Parenting Book Review: 1-2-3 Magic

Effective Discipline for Children 2-12

1-2-3 Magic is a parenting book that addresses child behavior problems.
1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. Photo courtesty of 1-2-3 Magic

By Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.; 212 pages

The 1-2-3 Magic Concept

If you’ve ever heard a parent say to a child who isn’t behaving “One…two…,” then you're probably hearing someone use some of the strategies described in 1-2-3 Magic. It's a popular method used to address a wide range of child behavior problems.

The premise of 1-2-3 Magic is based on a fairly simple concept - give directions effectively and stop arguing, nagging and pleading to gain compliance. When kids don't follow directions, parents start counting. If the child hasn’t complied by the time the parent reaches number three, the child is given a negative consequence, such as time-out.

Of course, when kids exhibit certain behavior, such as aggressive behavior, they aren’t given three opportunities to hit before they are given a time out. Instead, those behaviors result in an automatic consequence. The program helps parents make consequences more effective while reducing manipulative behavior, such as whining and begging.

The book covers how to use the program throughout your child’s development, right through the tween years. While many programs lose effectiveness, 1-2-3 Magic can grow along with your child and be used for many years.

1-2-3 Magic Chapter Outline

Part I: Thinking Straight

  • Chapter 1: Orientation to the Parenting Profession
  • Chapter 2: Your Three Parenting Jobs
  • Chapter 3: The Little Adult Assumption
  • Chapter 4: The Two Biggest Discipline Mistakes

Part II: Controlling Obnoxious Behavior (Job #1)

  • Chapter 5: Counting: Simple But Not Easy
  • Chapter 6: Frequently Asked Questions
  • Chapter 7: Out in Public
  • Chapter 8: Sibling Rivalry, Tantrums and Pouting

Part III: Managing Kids’ Testing and Manipulation

  • Chapter 10: The Six Types of Testing and Manipulation
  • Chapter 11: Counting in Action
  • Chapter 12: More Serious Offenses in Tweens

Part IV: Encouraging Good Behavior (Job #2)

  • Chapter 13: Establishing Positive Routines
  • Chapter 14: Up and Out in the Morning
  • Chapter 15: Cleaning Up and Chores
  • Chapter 16: Suppertime
  • Chapter 17: Homework
  • Chapter 18: Going to Bed- And Staying There

Part V: Strengthening Your Relationship with Your Children (Job #3)

  • Chapter 19: Sympathetic Listening
  • Chapter 20: Real Magic: One-on-One Fun
  • Chapter 21: When Can You Talk?
  • Chapter 22: Solving Problems Together
  • Chapter 23: Kids, Tween and Tech

Part VI: Enjoying Your New Family Life

  • Chapter 24: Staying on the Wagon
  • Chapter 25: Your New Life

Does 1-2-3 Magic Work?

Overall, 1-2-3 Magic is likely to save parents lots of energy and increase the effectiveness of their discipline. It’s also likely to help kids learn new skills and to reduce a lot of behavior problems. It’s likely to be effective with many children with special needs, including kids with ADHD.

One of the potential drawbacks of 1-2-3 Magic is that it gives kids three chances to comply. In the real world, your boss is likely to expect compliance the first time you're asked. You likely won't be given repeated warnings or reminders to follow through.

So it's important to ensure that you aren't training your child to ignore your directions the first time you give them. An alternative to counting to three is to offer an if...then warning where you follow through with a consequence after a single warning that makes the consequence of non-compliance clear.

For parents who want even more information, the 1-2-3 Magic website offers many DVDs, books and resources for both parents and teachers.

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