It also preserved his dignity and helped control his emotions by offering him a choice of two actions. I wasn't just picking him up out of the blue without warning.

The 1-2-3 warning has been extended to our playground outings, which can be prime tantrum time. Toddlers hate to leave all the fun, even if they are almost dropping from exhaustion.  After my usual warning that it will soon be time to get in the car and head home for a rest, I begin the 1-2-3 warning and countdown.  Usually M just stands there while I pick him up with no fuss. Sometimes he surprises me by reaching for my hand to walk with me.

Even though I started the 1-2-3 warning before M could fully grasp the concept, it was the beginning of a new routine that will carry him and his parents through many years. I was still using the 1-2-3 warning when my own daughter was 11 years old!  The consequence/choice changes (obviously no more picking the child up), but it works just as well as a motivator for older children to start their homework or clean up their bedrooms as it does for small children.

Anyone else have success with this or other warning strategies?

Photo Credit:  istock photos 
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  1. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog Nanny Dee--I will definitely benefit from your mommy/nanny wisdom and am following you right back. Can't wait to read more!

  2. I love the 1-2-3 idea. I always liked giving my kids a warning, e.g. 'In 15 minutes you'll have to go get your pajamas on and brush your teeth,' giving them time to adjust. I think that adjustment time is so important!

    Thanks for following Cranberry Morning. I'm following back cuz I'm eager to read what else you have to say as 'Nanny.' :-)

  3. Thanks for the follow. I am following you back. I love what I am reading. I can't wait to read more.


  4. Already following your great blog. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. This always works with my oldest!
    Thanks for stopping by! Now following you back too!!


  6. Nanny - Thanks for the follow, I am now following you from MBC! You have great tips and resources.

    The 1-2-3 is really effective in my house. I have a son with ADHD and it really helps him get himself together to focus. I use it will all my kids, (youngest is almost 4) so it usually follows with a consequence or priviledge removal.

    Strangely enough - it works better than screaming..(smile)


  7. Thanks for the follow. Follow returned :)