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3 Strikes & Counting

Many parents use some type of strike or counting system as a warning before discipline.  Something wired deep in our psyche knows that our children need some kind of warning before their actions have consequences.  We want them to learn, not be afraid.  The thing is, we often sabotage this by being inconsistent and showing mercy, giving extra strikes, or adding 1/2 seconds to lengthen our counts. 1, 2, 2-1/2, 2-3/4... Our children need to know what to expect, and that means that once you start counting/strikes you need to follow through.  Anything less leaves them wondering where the line really is and will lead to more anxiety and line pushing in the future. 

Before I dig into recommendations let me start with 2 warnings:
1.) Do not use counting or strikes for things that should not result in consequences.  When our children are unable to do something due to skill or emotional distress we cannot expect consequences to fix it.  Consequences are only helpful when our children are capable of meeting our expectation in that moment, but they are unwilling.  
2.) If you begin counting/strikes and realize that the consequence is unenforceable, unfair, unjust, or too harsh DO NOT follow through with it just for consistency sake.  As parents we get emotional, because we are human, so we say things like "If you do that one more time I am going to cancel your birthday!".  Our kids struggle with this same humanity, so they benefit by witnessing us handle our own emotions.  Sit them down and explain the mistake you made, then come up with a new plan together.  Every time you do this you will be teaching them how to manage their own emotions better.  This is not "blood in the water for the sharks!"

As for counting/strikes I recommend strikes with silent counting in between.  Teach your kids that strike one is a warning.  They are not in any kind of trouble, this is just a way for you to tell them that a behavior is unacceptable.  After offering the prompt count to yourself.  You want to give them 5-10 seconds to comply without assuming they are being defiant.  Our children process slower than we do.  Strike 2 means they have crossed a line and you may be upset or disappointed with them.  Give them 5-10 seconds again.  Finally, strike 3 means they are in trouble.  Something in their world needs to change.  They don't get extra strikes, they don't get extra time, they get no extra chances.  Hopefully the consequence is already pre-established as part of your discipline plan, but that is another topic all together.  If it is not, then reaching 3 means that you will be having a conversation about what the consequence will be. 

If you are ridiculously consistent with this you will see a major impact in their behavior over time.  At first their behaviors may increase while they test this new boundary, but that just gives you more chances to establish the new norm.  After a bit of time they will stop challenging the boundary and after a little more time you will see their anxiety decrease because they feel more comfortable in a predictable world. 

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