How does counting help manage children's behavior?

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Math gives order, structure, and management to objects, times, streaming service budgets - you may be at max on that last one, by the way. And believe it or not, it can manage children’s behavior! Here are some examples:

Shayna is running around in circles as her mother asks her over and over to stop so she can change her clothes to go out. To Shayna, the repeated words “Come on Shayna, let’s get dressed. We can’t go out if you don’t get dressed” just become the droning background music to her newfound sport and the whole situation becomes a game to her. Children are really good at turning anything into a fun game! Well, fun for them anyhow. This is where numbers can come in handy. It’s mom’s turn to play referee.

Here are three ways Shayna’s mom can use counting to stop her from running around. She can say:

  1. “Let’s get dressed, Shayna. This is the first time I’m asking you and if you get dressed after number one, we will have a treat when we go outside.

  2. “Let’s get dressed, that’s one.

If Shayna still keeps running around:

  1. Go on to number two: “This is the second time I’m asking you, Shayna - that’s two! If at number three, you still don’t come here to get dressed, then we won’t be able to go out.”

Shayna will either realize here that there is an end to this diversion and she won’t be able to go out, so she’ll come to get dressed or she will push some more.

  1. At this, her mom will say “OK, this is the last time I’m asking you - number three. We will stay home if you still don’t come and get dressed.” Most children will stop playing and get dressed. And if Shayna still does not, her mom has to follow through with the consequence and they won’t go out.

Don’t worry if it comes to that - it’s not wasted effort. Shayna’s mom showed her that counting is effective because she kept her word (and didn’t nag). But Shayna still did not get dressed, so Mom followed through and they did not go out. Shayna will remember this next time her mom asks her to do something and starts counting.

2. Another option is to acknowledge the game, but then add structure.

  1. “I see that you’re having fun running around, but we have to get dressed now to go out. OK, why don’t you run around 5 times? I’ll count and after I say 5, running around is over and it’s time to get dressed.”

Mom then proceeds to count each time Shayna runs in a circle and after the 5th one, she says:

  1. “ Yay, you ran 5 times in a circle - what strong legs you have! That was a good game. Now it’s time to get dressed so we can go out.

She joined the game, which children love, and ended it by transitioning to the task at hand.

3. The final option is to slowly bring the energy down to help Shayna focus on what needs to be done.

  1. Mom gets Shayna to stop running, hugs her and brings her close to her and calmly whispers, “Shayna, it’s time to get dressed because we have to go out. Remember we have to go out to get dinner and run some errands. Do you have errands to run too? OK so let’s close our eyes and count to 1, and at 1, we can go get dressed to go out. Why don’t you whisper-count with me?”

They both close their eyes and whisper “5-4-3-2-1. Are you ready? Good job. Let’s get dressed.”

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