1-2-3 Magic

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Author Thomas W. Phelan


1-2-3 Magic is an excellent parenting book designed to help parents who feel like their kids run the house and lack the appropriate control. Dr. Phelan present several good ideas along with stories and personal experiences to help parents understand how to use his method of counting children to make consequences natural and free from negative emotions, while also helping them bond with their children over the good times, which will surely increase as you implement 1-2-3 Magic.


One of the biggest mistakes parents make when disciplining young children is “The little adult assumption.” Young children, especially when upset, are in no position to negotiate or understand a big lecture. In fact it is usually frustrating and unhelpful. When kids are very young, parenting is more of dictatorship where the consequences are reliable, the child is given ample opportunity to quit the undesired behavior, (hence the pause between each number) before they receive consequences which are administered without emotion. Negative emotion brings shame into the relationship. It makes the behavior a personal attack against you even though the child didn’t intend it that way, and the consequence is a result of your sadness that the young child has caused you to have. The correct way is without emotion, it’s just the consequence for the undesired behavior and after the timeout there still isn’t any emotion. No talking it out, no apologies needed, no lectures or anything of the kind. Everyone just goes on with their lives. The goal of the timeout is not to punish the child. It’s to stop an obnoxious behavior through a consequence largely made up of distraction. The child has to change environments for a few minutes and is unlikely to go back to the obnoxious behavior when the timeout is over.


Dr. Phelan says that the magic is in the pause between each number because after using the system for a couple weeks the little ones understand that arguing or manipulating isn’t going to stop mom or dad from counting, and at the end is a consequence so they have the opportunity during the pauses to think about their next decision. Do they want to sit on time out or stop the behavior and the decision is completely up to them.


Many parents have pet peeves that get them going. 1-2-3 Magic attempts to dismantle the pedestals we sometimes stand on when our children misbehave. Some parents can’t handle their kids lying to them or not saying sorry when they’ve hurt someone but these are not serious offenses and are expected at different points in children’s lives. Sometimes the lying is even partly caused by the overzealous parent.


While counting is used to stop obnoxious behaviors, it is not intended to start behaviors like getting ready for bed, getting dressed or brushing teeth. Start behaviors take much more time and often require training and routine. This is where your ability to get on their level and make things fun becomes a big deal. Try to have at least three positive interactions for every negative one, and counting is a negative interaction.


Dr. Phelan’s list of 12 faulty parental expectations include:

  1. Tantrums
  2. They don’t listen
  3. Sibling rivalry
  4. Leaving anywhere
  5. Potty Training
  6. Daycare drop off
  7. Naps
  8. Lying
  9. Cleaning room and picking up
  10. Dinnertime: sitting and eating
  11. Homework
  12. Going to bed and staying there


Toward the back of the book it got very interesting as he talked about the ways we really bond with our children. The two most powerful relationship strengthening tactics are sympathetic listening and shared one-on-one fun. There are some great tips and insights to help parents understand and bond with their children. Part of our job as parents is being a safe place for children to express and experience a variety of emotions.


Along with the relationship building portion Dr. Phelan gives a piece advice to encourage independence in your children by being a good listener and avoiding over-parenting. Let natural consequences teach when appropriate and listen well when your child is working through a life situation.


“If you asked me what’s more important in a long-term relationship, communication or shared fun, I would answer, fun.” This is true in any relationship. People who have frequent fun together build stronger bonds and have better relationships. Make this a priority in you most valued relationships.


Much of the book was systematic methods for difficult situations we all face as parents. How to deal with a specific behavior in a specific situation and why many parents do the wrong thing, like in public settings for example. Children need structure, but how that structures looks is equally important. They need emotion from their parents but not angry fed up emotion that insights shame, rather positive emotion that insights love, confidence and self-esteem. Fun is one of the most important things you can share to build your relationship and as your family structure changes so will your ability to enjoy each other’s company.


Get your copy of 1-2-3 Magic delivered to your house by ordering from Amazon.

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