1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 {A Real Mom’s Book Review}


123 Magic ImageDo you ever find yourself in a yelling rut when disciplining your kids?

I know, I do.

During my first daughter’s (I have three daughters now – 5, 3 and 1 years-old.) 3-year check-up, I asked her pediatrician for discipline suggestions. He recommended I read 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas Phelan.

He praised it for having a simple and effective discipline strategy that involved no yelling or corporal punishment (Prior to having children, my husband and I agreed we wouldn’t be using any form of spanking with our kids anyhow.).

I was sold.

I’ve now been using the strategies in the book for over two years and thought it was time to share a review here on SMB.

My overall thoughts:

I love the simplicity of Phelan’s approach to discipline. The system is easy for a parent to implement quickly and uncomplicated enough for the kiddos to catch on right away.

Essentially, you rely on a counting system when directing your child’s negative behavior. No long-winded explanation as to why they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. No dramatic displays of dismay or disappointment when little Sally sticks her hand in the cookie jar the thousandth time.

Just a clear, concise “one” as the initial warning; if the behavior doesn’t stop, a “two” delivered as the second warning; and last, but not least, a “three” and “it’s time to take a break” (a nice way of delivering a time out) as the final action.

Over the last few years, this system has worked really well for disciplining one child at a time in our home. My one criticism would be its appropriateness when handling the more volatile sibling conflicts. For us, we use the advice in the book Siblings Without Rivalry in conjunction with 1-2-3 Magic when dealing with sibling drama.

Quick takeaways  {What’s working for us!}

The no talking, no emotions rule. This is so hard to do, but so crucial. There’s nothing I like more than to give someone a long-winded explanation for something, but alas, Phelan says this is a moot point with young children. Apparently, they tune us out pretty quickly when we start over-explaining ourselves.

Don’t use the counting to get them to do something you want them to do. Phelan recommends using a positive-reinforcement system for getting them to do tasks. We utilize a magnetic “behavior” chart for our two older daughters, whereby they can earn magnetic happy faces for doing various positive actions (i.e., brushing teeth, getting dressed, following instructions, etc.).

Beyond 1-2-3…

While this method has helped our family immensely, I don’t believe there’s any one “magic-bullet” parenting philosophy that works for all situations, all the time. There are times in life when counting won’t cut it and a more detailed explanation is warranted…or when you’re 3-year-old is racing toward a busy street and yelling is totally appropriate. I think it’s important we use our own judgement and instincts when it comes to incorporating any discipline strategy.

Don’t you?

What parenting philosophies or books have worked for your family? We’d love to hear what’s working for you!