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5-3-1 Go! How Fair Warning Prevents Battles
By Elizabeth Pantley

When children are immersed in play they usually put their entire soul into the activity. It is this intensity that allows them to absorb so much about the world in the early years of their life. They are always learning, always taking in something new. Because of this intensity it can be hard for a child to switch from one activity to another.

When a child is in the middle of playtime at the park, or doing a wonderful new puzzle, and a parent calls him, it's an unusual child who can immediately hop off the swing and run to the car, or immediately drop the puzzle piece and run to the parent. (Actually, it's a rare adult who can change course that quickly...)

You can help your child change activities by giving him time to process the change mentally before following through physically.

Give a 5-3-1 Warning

Prior to expecting any action from your child, call out a 5 minute alert, then call out a 3 minute alert and finally a 1 minute alert.

Watch how this happens:

Paige and Hunter are happily playing at the park while Mom is reading on a bench nearby. She goes over to them and at eye-level announces, "We are going to leave the park in 5 minutes." (She holds up five fingers.) She returns to her bench to read. A few minutes later, she calls out, "Paige! Hunter! We are leaving in 3 minutes!" (Holds up three fingers.) A few minutes later: "Leaving in 1 minute. (One finger is raised.)

A minute later, "Do you want to have one more slide or one more swing?" After the final slide, Mom announces that it's time to go home. If the kids don't respond immediately she can then use one of her other cooperation tools, such as offering a choice: "Do you want to run to the car, or hop like bunnies?

Respectful communication

This type of counting is very different than the typical countdown to disaster, "1...2...3. Okay, now you're in trouble! Time out." This method is a respectful way of letting your child know in advance of what's upcoming and allowing him to finish up what he's into so that he can make the change.

5-3-1 can be used daily as a way to help your child cooperate with you on many tasks, such as leaving any activity, getting dressed, finishing lunch, putting away toys, getting into the bathtub, getting out of the bathtub, and getting ready for bed.


"I've been using 5-3-1-Go with Anna and it works like a charm. The biggest challenge was training my adult friends that when I started the countdown, it meant them, too! Sometimes I'd get to "Time to Go" and my friend would want to continue to chat. Now my friends know that when I start the countdown, I mean it for us as well as the children."
             ~~~ Tracy, mom to Anna, age 4 and Zack, age 2


Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill 2007) by Elizabeth Pantley

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