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 very hard for a child to switch from one activity to another without first making a mental adjustment.
Kids Get Focused on Their Play
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…)
Advance Alerts Permit an Adjustment
You can help your children change activities by giving them time to process the change mentally before they follow through physically. Prior to expecting action from your child, call out a 5-minute-alert, then a 3-minute-alert and finally a 1-minute-alert.
5-3-1: Watch How This Happens
Paige and Hunter are happily playing at the park while Mom is reading on a bench nearby. She gets up, comes to them, leans down, and at eye-level announces, “We’re leaving the park in five minutes.” (She holds up five fingers.)
She returns to her bench to read. A few minutes later, she calls out, “Paige! Hunter! We’re leaving in three minutes!” (Holds up three fingers.)
A few minutes later: “One 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 tools, such as offering a choice, “Do you want to run to the car, or hop like bunnies?”
This is positive parenting!
This type of counting is extremely different than the typical countdown to disaster, “1…2…3. Okay, now you’re in trouble! Time out!” This 5-3-1 method is a respectful way of letting your children know in advance of what’s upcoming and allowing them to finish up what they’re into so that they 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 getting dressed, finishing lunch, putting away toys, getting into the bathtub, getting out of the bathtub, and getting ready for bed.