1-2-3 Magic


1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12
By Thomas W. Phelan PhD (updated edition 2010)

What the Book is About:

Phelan provides a straight-forward, simple, and easy-to-implement plan for helping parents calmly respond to their children’s bad behaviors, tantrums, and disobedience without engaging emotionally in anger or frustration (at least that’s the noble goal). At the onset of a problem, the parent holds up one finger and calmly says, “One.” If the child persists, the parent says, hold up two fingers and says, “Two.” If the child still does not cease and desist, the parent holds up three fingers, says, “Three,” and scoops up the child (if he or she is still young and small enough) and sets the child in a timeout, preferably in his or her room. If the child comes out, the parent calmly but firmly places the child back in timeout, shutting the door if need be.

The idea is that the child quickly learns that consequences immediately (and the timing is important) follow not responding the parent’s counting one, two, three.

“1-2-3 Magic is the leading resource for parenting solutions that are easy-to-learn and proven to work. 1-2-3 Parenting is dedicated to helping parents build strong, positive relationships with their children and overcome the stress that can take the fun out of parenting. We offer easy-to-learn parenting solutions that WORK — for age groups from toddlers through adolescents.” (quoted from from http://www.123magic.com)

Keith’s Reflections:

I first read this book when my older two boys were toddlers and my third had not yet even been born. I found it very effective in shaping my children’s bad behaviors, and a good reminder to provide rewards for positive behaviors and to build relationship with my boys just because, when no behaviors were being punished or rewarded.

Many parents find this simple method very helpful and report it revolutionizing their parenting and relationships with their kids, as well as their children’s behavior. Most parents seem to affirm that this method helps them control their tempers. I too found it useful and effective.

At the same time, I often wondered if this method was subtly teaching my children they did not have to respond, even listen to me on the first two counts—that my first request or even command was irrelevant until I got to three, the magic number. I don’t know, I just often wondered about this.

Ultimately, I do believe this is a good and very simple, practical method all parents, particularly those of young children, can easily apply and with which they may see results. It does not seem to be a method to be relied on by itself; but in conjunction with other great parenting advice in the other books I review on this site this 1-2-3 Magic be a very useful tool in a parent’s toolbox.

For More Information:

See www.123magic.com

The Author:

Dr. Thomas Phelan, a registered clinical psychologist and an internationally renowned expert on child discipline and Attention Deficit Disorder is the developer of the 1-2-3 Magic parenting system and author of the book. Since 1984, Dr. Phelan has spoken to hundreds of thousands of parents and professionals. He continues with a full schedule of parenting seminars today.  (bio taken from www.123magic.com)

Target Audience:

The title of the book says this system works with children ages 2-12. Some of the Amazon reviews are from parents with children in the 10-12 year old range, some even older, and they say it still works. I experimented with this system when my boys were young and had some success with it. I find it hard to imagine it working with older children who are approaching adolescence.

The book and the system it teaches and promotes is clearly focused primarily on toddlers, pre-school, and elementary school-age children.



Click on the book image to find this book on Amazon.com


Recent Posts

When Our Kids Amaze us

Have you had one of those moments when one of your kids amazed you with how grown up they seem, how articulate they are, or how mature they’ve become, as if you missed a few years of their development somehow? And there they are now, standing before you as a wonderful young man or woman. Where did the time go?

Who is this lovely creature?

I had that experience last May when my two oldest boys, JD and Cal, now sixteen and almost fifteen, went to their spring formal dressed in sport coats and ties. I looked at these two handsome young men in wonder. And truly they looked like men, and they carried themselves that way. I shook my head, and I felt so proud of them.


I had that wonder-filled experience again a few weeks ago when a friend of mine, Dr. Lori, suggested she interview my youngest son, Kai, about an experience he and I had with one of my painting customers (I’m bi-vocational). She heard Kai tell the story earlier and thought it would be great for other dads to hear. They had so much fun planning it together, and the idea quickly grew to include several other subjects, all related to The Great Dads Project.

I shot the video, and stood there with my mouth hanging open most of the time. I could hardly believe this was my little twelve-year-old son still in braces. His thoughts, ideas, suggestions, insights, humor, and his way with words floored me. Seriously, this kid could be an actor. He was so comfortable on camera, and carried himself with such poise, grace, and presence. I’m not kidding. I know, I’m his dad, I’m bound to think he’s great. But seriously, check this out for yourself, and see if you don’t think he’s as great as I do. Enjoy.


If you like this, leave a comment below, and share
a story about a time one of your kids amazed you.


To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

Large Book with Outline


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