Parenting Through Choices: Use 3, 2, Thank You! to Raise Good Decision Makers Who Follow Family RulesAug 31, 2023
What do you do when your young child is testing their limits and refuses to do something you have asked of them? That’s when you pull 3, 2, Thank You! out of your parenting toolbox (see 3, 2, Thank You!). This is my favorite countdown technique for resolving potentially tricky stand-offs with your children. It is one of my most powerful parenting tricks to help balance your child’s progress toward independence with your desire to have them be cooperative and follow family rules.
Here’s a quick reminder about how 3, 2, Thank You! works: You can start using this technique as soon as your child is able to move independently. Let’s say your 1-year-old crawls over to an item in your house that you don’t want them to touch. You say, “Put that down, please; it’s fragile.” They respond with a sly smile and tighten their grip. Using this technique, you say, “You can put that down, or I can help remove it from your hand,” in a direct but loving tone. Then you immediately start to count, “3,” and about a second later, “2”. Ideally, and this will happen more and more over time as you consistently apply this technique, your kiddo will put down the object, and you’ll say, “Thank You!” with a big smile. “Thank you” conveniently rhymes with “two,” so you end up using a sweet singsongy phrase while getting the desired parenting outcome.
With very young children and early on in using this technique with an older child, you may have to say “3,” then “2,” then “1,” each about a second apart,” then nicely say, “Ok, I’m going to help take that out of your hand.” You then gently remove the object and say, “Thank you!” As long as you consistently follow through with the outcome (in this case, removing the object from their hand), over time, your child will learn that if you start counting, you’re serious. They learn that’s not the moment to put up a fight, but rather to accept that they’re being parented and choose the right option that is presented to them. It is important not to overuse 3, 2, Thank You! but, rather, to save it for when there’s no leeway for negotiation, and you want your word to be taken as final.
Now this doesn’t have to mean a tense moment for you and your child. You can use 3, 2, Thank You! in a lighthearted way and still get the desired result. If they don’t put the desired object down, you can use a fun voice like, “OK, I’m coming for it,” or apply some fake drama like, “Oh no, now I’ve got to walk all the way across the room to take it,” then dramatically walk to them. They’re still learning you were serious and will make sure the desired request is fulfilled (i.e., they’re going to have to give you the object), but you can often make that happen without upsetting them. Just follow through and move on to the next activity without making it a big deal.
“3, 2, Thank You!” is grounded in the belief that if we give our children more choices on a daily basis, they will be happier, feel more in control of their lives, and ultimately develop into independent, capable people. In my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting), I categorize this technique under Choices & Checkpoints because at its heart, 3, 2, Thank You! is about teaching children to make good choices. The good choice always happens to be the sensible, rational option that their parent has presented them with. They’re learning to evaluate the available options and choose wisely. When you consistently use 3, 2, Thank You! with your children, you’ll find that by the time they are school-aged kids, they’re consistently making many good choices and consistently understanding the best choice when presented with options.
You’re also teaching your child that, ultimately, you’re in charge. It’s a long road from your young child starting to be able to do some things for themselves, like picking out their outfit for the day, to them being fully independent and ready to leave the nest. Giving kids choices guides them toward independence and minimizes power struggles along the way. As they navigate this developmental process, they need reasonable boundaries, and someone needs to enforce them. This is necessary for the learning process and gives them a sense of security.
Promoting independence and decision-making is balanced by the need for children to have a loving authority figure who will keep them safe and healthy and teach them to interact appropriately with the world. To do that, sometimes parents need to make choices for their children. At the end of the day, your child needs someone who will tell them what to do - in a loving way, of course. Making it clear early on who the authority figure is in the loving family (or figures in a two-parent household) will teach your child to listen to and respect your words. Parents find it very frustrating when their kids don’t listen to them. 3, 2, Thank You! takes this concept of offering children choices and extends it to training them to respect your words. They have an option presented to them; it’s clear which option is the right one, and it’s clear that they either have to choose that option or it will be chosen for them. Teaching kids this early leads to a sense of respect for their parents’ words. It becomes instilled in them that their parent’s words are important and need to be respected. It leads to kids who actually listen to their parents - amazing!
I love this technique and have had such success using it with my own family and teaching it to my clients. As you can see, in addition to 3, 2, Thank You! teaching children to make good choices and fostering independence in your growing child, it also teaches about consequences and can be thought of as an early discipline approach. This useful parenting tool really straddles the Choices & Checkpoints category and the Consequences category in my 5 C’s parenting framework. This post is part one of a two-part series on 3, 2, Thank You! Next week in part 2, we’ll dive deeper into using 3, 2, Thank You! to teach younger children that, ultimately, you’re in charge. We’ll also look at how 3, 2, Thank You! evolves and continues to be an incredibly useful parenting tool with older children.
For this week, think about how many choices you’re offering your child each day to be sure they are developing a sense of autonomy. For example, “Would you like an apple or an orange with your sandwich?” Or, “Should we hop you out of the bath now, or would you like a few more minutes?” The more choices they get to control each day, the better. Just structure the choices so that you’re very comfortable with both options, like, “Should we read in this chair or on the couch tonight?” These are all examples of win-win choices.
When their behavior needs a little guidance, offer your child choices in a loving manner using 3, 2, Thank You! For example, “You two can stop bickering, or you can play in separate rooms for five minutes.” Or, “You can give that toy back to your brother, or I can help you give it back to him.” Use 3, 2, Thank You! to keep these discussions brief and to prevent any drawn-out stand-offs where your child says they want to do something and you have chosen not to allow it.
3, 2, Thank You! is one of my most powerful parenting tricks to help kids learn to make good choices in a loving but firm way. Try it out with your kiddos this week. The one thing you absolutely must do is follow through; if you say you’re going to help remove the object from their hand, you must do so - in a loving way.
3, 2, Thank You! falls under the Choices & Checkpoints category in my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting). To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen. Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!
P.S. If you love stocking your parenting toolbox with valuable tools like 3, 2, Thank You!, you may be interested in learning more about my 5 C’s framework and continuing your amazing parenting journey with my free Bootcamps. Find a Bootcamp specific to your child’s age here.
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