Counting on Old Habits

Counting on Old Habits

“3…, 2…, ” I count as I look at my son hiding behind a chair. He’s smiling, of course, because he thinks it’s fun to be all “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in the living room. But he’s near a lamp and electrical outlets, so it’s no bueno.

“1….., 0.” I get off the couch and walk to the chair. I reach behind the chair, hold his hand, then guide him out from behind the chair. He’s still smiling and runs over to play with his toy cars from his Uncle. However, I know within a couple of minutes, he’ll be on a chair, pulling down a safety gate, or climbing on the living room table. It’s the adventurous life of a toddler.

And, sure enough, I’ll be counting again. I didn’t intentionally choose to count. It’s just, one day, it formalized in my head and I started counting. But the practice is not a new idea, but an old routine – like riding a bike.

When I was a preschool teacher, counting was a go-to classroom procedure. I saw something happening that wasn’t suppose to be happening, I stated a consequence if the behavior continued when I got to “0”, and – most of the time – the behavior would stop before I even go to “2”.

For example, if I saw a child climbing or hanging off the outdoor apparatus in a non-preferred way, I would state why that was not safe and started counting down for the child to get back in a safe place on the structure. Then, if I saw the behavior again, then the child would not be allowed back on the playground structure for the rest of the day.

However, this counting procedure only worked if I followed through with the consequence 100% of the time. If I did it half the time or some of the time, none of the kiddos would take me seriously. I had to be consistent.

Now, getting back to my son, even though he is almost 2, he’s starting to realize that, “Hey, if Dada starts counting, then he’s going to pick me up off the table.” Sometimes – and I have to stress, sometimes – my son will leave a non-preferred space or stop climbing a piece of furniture when I start counting. It’s not that he’s aware of a consequence for his behavior (since he’s not cognitively there yet). But, I believe, he thinks it’s not worth the effort to climb or crawl into a space if I’m just going to take him out. So, he moves on to something else.

All those years of preschool teaching is paying off in fatherhood. I’m sure potty training will be a breeze!


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