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The Magic Number - Proactive Behavior Management Strategy for Young Children

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Bottom Line - If you start early and are consistent with your child, whether it be a routine, a way of using something, or directions/consequences, your child will come to understand these things so that life moves more smoothly for your whole family. Here is one example of a system you can implement with you child to help teach your expectations and avoid the infamous power struggle with your young child. This is a proactive behavior management strategy. It is a system for you to put in place to significantly decrease the likelihood of defiance from your child.

  1. Clearly state what you want the child to do.

  2. Tell the child "I am going to count to 5 to give you time to do it yourself, then I am going to help you." *Note that this is stated in a way that does not sound like a threat. The idea is NOT that they are in trouble or wrong if they do not do it by the time you get to 5. This is simply a strategy to make you more efficient as a family and avoid defiance.*

  3. Count to 5 at whatever pace is appropriate for the situation. If the child has not completed the task, assist them in completing the task.


Young children are motivated to do things themselves so even though helping them is not a negative consequence, they don't want it. The MAGIC here is that, whether they do it by 5 or not, the tasks gets completed in a timely manner. If your child doesnt complete the task by 5 at first, after a few times, your child will learn that when you get to 5, you are going to help them. Since they want to do it themselves, they will do it in the time limit you give them.


You can start this as early as 1 year old for appropriate tasks. You should definitely start by 18 months. By the time they are 2, they will know exactly what it means when you start to count after you have asked them to do something. It is not a threatening situation, it is simply a system to use to be more proficient and productive. Isnt that something every Mom wants?!


Happy counting!


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