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How the Fair Warning System Prevents Battles

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 Very 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 five minute alert, then a three minute alert and finally a one 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 and at eye-level announces, “We're going to leave 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 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.

  • Mother-speak: “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 “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

Need more tips? The No-Cry Discipline Solution is your resource for gentle ways for good behavior without whining, tantrums and tears.

Elizabeth Pantley's picture
No-Cry Solution Series Author

Elizabeth Pantley is a parent educator, mother of four, and the author of the now-classic baby sleep book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, as well as six other books in the series, including The No-Cry Separation Anxiety SolutionThe No-Cry Potty Training SolutionThe No-Cry Discipline Solution, The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution, plus other successful parenting books. She is known worldwide as the practical, reasonable voice of respectful parenting.