wooden blocks 1, 2,  3How to Make 1-2-3 Warnings WorkYou’re probably used to giving your kids warnings (“That needs to stop right now!”), but do they work? You may find that your warnings are more effective when you tailor your approach to your child’s temperament.Here’s a question to help you figure out what kind of approach to take: How does your child react when you say, “This is your warning, if you do it again I’ll have to… .”

One of my children used to interrupt my warnings as a personal challenge to “bring it on.†My other child reacted as if my warnings were an assault on his tender emotions. 

Some children need warnings to be very direct and firm so they know you mean business. Other children do much better when you use a soft gentle voice and confine the warning to information, only. And some children need a blend of the two. Only you know what your child needs.

Keys to a Successfully Using 1-2-3

We’ve all said to our child, “You don’t want me to get to three!†Some parents even add, “I mean it.†That’s the point when a lot of parents wonder, “What am I going to do when I get to three?â€Many experts say being consistent is the answer, and I agree. But it’s not the full answer.  If you don’t know what you’re going to do when you get to three, you can’t be consistent.
Most parents say, “I’m going to send her to timeout if I get to three.†But timeout tends to stop working when it’s overused, so consistently using timeout isn’t the answer either. 

You can increase the chances that your child will listen if you say what’s going to happen as you count and if you say it in a way that’s suited to your child’s temperament. Your follow-through then becomes effortless because you’ve already announced what was going to happen.

Words for Warning Strong-Willed Kids

A strong-willed child needs clear, empathetic, direct, firm directions and no wiggle room. Firmly say: “Do not play with the water glass; that’s 1.â€Wait five seconds to see what he does. If nothing happens, say: 
“I will come and take the glass if you don’t stop now; that’s 2!â€Wait five seconds to see what he does. If nothing happens, say:
“I see you chose not to listen; that’s 3. The water is going away now.†
Notice: There’s no way for the child not to comply aka no wiggle room, as long as you immediately get up and take the water.

Words for Warning More Tenderhearted Kids

A tenderhearted child requires a softer voice, some eye contact and a little more time. Calmly and gently say: 
“Sweetie, please stop fidgeting with the water glass. You’re not allowed to play with your drink; that’s 1.â€Wait 7-10 seconds to see what he does, then repeat if need be: 
“Honey, do not play with the water glass. You can have water play when you’re done eating; that’s 2.†

Wait 7-10 more seconds to see what he does, then repeat if need be: 
“Sweetie that’s 3. You didn’t stop playing with the water. I need to take it right now.†
Silently take the glass.


Both scripts… • Are basically the same; you’ve just adjusted your tone and words to fit your child’s temperament.• Can, and should, have the time in between warnings adjusted to suit your child, versus simply using the timing I used in the example.• Allow you to enforce the choice your child made to either listen or not listen.• Take less than one minute and keep your child engaged enough to listen.• Teach him you mean what you say and you’ll take action, without anger, if need be.• Require a slight change in your tone of voice to match your child’s temperament.Remember, warnings work best when you tell your child what’s going to happen as you count, and when you match your tone to your child’s temperament.Warnings don’t always stop mistakes. To find some tips for mistakes read, How to Turn Mistakes into LessonsSharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to proactiveparenting.net to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.


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