Magic Words

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If I were a teacher at Hogwarts, I’m sure I could get my kids to behave by a wave of a wand and a few choice words. Being mortal, however, I have to rely on carefully chosen words alone.

I’m a firm believer in not negotiating when something absolutely must be done.  There are times when the parent should assert themselves and be the parent. One technique that’s tried and true is counting to three to get the kids moving. There’s a great book that talks about using this method called “1-2-3 Magic.” What the author makes clear is that you cannot dither – no counting “1, 2, 2 1/2, 2 3/4. . .”  The child knows he has a good long time until you get to 3 because you’re giving him that out.  He’ll ignore you almost indefinitely.  You must firmly and steadily count to 3.

But the author also describes a twist on the technique that works fabulously for me.  Count backwards instead.  In my house, all I have to say is “3. . .2” and the kids jump to do whatever I’ve asked them to do.  It’s like a bomb about to go off.

The irony?  They don’t have any idea what might happen when I get to 1, and I’ve never thought of what I might do.  Just counting backwards is ominous enough.  In fact, I usually just say “3” and off they go.

The other magic word that I use very sparingly is “FREEZE!”  The kids know this is the word of imminent danger.  Moms say “stop” and “please don’t” enough that kids easily tune them out.  Freeze is the word to use when a child is about to chase a ball into the street in front of a moving car.   I use it so rarely that the kids know it’s important enough to really stop what they’re doing.

These magic words work for me.  I’d love to hear what works at your house.

You can meet my (usually) well-behaved children at Lit and Laundry.

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10 thoughts on “Magic Words”

  1. I love it! I’ve got to pick up that book. It’s a little early for use with my kids, I’m sure, but I know my time is coming. And I really like the idea of a “seldom-used” word to mean something really serious.

  2. I’m a teacher, and “3-2….” works every time- although, I often start at “10”, but believe me they get the message and move a lot faster

  3. Backwards!! Genius! I’m definitely trying that one. And I SOOOO need to tell my husband to stop the “2 1/2 … 2 3/4…” thing. I’ve tried – but maybe now that it’s in WRITING… 😛

    And Freeze. Man – that might actually work too! I think we’re at a good age to adopt that one as well.

    I’d write about what works with my kids, but frankly – not much does. counting to 3 sometimes works…with maybe one of them … but not always.

  4. We are 1-2-3 Magic people also. It was really nice to be traveling this weekend and hear so many comment on how well-behaved the boys were! It really does feel like magic some days!!!

  5. I might need that book!

    A word that works well at our house (though less for discipline) is “special.” As in, this is a very special cheese, you should try it. Do you want to go on a special outing? Then you better go to the front door right away. If you sit on the potty you can wear a special diaper (okay, that one stopped working). We try not to overuse it, but the power of special really works wonders at our house.

  6. Counting in REVERSE!!!! Like the countdown to maternal lift-off…LOVE it! Will attempt it today, and not to be a pessimist, but I feel confident occasion will occur…

    Makes me extra happy to know it’s still an employ-able effective technique for as they get older as well…

    And “Freeze” beats the “AAHHHHHKKKKKK!” non-word that emerges from my mouth. 😉

  7. i used to do that with lydia, before i had even heard of magic 1-2-3! i would count backwards from 5 to 1 and usually she would do whatever needed doing by the time 4 was out of my mouth! worked wonders until she got old enough to challenge me and then i had to come up with consequences rather than empty threats!

  8. I haven’t read the book, but I’m a big counter. Yesterday, one of my 2 1/2-year-olds was dawdling getting ready for bed, so I started in “One …”. She looked at me, said, “Don’t say one, Mama” and hopped to it.

    We have gotten to three, though. The consequence is usually timeout or the relinquishing of some privilege.

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