“If I have to tell you one more time!”
Reducing frequency of prompting
An Explanation of 123 Magic and Supernanny’s “warnings” techniques
by Patience Domowski, LCSW
Do you find yourself telling your child to do something (or stop doing something) a million times and they don’t listen? Do they ignore you until you really start to lose it and scream at them? Do you find yourself threatening things but nothing seems to work? Or are you always arguing with your child? Well here’s the secret solution!
To reduce telling children a “million” times to do something you need to have a specific consequence tied in as a result for not listening. So if the child isn’t doing what you’ve asked right away they learn they get something taken away and then they start learning to listen right away. The power is in the consequence. They might not care that you are frustrated, but they sure do care when you take away that ipad!
You may have heard of 123 Magic but don’t have time to read the book. I thought I’d summarize the strategy here. (Okay I’ll admit I haven’t read the book either, but I know the strategy!). Remember the “Magic” is in the consequence, not the words!
To use 123 Magic you give the direction and say “That’s One” to the child to let them know you told them what to do once. Wait a few seconds/minutes and if the child doesn’t comply you give the directive again and add “That’s Two”. After a minute if the child still refuses to comply then you say “That’s Three” and give them a consequence. Important note- 123 Magic is NOT counting to three. So it’s not “Pick up that toy, 1. 2. 3. Okay you’re in trouble now,” but rather giving the direction 3 times after 3 occasions of refusals.
Now before you start this you should prepare your child by explaining how it works (during a calm time, not in a moment of noncompliance). You should also have a go-to ideas of consequences in your head that you can use. It doesn’t always have to be the same consequence but it needs to be something the child cares about, and something that you are able to enforce/follow through with. Also don’t use a consequence that will punish yourself. Like taking away TV time when you know that’s the only time you can actually shower, for example!
Here’s how you can explain the new program to your child “Mom and Dad are tired of telling you MANY times to do things. It’s frustrating for us and then we yell at scream at you. I'm sure you don’t like when that happens either. So we’re going to use a new strategy. It’s called “123 Magic”. Isn’t that a cool name? Basically we will only tell you THREE times to do something and then you get a consequence. The consequence will be ____ (examples: lose a toy/go to room/loss of privilege/etc). So when we ask you to do something we will tell you “That’s one” so you know we told you the first time. If you don’t listen right away then we’ll remind you “that’s two” so you know this is the second time we asked you to do something. If we get to the third time we will see “that’s three” and you will have the consequence right away. You still have to do what we told you to do but you also get a consequence. If you do it before we get the Three then you don’t get the consequence.” Then practice it with something easy like throwing trash in the trash can or putting a toy in a box so the child gets in the habit of listening right away and understands how it works during a calm time/teaching time, not just waiting for a problem time.
After you’ve used this strategy a few times the child learns that they do not want to get to Three. They know you MEAN IT and you don’t have to scream at them. You just have to say “That’s three. Now you’ve lost ipad time tonight” in a calm tone. [Ignore any resulting screaming/crying and still insist the child completes the direction you gave them].
When you FIRST start using 123 Magic you might want to remind them of what they are going to lose. Here is an example for when you FIRST start using this system with a child who is refusing to follow directions.
Example “Pick up your jacket and hang it up. That’s one.” (wait a few seconds). “Remember if we get to 3 you don’t get to go out for ice cream with us tonight.” (wait a few seconds). “Pick up your jacket and hang it up. That’s two. If we get to three, you lose ice cream tonight.” (wait for compliance). “Okay this is 3. You lose ice cream tonight. You still need to pick up your jacket.”
After that there should be no more explanations. No more pleading. Nothing else. Just “That’s one” “That’s Two” “That’s Three”. You should NOT be saying “If I have to tell you again…” or “I’ve already told you x times” or explain why they need to listen, etc. Just give a simple direction with the numbers. Because they will know what the consequence is. Then take away the privilege or whatever the consequence is calmly and quietly.
Supernanny has a similar system where she calls it “Warnings”. It’s really the same thing. You can do it that way too. For example “Stop hitting your sister. That’s the First warning”. (behavior continues) “Stop hitting your sister. This is the 2nd warning.” (behavior continues). “This is the 3rd warning.” (wait briefly, if behavior continues then) “Okay that was 3 warnings- now no more computer time tonight.”
The “magic” is that there is no more arguing and parents don’t have to repeat themselves many times. Children soon learn to comply within 1-2 prompts instead of 20!
Check out the 123 Magic books program and read some articles by Supernanny as there are some great strategies there. Links are below.
Also see my "resources" page for links to more articles.