Why Counting is Counterproductive

“I’m going to give you to the count of three to bring me that toy. 1...2...3...” The curly-headed little boy keeps playing with the dump truck. “4...5...6...” He moves the truck along the floor while making engine noises. “Toby, I’m serious! Don’t make me count to 10!”

The counting method is pretty common, but is it a good option? Even if some counting moms have found success, could they be teaching lessons they never intended to teach? Let us consider some reasons why we should think twice before counting to three.

Counting undermines your authority.

Your child has learned not to take you at your word. He knows he does not have to take you seriously until you start counting. Children need to understand as early as possible that parents have authority. God commands, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).

Counting hands the reigns to the child.

He gets to choose when to obey. The child is the one who controls the situation when he does not have to do what you say until he feels like it. Our society likes to portray parents as helpless, but God created an order in the home. He put parents in control, not children. “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother” (Proverbs 1:8).

Counting gives the wrong impression of God.

While God is long-suffering (2 Peter 3:9), He also commands obedience. “Obey My voice...that it may be well with you” (Jeremiah 7:23). “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Counting allows a child to put off obedience. Do you want your child to become someone who listens to God right away so it may be well with him? That kind of respectful obedience begins in the home.

Counting causes confusion.

When does the child cross the line into disobedience? I literally heard a mom counting as far as 17! I wonder how far she was willing to count. To 25? To 50? Most likely her child had already figured out the magic number, but what a disservice to him! How many other situations/relationships in life will be as lenient? He will be surprised one day when his boss takes disciplinarian action after one no-show instead of three (or 17).

Counting can be dangerous.

If a child has learned that he does not have to obey until he has been warned several times, what happens when his very life depends on an immediate response? If he heads for a busy street and you yell, “Stop!”, you want him to obey right away. In the same way, you do not want your grown child to delay obeying the Lord. As the song pleads, “today is the day of salvation. Tomorrow may be too late.” We are not promised tomorrow. “[Y]ou do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away… Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:14,17).

Instead of counting, help your child understand that he must obey the first time. If he does not respond, discipline him. The next time he does not obey as soon as you speak, discipline him again. Be consistent for as long as it takes. Make sure he knows that “delayed obedience is disobedience.” This is not harsh at all. He will learn to respect authority. He will enjoy the security that comes from understanding defined boundaries and learning the importance of obedience.