Jenn, Emma, and Rhett know all too well what it sounds like when mom starts counting. They hear me from a distant room… “1… 2…3…” and that’s when feet start scattering to do what I asked them to do in the first place like clean up their spill, get down from trying to climb out an open second story window, or get away from the street they’re not supposed to be walking towards.
For them, they know that getting to 5 means they made a poor decision.
But what do you do when you’re counting?
In fact, what do you do once you have officially counted and maybe added in extra chances like “3.5…4… 4.5…4 and three fourths… almost five… 5!”
I actually ask a lot of fellow parents this. “What happens at 3? or 5?”
Some don’t know.
Some have set punishments.
And some just fizzle out and do nothing.
For us, most commonly it’s just been about re-evaluating their choices to make a better one and if they didn’t do it in a certain time frame, then they would face the natural or logical consequence.
But what if as parents we switched the script on counting? Or if we counted for ourselves?
Instead of counting to change an outcome, what if we count to change our own reaction? And maybe you don’t count or your kids have grown out of it, the concept of making it something for yourself applies at all ages.
I know that even though I personally try to not get angry, I’m human and so are my kids. Therefore, they’re going to act out at times and sometimes I am going to yell or get angry especially if I get caught up in the heat of the moment.
What if we used counting to help center ourselves instead of threaten our kids?
I have started trying to do this. Basically, I take a deep breath after each number so that I will be approaching the situation with better clarity. Sometimes I don’t even count out loud. In fact, sometimes it’s just a mental exercise to help with my own emotions.
Clarity means that I am able to think through my kids’ needs in the moment…even if getting to five means I realize I am overreacting and that they really just need a hug and an apology. But sometimes 5 means they have to follow through with a consequence and I am able to better help them along the way because I was able to keep my cool through deep breathing.
That’s part of parenthood… not just showing kids that consequences are real, but helping them manage the consequences and demonstrating your willingness to be an active and positive person to look to in times of trouble or less than ideal decision making.
Because the prefrontal cortex, responsible for helping us make good choices, isn’t fully developed until around 25, it’s important that we walk our children through both why and how to do better next time. Plus, if they make a mistake in the future when we’re not around, we’re there to listen and actually help instead of being a scary face they want to avoid.
In short, counting for myself to breathe and think through what, why, and how something is happening helps me respond to the situation instead of react to the circumstance.
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!