1, 2, 3 Strikes Plan

imageNo, we aren’t talking about baseball. Although, baseball is a helpful reference here when speaking to your kids about their strikes. The 1, 2, 3 strikes policy that we use in our home helps us all to remain accountable for our actions and teaches our kids the benefits of being respectful and responsible. At the top of our plan, I list “Listen the first time”. I swear all kids will take liberties with this one if the consequences received aren’t a good match…I know mine did!

How it Works

Let’s stick with the topic of kids who don’t listen. Your first step is to make eye contact with them while at their level. This way you know you have their attention. Give your direction (kids younger than 6 should only be given a one-step direction). A warning is given if that direction is still not followed through on. Do this again by making eye contact on their level. Your statement might sound something like, “This is your warning. Make your request. Next time it will be a strike.”

At this point, a warning will be enough for most kids to know that you mean business and they should get going on your request. However, there are times when our kids decide to push things just a bit further and continue to do what they want to do; despite our requests. For times just as these, my next statement is “You have strike one for not listening. Move your magnet.” That’s it. No lecture. No nagging. It’s simple – you didn’t follow the rule so your magnet is moved. Done!

You see, we have a chart that hangs on our fridge with tiny magnets next to each rule and responsibility. If a rule is not followed after the warning period, or if a responsibility it is not complete, my kids move their magnet which becomes a strike. This system works well for many reasons:

No more nagging. Repeating your request over and over and over is not only annoying, but frustrating and maddening too! I mean who wants to talk to a wall? Walls give no response and they certainly don’t listen. This description fits kids from time to time too. And if you’re not careful, continuing to repeat yourself time and again teaches kids that they don’t have to listen the first time or even the second or third time. Nothing bad happens except maybe getting yelled at. Kids tune that stuff out after a while anyway. It’s time to stop nagging and start smiling when your kids listen.

Independence grows. No longer do your kids need you standing over them in order to do their job. Part of this program is talking with your kids about their responsibilities. Create a manageable list and place these items on their strike chart. Just as in the example above, they will get one warning before it is a strike. They have to follow their list of rules and expectations and can show that they don’t need any help. Mark my words, your kids will be extremely excited and proud to tell you that they followed the rules and completed their jobs without having to move their magnets. Awesome! Time to celebrate!

Excitement and rewards. Speaking of celebrating, your plan must have positive rewards built in. This element is non-negotiable! When your child gets a reward for doing their jobs, it makes it much more exciting to continue to do so into the future. Rewards can be anything from a high-five, a hug, telling them how proud you are – and can go all the way up to going to buy a new toy after several days of consistent success. The choice is yours; but take this advice: work with your child ahead of time to decide on a reward so that they know what they are working toward. Including them in the decision making and planning process gives the plan much more power in succeeding.

Peaceful home. Can you hear that? Can you image it? The sounds and visions of responsible kids brings all us parents peace. When we don’t need to yell, nag, and get stressed out; our whole family is happier. Stick to the plan so that your kids know that you mean business. Be patient with the learning curve and know that testing of the limits is completely normal. Once they figure it all out and see that you are consistent with the strikes and consequences, change will become a permanent part of your family’s life.

No Strikes, Some Strikes, and Strike Three

Yes, in our home, we have visited the land of strike three before and have also seen everywhere in between (including countless no-strike days…yay!).  Although it is no fun to earn three strikes, it sure is a good tool for learning and reinforcing the behavioral expectations and responsibilities in your home. Being on strike three results in loss of meaningful privileges. Yet, having no strikes results in earned privileges. These positive and negative consequences work together to create success with your child and will depend on your child’s preferences.

Unlike natural consequences where we closely link a child’s action to the consequence given, this 3-strikes policy uses positive and negative consequences that are personal to the child based on strikes or no strikes.  Picture this:

Positive consequences:

For a no-strike day my sons would be happy with any of the following (feel free to mix up the positive rewards from day to day):

  • verbal praiseIMG_0526.JPG
  • a hug
  • a high-five
  • a sugary treat
  • extra TV time
  • staying up 20 min later than normal
  • extra outside time with mom or dad

Negative consequences:

For a three-strike day, my sons would get the message that their behavior needs to change if they had any of these consequences (you pick the one that will make the most positive impact on your child’s behavior):

  • no snack before bed
  • no video games for the rest of the day and the following day
  • no TV for the rest of the day and the following day
  • no cell phone
  • no friend over
  • no outside toys to play with

If you are consistent with following the rules of the three-strikes behavior plan, your children will quickly catch on to what their behavior needs to be in order to earn privileges.

In most families, I know that children get a lot of extras during each day. These extras are almost always taken for granted. Kids don’t need TV time, they don’t need video games or cell phones, and they don’t need snacks every day. Many of us spoil our kids (myself included). Believe me when I say, it is a humbling experience for kids to recognize how blessed they are and when they work to earn their privileges they feel proud of their success! This is the point where they become more and more grateful for all of the extras that they have. It truly is a win-win for everyone.

So…you may be wondering: What if my child gets one or two strikes? Then what?  Well at the end of each day, and after each strike, have a short conversation with your children about their behavioral expectations and how they can find success. This may look like a short verbal exchange or a quick role play. For example, I commonly say to my kidIMG_0546.JPGs, “When I tell you to do something, what should your answer be?” They always answer, “Ok mom”. Of course that is the right answer, so then I reinforce that they will stay strike free for answering respectfully and following through on the request.  For all of our one or two-strikers out there, keep their routine the same. No extras are given and neither are negative consequences. Life is the same. If you feel your child is staying stagnant in this comfort zone, I recommend attaching a negative consequence to each strike. It won’t take long for them to realize that they need to earn less to no strikes to get what they want!

The End Results

Children learn through personal experiences that life is much more enjoyable for them when they listen and follow the rules. No one likes negative consequences. We all like to have fun. We all like to feel empowered. We all like to know that we are being successful! For me…I was so happy that I wasn’t yelling at my kids day in and day out any more. That never really worked anyway.

This 3-strikes program gave my kids something positive to work for in their development and gave me the peace of mind that my children were learning how to be responsible and respectful individuals. The smiles on those no-strikes days are totally worth every minute!

Have you tried the three strikes plan or something similar? Leave the details below so we can all learn and continue on our journey of empowerment!

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Barb, LMHC, CPC, Ed.M, CAS  



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  • by Admin Posted November 9, 2015 6:37 am

    Simply saying, “It’s going to be a strike” was enough to get misbehavior to stop!

  • by john sezza Posted November 9, 2015 8:04 am

    I like the 3 strikes rule, because kids are just learning and seem to forget often. Telling them once to teach them, and then giving them another chance to try to follow the rule, works. Then when my kids strikes are up, they hate when I take away their computer time, but they learn. Yelling gets me no where, and makes me want to go to bed early. Following the 3 strikes rule makes our home feel more organized, and with four kids I look for peace often. Thanks for your words. It’s wonderful!

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