Strategy: 3-2-1 (or 1-2-3) Magic

Not everyone likes this strategy. Critics claim that children will just wait until the last number is said before complying because they know the parent is counting down.


However, with children that are fixated on numbers, this was “magic” for us.

Even just starting to count got our kids’ attention immediately.

I never found that Liam was thinking,I’m going to wait until she gets to “1” before I start moving. In fact, as soon as I said, “3,” he responded.

It might sound like this strategy was too controlling. Maybe it makes you cringe to hear a parent start to “count.”

Especially with executive functioning difficulties, Liam and Kieran both fail to plan out their time. When I say “5 minutes,” there is nothing tangible for them to understand from this information.

We have always (and still do) have issues with Kieran getting ready in a timely manner in the morning. He gets distracted, especially when we send him to his room to get dressed. If I forget to check, as much as 30 minutes later, I will find him half naked, playing with anything in his room. His teacher called this week to share that when everyone else is walking out the door of the classroom, he is just packing up.

I have had to help both boys manage their time, if we want to be on time for anything.

Counting down helps them know that I need them to be ready or to immediately respond to a request. Now I save it for “emergencies.”

At the same time, we have asked teachers to give Liam a 5-minute notice before the end of an activity. Even if it’s just a one minute signal. This helps him know that whatever he is doing is coming to an end.

Without the notice, he was often “surprised” that he had to stop whatever he was doing. He was usually upset by being told to stop, even if it was clear to all of the other children that it was time to “clean up.” In his mind, he was in the middle of doing something he enjoyed, or making progress toward a goal. He was rarely able to be flexible enough when just told to immediately stop, even if this was his impression. Any type of notice (that was made clear to him) was helpful in getting him to transition to something new.

I am still a counting Mom, mostly when we are pressed for time. It’s simply a clear way for me to share with my kids that time is up and we need to move and groove.

3 thoughts on “Strategy: 3-2-1 (or 1-2-3) Magic

  1. It is interesting to see what works and what doesn’t for different children. I am told by my son’s teachers that he complies at school and listens and does what he is supposed to do. but at home he is completely different. I use the counting, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. and when he has to end something to clean up or get ready to go, he is a complete dawdler. He does not move fast unless he wants to. We are still working to figure this one out. I appreciate you sharing as I like getting perspectives from others that it is not just me.

    1. I write about a “when…. then” strategy that we were encouraged to use with my middle son with severe ADHD. I will see if I can find it. Thanks for sharing your experiences here.

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