3 reasons the 1 2 3 warning doesn’t work for me

Like most other children his age, Leo loves a tantrum. If we can get through the day and he only has two meltdowns then I consider that to be a very, very good day.

Sometimes Leo breaks down over silly little things like snapping a biscuit in half or a crayon not being the right colour. These tantrums I can cope with. I can’t cope with Leo’s deliberate bad behaviour though. Most of the time Leo is as good as gold and an absolute joy but, being 2, disobedience and naughtiness are kind or part of the territory. There have been so many occasions where Leo has gone to do something he is not allowed to do, I have said ‘no’ and he has done it anyway, while giving me a mischievous grin.
Parenting books, the ever knowledgeable Super Nanny and family and friends all offer advice on how to deal with bad behaviour and discipline (hate that word!) your toddler. Recently, Oli and I have been attempting the 1-2-3 approach. Giving Leo a simple 3 second warning to stop whatever he is doing/thinking of doing. The idea is, you start counting, child takes it as a warning and stops. Yeaa, that doesn’t happen with Leo. Ever.
There are 3 reasons why the 1 2 3 warning doesn’t work for me..
1. It becomes a counting game – I say ‘1’ and Leo responds ‘Is it 10?’ or ‘2 mummy!’. It kind of takes the seriousness away from the warning if Leo decides to make it a game.

2. It becomes a countdown to naughtiness – I start counting and Leo shouts ‘1,2,3,4,5!’ as fast as he can and then throws his plate on the floor or continues to try and hit the cat.

3. I don’t know what happens after 3 – The main problem with this method, it’s fatal flaw if you will, is I don’t know what I am supposed to do when I get to 3. The few times I have managed to make it to 3 without any of the above happening, Leo and I are left staring blankly at each other. If he stops then is that it? Have I succeeded and nothing happens after 3? What if he carries on being naughty and I have finished counting, what happens then? 
This method is not as simple as it sounds. It most certainly isn’t as easy as 1-2-3!
Do you use the 1 2 3 warning with your kids? Does it work for you? If you have any advice for me on how to deal with a naughty toddler please share in the comments, I will be forever grateful.
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31 Comments

  1. February 29, 2016 / 8:47 am

    Whenever I've done this one at school I start with the warning 'I'm going to count to three and if you haven't done x this is what will happen'. For sure you need to know your intended consequence before. I prefer to just warn and then give praise or a consequence with my tot at the moment.

    #fartglitter

  2. February 29, 2016 / 3:18 pm

    Having a pre-determined consequence seems to help. I don't count, but I tell her if she keeps doing or not doing something, "this" is what will happen. She was surprised the first few times that I went through with it, whether it was going to be without a book, or whatever the consequence at that time was, but it's important for them to know you will follow through with the threat

  3. February 29, 2016 / 9:46 pm

    We used to tell the Tubblet what would happen if she didn't stop. And then we did it if she didn't stop. Whatever the threat, you have to follow through or it doesn't work. Good luck with figuring out a way that works for you.

  4. March 1, 2016 / 8:34 am

    Oh we're getting so close to this! H started little tantrums at 10/11 months and is now 15. I think consequences work, but have no experience of it yet, good luck!! #fartglitter

  5. March 1, 2016 / 10:17 am

    I've never heard of this method before. I'm always interested in hearing new methods though. I'd love to have a way of dealing with naughty toddlers but I'm yet to find anything truly effective aside from time out (on occasion) and just sitting my son down and talking to him calmly (sometimes easier said than done) #abitofeverything

  6. March 1, 2016 / 10:19 am

    It works on our oldest and my husband is much better at employing it than me! I'm always thinking like you, what happens when I get to 3? Oh poop please don't let me get to three! On youngest she thinks it is a game and like yours just tries to race me to three! Oh well 🙂

  7. March 1, 2016 / 3:24 pm

    We count down from 5 to 1 and used to get the response blast off quite a lot from my little girl. But I persevered and now if we start the count down my children know we mean business and get moving. We have the naughty step and take toys away. Taking toys away is the last resort as this really does upset them :/ however you do it, it's all about being consistent with how you deal with bad behaviour. I do think this age is very hard as you can't reason with them and they are testing so many limits as they learn. You'll find your way though and it shows how much you care that your thinking about what is best for you both.
    #abitofeverything

  8. March 1, 2016 / 4:48 pm

    The 1 2 3 thing didn't work too well for us until we started strictly imposing a consequence for if the 3 deadline was breached. The current consequence of choice is "no story at bedtime tonight if I get to 3". We had to actually follow through with it the first time (cue huge tantrums at bed time), but since then she hasn't risked it and she now jumps to it at "1"! Good luck lovely xx
    #abitofeverything

  9. March 1, 2016 / 5:17 pm

    lol! so funny! It doesn't work for me either! So I don't bother using it! But I do use the "last 5 mins!" rule….ie giving him a 5 heads up before shutting things down. That works! This is interesting! Would love to see your posts in the Practical Mondays Link Up:)

  10. March 1, 2016 / 10:27 pm

    Doesn't work for me either, she starts counting along with me and just thinks its a game. Or she just gets more annoyed and starts having a tantrum- no more counting to 3 in our house, unless of course we're learning our numbers 🙂 #abitofeverything x

  11. March 2, 2016 / 8:26 am

    No one knows what happens after three…

  12. March 3, 2016 / 3:29 pm

    I really need to decide what the consequence is going to be. I feel so mean shouting at him though, I am too much of a softy for this! Yes, I think praising the good behaviour definitely works well xx

  13. March 3, 2016 / 3:31 pm

    Thanks for the advice Jeremy. I think I just need to be a bit more strict and not feel bad if I have to take toys off him/not read a story or whatever, he's not going to learn if I don't actually go through with it is he, you're completely right x

  14. March 3, 2016 / 3:32 pm

    Thank you! I will try and stand my ground and come up with some consequences. At the minute counting to 3 doesn't worry him at all because he knows nothing bad happens at the end of it.xx

  15. March 3, 2016 / 3:33 pm

    Thanks for the good luck, I need it! Good luck to you when the inevitable happens!xx

  16. March 3, 2016 / 3:34 pm

    Oh, have you not? So far I have only heard of this and the naughty step! There is no reasoning with Leo when he is being naughty unfortunately, I will have to keep trying.xx

  17. March 3, 2016 / 3:35 pm

    Ahh well, at least your husband has some joy with it so it can't be a completely pointless exercise. Ahh the counting game is so annoying isn't it?!xx

  18. March 3, 2016 / 3:35 pm

    Haha, I wouldn't bother :p xx

  19. March 3, 2016 / 3:37 pm

    Thank you for your advice. I hadn't thought about taking toys away, I am not sure he would understand why I am doing it or if it would stop the bad behaviour, it is worth a try though if nothing else works. It is good your kids listen to you when you start counting now xx

  20. March 3, 2016 / 3:39 pm

    Hmm, maybe I should try that? Leo loves his bedtime story so maybe he won't risk loosing out on it by being naughty. It is definitely worth a try, thank you!xx

  21. March 3, 2016 / 3:40 pm

    Ohh, please send me a link to the linky and I am there. Not heard of the last 5mins rule, should try that in the evening when Leo won't come for his bath because he is glued to the TV!xx

  22. March 3, 2016 / 3:41 pm

    Haha yea, counting to 3 is only worth it if someone is learning their numbers 🙂 xx

  23. March 3, 2016 / 3:41 pm

    Haha, so glad I'm not the only one xx

  24. March 3, 2016 / 3:58 pm

    I love the idea of the mystery of 'after 3'. Hmm, no I haven't used it but I completely understand your post. I read somewhere about using consequences…but the consequences have to relate to the behaviour. For example, it wouldn't make sense to a toddler for them to be hitting the cat with their hammer and for me to say 'if you don't stop hitting the cat with your hammer you won't be able to watch Fireman Sam later'…there's no relation. But 'if you hit the cat with your hammer again, I'll take you hammer away until teatime/next week/until you get an apprenticeship as a builder' then it makes sense apparently. Ok, in practice i have found this can work (although we don't have a cat) OR he'll do it anyway and then give the hammer to me. I end up confused but we're sticking with it for now. Eeek good luck! Lucy at occupation: (m)other #coolmumclub

  25. March 3, 2016 / 7:40 pm

    I've never really thought about hat happens after three?! I think my kids know from my tone of voice on one and two that getting to three isn't going to be worth finding out!!
    Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub

  26. March 5, 2016 / 9:53 am

    Thanks for the advice. Interesting that the consequence needs to fit the crime, so to speak. It will be difficult to find a consequence that is relevant to some his random naughty behaviour. Glad to hear it's working for you..sometimes.xx

  27. March 5, 2016 / 9:54 am

    Ohh that's good, I obviously need to make my voice more scary from now on!xx

  28. March 5, 2016 / 8:02 pm

    I am so with you on this one!! I have no idea what to do after three either! I've tried things but it never ever works. Sometimes the 1, 2, 3 works but it's really hit and miss! #TheList

  29. March 12, 2016 / 11:23 pm

    I actually use this with my youngest all the time. When he was younger, it was very ineffective for the reasons you have listed but now that he's older, he knows that that is his time to cool off. And it really helps him control his emotions. I so know what you are saying though, when he was younger, 3 seemed to be trigger for a even bigger display. When I counted 1, 2 and he'll eve join in and say 3!! #abitofeverything

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