5-3-1 Go! How Fair Warning Prevents Battles

Posted by in No-Cry Discipline

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.

Matthew and Alyssa

Matthew and Alyssa

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.

    “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

Tristan, 2

Tristan, 2

Tips from The No-Cry Discipline Solution

Share: Have you ever tried this idea? What happened?
If you haven’t used this yet, do you plan to try 5-3-1?


  1. My daughter always hated to leave the fun. If I gave her a warning, she would run and hide! Sometimes she would help other kids hide when their mothers gave a warning.

    • This is a clear demonstration of why our unique children require crafty parents! Not every skill works with every child – so you must expand your toolbox and learn lots of different parenting skills! Good luck with your little spitfire!

  2. I use 2 mins, 1 min, 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 10 seconds and that works. My son knows what each one means and usually by the time I reach 20 seconds he’s ready to change activity. I use it for trips to the toy shop, bath time, playing at home etc…

  3. I usually give a two minute warning and we set the alarm on my phone. Then when the alarm goes off, DD gets one more thing and then it is time to go. When it s time to go she has the option of racing, going there on her own, or me carrying her. We also make sure to wave and say good-bye to everything she was engaged with. It works really well most of the time, as long as I’m patient enough to go through all the steps. If I haven’t left us enough time for her to say good-bye to everything several times and to walk to the car under her own power, then I get stressed and in turn she has a harder time leaving.

    • Brilliant! You have no idea how many problems you will miss because of these routines. Those times when she doesn’t cooperate and you get stressed, well. . . that’s called parenthood! Overall you’re doing great – nothing works 100% of the time with children! Keep it up – Great job Mommy!

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