four is my magic (parenting) number


If I had to pick my favorite number, it’s 7. That is, it was 7, right up to a few weeks ago. Now it’s 4. Because 4 is Butterball’s favorite. And as long as it stays her favorite, it’s going to remain mine.

We all know that numbers can change lives in unexpected ways. Take a series of winning numbers on a lottery ticket. Or the number of candles on your birthday cake that can signal your introduction to adulthood (or, ahem, a midlife crisis). Then there is also that magic number that turned my NO-monster into a reasonable human being.

Butterball is 3 years old and she’s obsessed with the number 4. She wants 4 blueberries, she needs to go to aisle no. 4, and she wants to be a 4-year-old. 4. It used to be annoying. But now it’s my secret weapon.

Let me show you how:

Bath/Bed time

“Time for bed, honey.”


“Fine. You can play for 4 more minutes and then we’re going in.”


“4, 3, 2, 1. 4. Let’s go.”

She drops her toys and walks into the bedroom. I kid you not. And because my toddler really has no concept of time yet, I can say whatever I want. As long as it ends with a 4, she’s good.

Getting out of the house for school/playdate/party

“Time to go.”


“Ok, four more minutes, honey. Spend it wisely.”


(Nb. You really need to factor in those few extra minutes to avoid both parental and toddler meltdown.)


“I’m going to count to 4. 1…2…3…” (I don’t usually have to get to 4. Emphasis on usually.)

TV time

“I want to watch another one.”

“You can only watch 4 cartoons/for 4 more minutes.”


(She watches some TV everyday. Don’t judge.)

Anyway, you get the idea. Granted it’s by no means foolproof, but most days it works well enough to make life easier.

Do I wish her favorite number was 3? Sure. Absolutely, I do. But I’m just as glad it isn’t 5 (or 10!). Will it work for you and your NO-monster? Try it – I hope it does.

But of course, now that I’ve cast the magic out into the ether, I’ve basically jinxed myself.

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