The awesomely terrifyingly amazing power of counting to three

Last night, I tweeted:

I love that the mere act of counting to 3 can make my children quake with fear.

It’s true.

As @thinkmama so aptly put it, it really is a superpower.  And one of the better ones we received when we became moms. Conversely, the superpower to sweep the floor with my boobs is one I could live without.

I have no idea who the first parent was that realized you could get your children to do anything simply by threatening to count to three, but he or she deserves a medal, emblazoned with metaphorical images of clean plates, tidied rooms, and prompt bedtimes. And to think, I used to want to be invisible. Pffft.

I have a confession however. This weekend I misused the superpower. (Forgive me, oh sisters in parenting.) I wanted to give Sage just a little more time to meander into bed and I told her…I’d count to ten.

I know.

I know!

By the time I hit six, I knew she wasn’t going anywhere. By eight I was hiding my panic Then the unthinkable happened. I hit ten.

I had to think fast…what to do? Ten was totally unfamiliar territory. I scanned the room and decided I would confiscate a toy: Her very favorite. Diego, the cross-dressing rag doll. I grabbed him and his floppy tutu and tossed them up on the highest bookshelf. Ugliness ensued.

But I learned my lesson.

So did Sage.

Because last night, I had the opportunity to count to three again.


She was shrieking by two-and-a-half. But doing it from bed.

I blow my nails, swipe them along my superhero tool belt, and start dreaming of a superpower that will make my children eat things that are not beige or ketchup.


36 thoughts on “The awesomely terrifyingly amazing power of counting to three”

  1. 3 is AWESOME. I use it often.
    I even have a silent Count To 3 technique to use when visiting family. I combine it with The Hairy Eyeball and it saves me from needing to lock my kids in closets when traveling.

  2. Numbers make my son quake in abject terror.

    Wait. That might be overshooting the mark a bit.


  3. Both of my kids are under 2. I can't wait until this superpower becomes effective in my household. At least I know now not to use 10!

  4. 3 is a magic number, although I also have had it backfire oh so many a time. I have friends that get “first time” obedience, I actually have seen it in action, however without starting it REALLY early and having some sort of superpower I know I will never posses, just ain't gonna fly in the world I live in.

    However, your good friend Kristen's method for superpowers obtained through green foods for our Jedi/Yoda obsessed preschoolers and which she shared here is on month # 4 working at my house. Jack actually finished eating his peas AFTER his dessert of ice cream last week so he got the full amount of superpowers he needed to “scare” me. He now ASKS for “Yoda food” every night and you better believe I'm stocked up on everything green.

  5. 123 Magic is the bomb-diggity. Totally works, I recommend it to everyone!

    My new strategy for getting my highly-distractable, slow-as-molasses 3.5yo son to get moving is to count BACKWARDS. I don't know why it popped onto my head, but it totally works without negating the power of counting to 3. I found I can be flexible with the starting number, depending how much time is reasonable (say, start at 10 instead of 5), but the countdown seems to help those boots get on a little faster.

  6. Three is a magic number. I do the counting thing a lot.

    And do you know the song? “Three is a magic number” = great song.

  7. Ha. Funny thing is that is crosses languages and cultures as well. I have seen more than one of my Italian friends use it just as effectively here in Italy. When I use it in English, I always get a glance from an Italian mother, a glance of support of the motherhood. Love it.
    Uno, due . . . tre!

  8. There is no 2 and a half. Because once there's 2 and a half, there's 2 and three quarters, and then two and seven eighths, and believe me, nothing good can happen. See also, Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen.

    1. Actually, at 15 years of age, counting to three still scares me. That and the thret of taking away my kindle is what works for mom. Keep doing it, and have a back up plan (kindle removal in my case)

  9. I have an almost-5-yr old and I do this all the time. Except, I count backwards – so I have some freedom in where I start because the fear is in what happens when I get to 1, not when I get to 3. So I can change it up based on how much time I feel is reasonable in the given situation. I rarely get down past 2 or 3…(I usually start at 5, I'm a softy.)

  10. I have given up counting. My kids think it's funny and cute and count with me–they are 3 and 4. It never really worked with them.

    How I envy you all and your number fearing children. We do a warning and time out–that has proven much more effective on my children. The stubborn cuties that they are.

  11. Hah! It really does work! One of those I-never-thought-I'd-do-this-until-I-became-a-parent things.

    I count to five though. It sounds less weird to me than counting like this “ooooooneeeeeeeee??? Twwwwwoooooooo???…”

  12. Counting to 3 worked great with my girls, but my son ALWAYS waits me out and lets me get to 3. Then I actually have to DO something that looks mean and I hate it.

    (Maybe if I try it in German or Spanish?)

  13. Sigh. It works on my little two but never worked on my oldest. I could count to a zillion and she'd do nothing. Thankfully she's grown out of doing that just to piss me off and normally does what she's been asked.

    A new mom asked me last week sometime why I bother. Why kids don't just do what they are asked. I had to resist the urge to laugh. Oh funny new moms with their 9 day old babies.

  14. Counting to 3 works with wonders with my older. My FIL once said “How long does he get?” I told him I didn't know, never got higher than 2. He didn't believe me, but then again he's an ass. I have not had as much success wig my youngest but I'm still wearing him down…

  15. At first, Oliver thought he was supposed to count along with me. After seeing that “time-out” followed three (instead of four, as expected) he got with the program.

  16. the counting “game” worked really well when i started it and then the affect of it started to fade. but i read recently that you shouldn't do that because it says to your kids that the have the option of not listening & can listen when they are ready so i've tried to stop doing it.

  17. I count down from 5. If I get to 1, look out. I started one time in the grocery store and he was back to his sweet self by 4. Someone looked at me, and said, “So… how did you train him to do that??” I should've told her it was my superpower. Lately he has started waiting to move until I get to 3, though, so maybe I should start there instead of at 5.

    Ah… superpowers. Love 'em.

  18. What is it about the counting? It still works with my 9 and 6 year olds. They both hate it, but my 9 year old hates it with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns in the month of July. She will capitulate, but she gets so torqued while doing it…it is almost like my counting causes her body to react without her consent…unfortunately it does not simultaneously strike her mute…sigh…have to resort to good old fashion duct tape for that (I'M KIDDING!!!)

  19. I don't get it – with almost every parenting approach/method/tactic/trick, it only works for some people. Rarely more than 50%, I'd say. EXCEPT COUNTING TO THREE. How is this possible??? Why does it work, without fail, for almost everyone? I don't understand it. But thank goodness for counting to three because otherwise I'd have NOTHING. I don't personally know a single parent who does not count to three. Not one.

  20. It worked with my first kid. It worked again with my second – for awhile. Then one day, as I was counting, first child leaned over and said to second “you don't have to do anything until after she gets to two.”

  21. Love counting to 3. Love it more now that I am using 1,2,3 Magic. I rarely get past 1.

  22. There is nothing like this power.

    Unfortunately, my children periodically decide it just doesn't matter and it totally throws me. It is a scary feeling to hit your end number and have no clue what to do. I find I threaten random and probably inappropriate things when met with having to implement a consequence since it so rarely happens.

  23. My mom usually did the count-to-three-thing, but we knew she was really serious when she'd say, “I'm counting to one, and you'd better have XYZd.” I remember the look of admiration my friend Sarah's mom gave her when she pulled the counting-to-one thing in their backyard. And you better believe I was in the car, seatbelt on, before she said one.

  24. All of my kids have aged out of the count-to-three magic at one point, and then you're screwed. You get to three and the two of you lock eyes and just stare each other down while your brain is screaming WHAT DO I DOOO NOW???

    Just as a warning: it is not effective at that point to say, “Okay, now I'm REALLY mad!”

  25. My dad had an amazing twist on the Counting theory. He would say “I'm going to count to ten. And I'm counting in my head and YOU DON'T KNOW HOW FAST…”

    Freaked me smooth out every single time.

  26. I have to count to 5, but my kids are older. But pleaes, I'm begging you, if you find the key that makes kids eat non-beige foods, please, tweet that sucker from the rooftops.

  27. You, Mom-101, are a gifted writer. Great post which made me chuckle. (I've done toy timeouts frequently. Once, my son's swim shirt, which he wore everyday for months, became my bargaining pawn.)


  28. I don't ever use two or three. I taught my son a long time ago and learned to be the bad guy that if I even mention “don't make me say 1…” he's stop cause he knows that if I say one it's a trip to the timeout chair. Meh. Doesn't mean he doesn't scream or try to claw my eyes out when I have to physically pick him up, but whatever. He's 2. :/

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