Why You Should Stop Counting to Get Your Kids to Obey

September 30, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There are some things that are so common that I begin to wonder if I am the one that has the problem rather than the rest of the world.  Am I the only sane person in a crazy world or the only crazy person in a sane world?  For example, when did pajama pants become acceptable as being pants to wear in public?  It happens so much now that I think that maybe I’m just old and cranky.  Perhaps I need to yell at kids to get off my lawn. (Side note: there are some teenagers that have decided that the hammocks in our yard are open to the public. They really need to get off my lawn.)

frustrated parentThere is a parenting tactic that falls into that category for me.  A parent is trying to get their kid to do something and they won’t.  They tell them a couple of times to no avail.  Then the parent starts to count, “1…2…”  The tactic theoretically is that when the parent gets to 3, the kid has to obey or something bad will happen.  Usually the kid responds by 2.  Sometimes the kid goes to 3 and and allows whatever to happen.  Since I only observe this in public, I can only speculate if anything actually happens to the kid that dares to disobey past 3.

Much like pajama pants, I believe this is a bad idea.  I don’t judge in the harshest sense of that word, because I recognize that many people who read this are using this tactic.  I certainly am not one of those single guys who is judging you at Wal-Mart who has no clue about what it’s like with small kids.  I have been there.  I went through that phase twice.  Wait, I’m back there again.  I have a 3 year old right now. I understand that it is hard with small children.  FYI: older kids are much the same just with a more extensive vocabulary.

I do, however, caution against doing this.  This can be frustrating for you and confusing to the child.  It also has the potential to reinforce the behavior that you are trying to prevent.  Typically you start the counting method because you are having a hard time getting your child to obey and you are frustrated because they aren’t listening and they don’t respect you.  So you start “laying down the law” by telling your kids that there will be serious consequences if they don’t obey.  They will know consequences are coming with the counting.

However, when you start counting, you are already frustrated.  When they don’t obey until the last possible second, you are still getting upset and feeling disrespected.  So it’s not helping you in that regard.  “But Cloften, at least they are obeying.”  Sure, at least sometimes, but is that really the only or even primary goal of what you are trying to teach your kids?  “As long as I get eventual obedience, then I’m being a successful parent.”  God is calling us to do much more in the lives of our kids than to receive eventual compliance.

This tactic is also confusing the kid.  They may not know that they are confused, but they are.  You are communicating to your child that they have a choice in obedience.  They get to decide when they are ready to obey.  They should not have that choice and you should not be giving them the impression that they do.  When they are asked to do something by a parent or an authority, they must comply, immediately.  When you don’t do this, you are also communicating to them that sometimes you don’t mean what you say.

(Kid in room)

“Time for dinner. Go wash your hands.”

(Kid continues to play in room)


(Kid continues to play)


(Kid continues to play)


(Kid goes to wash hands)

Your child moves when they believe that you are serious.  You didn’t really mean it until you started counting.  They learn this because there are no consequences for not listening at first and because there are times (You know there are) when you give up asking before you start counting.  If they can keep playing, they will.  When you are serious, they will obey.  Our kids need to know that what we say is what we mean.  Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  If you mean it, enforce it.

So what I suggest instead is that the consequences begin when the first act of disobedience occurs.  They don’t have to be severe, but there needs to be a consequence for not listening.  Your children are under authority and it is your responsibility not to simply get them to comply eventually, but to discipline them.  They need to learn submission to authority and humility.  Their teachers will not count, their coaches will not count, and their bosses certainly will not.

I know that it is hard and kids are relentless.  “If I got them in trouble every time they didn’t listen, they would always be in trouble, and I would be exhausted.”  That would be true, at least for a while, until you establish the better pattern.  You are already exhausted, you might as well get the discipline and obedience as well.

Then with kids that are listening and obeying the first time, you can sit back and relax…in your pajama pants…but only at home.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!