1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, 2nd Edition

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, 2nd Edition

by Thomas W. Phelan


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It's not easy being a parent. You want kids who listen and children you can enjoy. You want to raise happy and competent youngsters, but you don't have a lot of free time to read discipline and parenting books. You also don't need advice that requires you to be a saint, genius or professional psychologist. This new 3rd edition of the extremely popular 1-2-3 Magic program addresses the difficult task of child discipline with humor, keen insight and proven experience. Dr. Phelan simplifies the job of parenting in three straightforward steps. In 1-2-3 Magic you will also learn how to manage the Six Kinds of Testing and Manipulation, how to handle misbehavior in public and how to avoid the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit Syndrome. You'll also discover how your silence can speak louder than your words.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780963386199
Publisher: Parentmagic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/28/1995
Edition description: REV
Pages: 175
Product dimensions: 6.08(w) x 9.14(h) x 0.51(d)

About the Author

Dr. Thomas W. Phelan is an internationally renowned expert, author, and lecturer on child discipline and Attention Deficit Disorder. A registered Ph.D. clinical psychologist, he appears frequently on radio and TV. Dr. Phelan practices and works in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Read an Excerpt

1-2-3 Magic

By Thomas W. Phelan, Dan Farrell

ParentMagic, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 ParentMagic, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-889140-58-2


Orientation to The Parenting Profession

With no training manual, kids come as a bit of a shock.

There's no way you know what parenting is like until you do it. Whatever thoughts you may have had about becoming a mom or a dad, bringing that first child home is a jolt — a big jolt. It's a lot like getting married. Maximum excitement and maximum stress.

1-2-3 Magic is based on the idea that parenting should be looked at as a profession. Some training, in other words, will make the job much easier. But that training shouldn't have to take years or involve bringing tons of books home from the library. One book should do it.

Your Basic Parenting Philosophy

The place to start is with your basic parenting philosophy — your overall orientation to the job. Even though the job changes as the kids get older, effective parents have two important qualities. They are:

1. Warm and friendly on the one hand

2. Demanding and firm on the other

Warm and friendly means taking care of kids' emotional and physical needs. It means feeding them, keeping them safe, warm, well clothed and making sure they get enough sleep. Warmth and friendliness also mean being sensitive to the children's feelings: sharing their joy over a new friend, comforting them when their ice cream falls on the ground, listening sympathetically when they're angry at their teacher, and enjoying their company.

Warm and friendly also means liking — not just loving — your children.

The other important parental trait, demanding and firm, is meant in the good sense. Good parents expect something from their kids. They expect good behavior in school, respect toward adults, hard work on academics, effort in sports and relationships with friends that include sharing and kindness. They expect their youngsters to follow the rules, to do things for other people and to sometimes confront issues that are hard or scary.

In other words, effective parents expect their children to rise to life's challenges (as you know, there are plenty!) and to respect the rules and limits that will be required for their behavior.

These two parental orientations, warm/friendly and demanding/firm, might at first seem contradictory. They are not. Some situations call for one, some for the other, and some situations require both. Megan slaps Jon, for example. Time for the demanding side of parenting. Megan feeds the dog without being asked? Time for the warm side.

What if it's time for bed? Both friendly and firm sides are necessary. The friendly side might mean snuggling up in bed with a child for fifteen minutes of storytime before lights out. The demanding side, on the other hand, might mean requiring the kids to get ready for bed (teeth, bath or shower, pajamas, etc.) before story time can happen. And at 9 o'clock firm means lights out. No ifs, ands or buts.

The messages this parenting philosophy sends to children are:

1. Warm/friendly: I love you and I'll take care of you.

2. Demanding/firm: I expect something from you.

Why is the warm and demanding, friendly and firm attitude toward your children the best one? For two reasons. The first reason is simple: fun! It would be nice if you could enjoy the children while they are growing up in your household. Kids are energetic, cute, exciting and fun, and you can have some great times with them you'll never forget.

The second reason is a bit sad: You want your youngsters to grow up, leave home someday and make it on their own. Warm and demanding, therefore, also means encouraging and respecting your kids 'growing independence. Friendly and firm means not hovering and not being overprotective. It means giving children a chance to do things more and more on their own as they get older. When our oldest walked five blocks to kindergarten the first day of school, I was sure he was never coming back. He came back just fine and I learned a lesson about independence and about his growing competence.

Automatic vs. Deliberate Parenting

You might say there are two kinds of parenting activities: automatic and deliberate. Automatic parenting includes the things you do spontaneously without really thinking (and with no real training), such as picking up and comforting a sobbing two-year-old who has just fallen down. Comforting an upset child is a positive example, but automatic parenting can also include actions that aren't so hot, such as screaming at a seven-year-old who keeps getting out of bed because she says she hears a noise in her closet.

Here's what you'll want to do with the 1-2-3 Magic program. First, hang on to your positive automatic parenting habits. You'll find that some of your beneficial parenting moves are already part of the program, such as being a good listener or praising your kids' efforts.

Next, identify your automatic parenting habits that are harmful, useless or upsetting. As you read through 1-2-3 Magic, decide how you'll replace these negative actions with deliberate, respectful and more useful 1-2-3 Magic strategies. You might, for example, replace yelling about whining with counting whining; you might also consider replacing nagging and arguing at 9 p.m. with the Basic Bedtime Method.

Finally, practice, practice, practice! Work hard and thoughtfully until the new methods become more or less automatic. Because 1-2-3 Magic works so well, it tends to be self-reinforcing, which makes the deliberate-to-automatic conversion much easier.

Automatic parenting includes another critically important activity that you do all the time: modeling. Children are great imitators, and they learn a lot by just watching the way you behave. If you are respectful toward others, your kids will tend to be the same. If you scream in fury during fits of road-rage, on the other hand ... well, you get the idea.

The goal, therefore, is effective, automatic parenting. It takes some concentration and effort in the beginning, but in the end it's a whole lot less work. And you and your family are a whole lot better off!


Your Three Parenting Jobs

It's always helpful to have a good job description.

We have three separate parenting jobs, and these three jobs require different strategies. Each of the three parenting jobs is distinct, manageable and important. The three parenting steps are also interdependent; each depends to some extent on the others for its success. Ignore any of these tasks at your own risk! Do these three tasks well and you'll be a pretty good mom or dad. The first two parenting jobs involve discipline/behavior concerns, and the third job focuses on the parent/child relationship.

Parenting Job #1 (Parts II and III in the book) involves controlling obnoxious behavior. You will never like or get along well with your children if they are constantly irritating you with behavior such as whining, arguing, teasing, badgering, tantrums, yelling and fighting. In 1-2-3 Magic you will learn how to "count" obnoxious behavior, and you will be pleasantly surprised at how effective that simple technique is!

Job #2 (Part IV) involves encouraging good behavior. Encouraging good behavior, such as picking up after yourself, going to bed, being courteous and doing homework, takes more effort — for both parent and child — than controlling difficult behavior. You will learn seven simple methods for encouraging positive actions in your kids.

Finally, in Part V you will learn some valuable and not-so-difficult ways of handling Parenting Job #3: strengthening your relationship with your children. Some parents merely need to be reminded of Parenting Job #3; other parents have to work hard at remembering to do it. Paying attention to the quality of your relationship with your children will help you with jobs 1 and 2, and vice versa.

How do our three parenting jobs relate to the warm/demanding parenting traits? As you may have guessed already, the tactic for Job #1, controlling obnoxious behavior, depends almost entirely on the demanding parent role. Not much warm or fuzzy about it! Job #3, however, strengthening relationships, will rely almost entirely on the warm side of the parenting equation. And finally, Job #2, encouraging good behavior, will employ both warm as well as demanding strategies.

Parenting Jobs #1 and #2: "Stop" vs. "Start" Behavior

When it comes to discipline, there are two basic problems children present to adults, and these two problems define the first two parenting tasks. When we are frustrated with our youngsters, the kids are either (1) doing something negative we want them to Stop (like whining), or (2) they are not doing something positive we would like them to Start (like getting dressed). In 1-2-3 Magic, therefore, we call these two kinds of things "Stop" behavior and "Start" behavior. In the hustle and bustle of everyday existence, you may not have worried much about the difference between Start and Stop behaviors, but — as we'll soon see — the distinction is extremely important. This distinction is also about to make your life a lot easier!

Stop behavior includes frequent, minor, everyday issues, such as whining, disrespect, tantrums, arguing, teasing, fighting, pouting, yelling and so on. Stop behavior — in and of itself — ranges from mildly irritating to pretty obnoxious. Each of these difficult behaviors alone may not be so bad, but add them all up in one afternoon and by 5 p.m. you may feel like hitchhiking to South America.

Start behavior includes positive activities like cleaning rooms, doing homework, practicing the piano, getting up and out in the morning, going to bed, eating supper and being nice to other people. You have a Start behavior problem when your child is not doing something that would be a good thing to do. The reason for distinguishing between Stop and Start behavior is this: You will use different tactics for each kind of problem.

For Stop behavior, such as whining, arguing, screaming and teasing, you will use the 1-2-3, or "counting" procedure. Counting is simple, gentle and direct. For Start behavior problems, you will have a choice of seven tactics, which can be used either one at a time or in combination. These tactics include Praise, Simple Requests, Kitchen Timers, The Docking System, Natural Consequences, Charting and Counting Variation. Start behavior strategies, as you can probably guess, require a little more thought and effort than counting does.

Important Reminder

For Stop behavior, such as:

• Whining
• Teasing
• Arguing
• Pouting
• Yelling
• Tantrums
• Etc.

Use the 1-2-3, or "counting" procedure.

For Start behavior, such as:

• Picking up
• Eating
• Homework
• Bedtime
• Up and out

Use Praise, Simple Requests, Kitchen Timers, The Docking System, Natural Consequences, Charting and the Counting Variation.

Why the difference in strategies? The answer lies in the issue of motivation. How long does it take a child — if she is motivated — to terminate an irritating (Stop) behavior like whining, arguing or teasing? The answer is about one second; it's really not a big project. Depending on how angry or oppositional a child is, ending an obnoxious behavior doesn't take tons of effort.

But now look at Start behavior. How long does it take a child to accomplish something constructive like eating dinner? Maybe twenty to twenty-five minutes. To pick up after himself? Perhaps fifteen minutes. To get ready for bed? Twenty to thirty minutes. Ready for school? Thirty minutes. Homework? Schoolwork might take anywhere from forty minutes to three years. So it's obvious that with Start behavior, more motivation is required from the child. He has to begin the project, keep at it and then finish. And the project is often something the boy or girl is not thrilled about having to do in the first place.

In addition, if encouraging positive behavior in kids requires more motivation in the kids, it's also going to require more motivation from Mom and Dad. As you'll soon see, putting an end to Stop behavior using counting is relatively easy if you do it right. Start behavior is harder.

When managing a behavioral difficulty with one of your children, therefore, you will need to first determine if you have a Stop or a Start behavior problem. "Is the issue something I want the child to quit? Or is it something I want the youngster to get going on?" Since counting is so easy, parents sometimes make the mistake of using counting for Start behavior (for example, counting a child to get her to do her homework). As you will soon see, counting produces motivation that usually lasts only a short time (from a few seconds to a couple of minutes) in children. If you mix up your tactics (such as using counting for homework), you will not get optimum results.

But don't worry. This whole procedure is so simple, you'll be an expert in no time. Effective discipline will start to come naturally and — believe it or not — your kids will start listening to you.

Parenting Job #3

Your final parenting job is to work on strengthening your relationship with your kids. This means making sure that screen time does not replace face-to-face time, and — more importantly — strengthening relationships means that you value enjoying one another's company. It is critical to your family's well being and to your kids' self-esteem that you like (not just love) your youngsters.

What does "like" mean? Here's an example. It's a Saturday and you're home by yourself for a few hours — a rare occurrence! Everyone has gone out. You're listening to some music and just puttering around. You hear a noise outside and look out to see a car pulling up in the driveway. One of your kids gets out and heads for the front door.

How do you feel in your gut right at that moment? If it's "Oh no, the fun's over!" that may not be like. If it's "Oh good, I've got some company!" that's more like like.

Liking your children and having a good relationship with them is important for lots of reasons. The most important reason, though, may be that it's simply more fun. Kids are naturally cute and enjoyable a lot of the time, and you want to take advantage of that valuable quality. And they only grow up with you once.

In 1-2-3 Magic we'll discuss four strategies for strengthening relationships:

Next up? In Chapter 3 we'll examine the strange and amazingly disruptive idea that adults carry around in their brains about small children.


The Little Adult Assumption

How many times do I have to tell you!

There is an enchanting, semi-conscious and trouble-producing idea that parents and teachers carry around in their heads about young children. This naive assumption — or wish — causes not only discipline failures, but also stormy scenes that can include physical child abuse. The idea we're talking about is known as the "Little Adult Assumption."

The Little Adult Assumption is the belief that kids have hearts of gold and are basically reasonable and unselfish. In other words, they're just smaller versions of grownups. And because they are little adults, the idea goes, whenever the youngsters are misbehaving, the problem must be that they don't have enough information in their heads to be able to do the right thing. The solution? Simply give them the facts.

Imagine, for example, that at exactly 4:12 p.m. your eight-year-old son is teasing his five-year-old sister for the eighteenth time since they got home from school. What should you do? If your boy is a little adult, you simply sit him down, calmly look him in the eye, and explain to him the three golden reasons why he shouldn't tease his sister. First of all, teasing hurts her. Second, it makes you mad at him. Third — and most important — how would he feel if someone treated him like that?

Now imagine further that after this explanation your son looks at you — his face brightening with insight — and he says, "Gee, I never looked at it like that before!" Then he stops bothering his sibling for the rest of his life. That would certainly be nice, but any veteran parent or teacher knows that doesn't happen. Kids are not little adults.

The crucial point here is this: Grownups who want to believe the Little Adult Assumption are going to rely heavily on words and reasons in dealing with young kids. And words and reasons, by themselves, are going to be miserable failures much of the time. Sometimes explanations will have absolutely no impact at all. At other times adult attempts at enlightenment will take parent and child through what we call the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit Syndrome.


Excerpted from 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan, Dan Farrell. Copyright © 2010 ParentMagic, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ParentMagic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Third Editioni
Parenting: Not for the Faint of Heart!1
Part IStraight Thinking
1.Is It Magic?7
2.Stop Behavior and Start Behavior11
3.The Little Adult Assumption15
4.The Two Biggest Discipline Mistakes19
Part IIControlling Obnoxious Behavior
5.Counting Obnoxious Behavior25
6.Twenty Questions39
7.What to Do in Public55
8.Variations: Sibling Rivalry, Tantrums and Pouting63
9.The Kickoff Conversation67
Part IIINo Child Will Thank you
10.The Six Kinds of Testing and Manipulation73
11.Counting in Action87
12.More Serious Offenses97
Part IVEncouraging Good Behavior
13.7 Start Behavior Tactics111
14.Up and Out in the Morning127
15.Cleaning Rooms, Picking Up and Chores133
17.Homework and Practicing147
18.Bedtime and Nighttime Waking155
19.The Family Meeting167
20.When Do you Talk?173
Part VStrengthening your Relationship
21.Your Child's Self-Esteem179
23.Affection and Praise187
24.Real Magic: One-on-One Fun191
25.Active Listening197
26.Your New Life205

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"An excellent, workable, and supportive resource for parents and educators."  —Booklist

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1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, 2nd Edition 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
herebedragons on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great technique for disciplining children. I began using it when my son was about three, and it still works (although I don't have to use it very often now at all).
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Babysitter and a DayCare/Child Care Provider, this book was highly recommended...I cant wait to read it...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best plan I have seen yet. I disagree with the woman who gave it one star. The behaviors that the children repeat, repeat and did I mention repeat are not given any credit with this plan! My daughters have 2 different personalities and with one always feeling like she was in trouble this book helps her see herself and stop the behavior. I am also finally able to acknoweldge instances the other child can learn more self-control over whining and being a victim. I don't have to go on and on why, when truly an 81/2 yr. old is smart enough to know why I don't permit her controlling this household. I was finally able to end my guilty feelings and put into perspective/action that she is a child and NOT A LITTLE ADULT! This book is able to help you right away and this past weekend (even with somewhat tired children) has been the best, calmest, happiest weekend in years! My husband and I actually fininshed conversations and were'nt battling each other on the correct discipline of the children. It gave us back the power to control the household and the children a calmer home with no grey lines on acceptable behavior. And, even though a child threatened running away yesterday, by not reacting emotionally by nightime she was praising me and telling me she loved me (thank you 1-2-3 magic!). I have learned not to bring up the past and let us both move forward!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Childcare provider and mother of 3, I have found 1,2,3, Magic to be a God Send. At a point in my life where I was at the end of my rope with my middle child this book was recommended to me. Before 1,2,3, Magic there was so much yelling, tension, and stress. Our house was not happy. After a weekend of using 1,2,3, Magic, we had a happy house. A house where Mommy and Daddy weren't constantly disciplining and yelling. A house were more time could be devoted to positive behavior because 1,2,3, Magic does not allow nonsense behavior to escalate. The mehtod does not compormise the children because it is far less damaging for children to be sent for a 5 minute break than to be yelled at or eventually spanked all because they are testing limits. The method is in a sort a way for parents to control their anger and stress and not lead to yelling, etc. Adult authority is not compromised because children are treated as children, not little adults. This makes it easier for those 'old schoolers' to accept that children do not have to be spanked to have control over your home. After 6 months of using 1,2,3, Magic, I am happier, my home is happier and most importantly my children are happier.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have 3 kids under 5, while my youngest is too young for this book, my 2 older have been following the medthods for about 3 weeks. Before my friend suggested this book, I was at my wits end trying to deal with all 3 kids all day. It only took a few days to notice the difference in my boys. Yes they are still very active little boys, but their behavior is 180 degrees diffrent. I can even take them to the grocery store by myself now. The fighting between themselves has almost stopped completely. And I'm not spanking them! Some people say the 'no emotion' and 'no talking' is cruel, but you only enforce these rule when using the system, not for everyday life. I still talk to my kids and show my love for them, but I'm not loosing my temeper anymore and I don't feel like I'm talking and no one is listening.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was not impressed with this book at all. Although it does have a few great ground rules such as standing your ground and not giving in, it tells the reader to completely ignore your child's feelings. A lot of behavior stems from feelings and emotion and understandiung that is a much better clue to behavior.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a babysitter, and if I'd known about this book years ago, I would have been a better babysitter!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have a 9 year old boy. I am a single mother. I started using the 1 2 3 immediately and followed the "no emotion no talk" rule for discipling. Works like a charm. I'm also using a Rating system and a daily contract. In a matter of 24 hours my son and I are having the best relationship we've had in a couple years. He knows I mean business. And he wants to do good so he can get rewarded. It is so easy I cannot believe it, It also helps the parents! - I'm no longer exhausted andDr. Phelan validates all the worries you are feeling during parenting. Very personable and extremely funny! Easy to understand and relate to!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tom Phelan has indeed written a sensible, easy to read, discipline book that clearly explains his 1-2-3 Magic theory designed for parents of tots-gradeschoolers. As a veteran preschool teacher, many of the parents of my own students over the years have found success with Phelan's techniques. However, some conscientious but frustrated moms and dads admitted to me that they found themselves between a rock and a hard place as they reached '2 and 3 quarters', '2 and 7 eighth's', etc ...unable to change the behavior of their sometimes annoying, disrespectful, uncooperative kids. Not to worry...Although your career as a magician may fall short of your goal, you are not doomed to be labeled an ineffective disciplinarian. It has been my experience, both as a parent and teacher, that there is no one single discipline approach that works every time, for every kid in every family. Although I totally respect 'the count' in this book, I strongly encourage parents to seek out an assortment of strategies that for whatever reason might be a better fit at a particular moment, in respect to age, personalities and parenting style. If you have young kids (2's, 3's 4's,and 5's) who are literally driving you towards your wits' end with such things as their bad words, 'I hate you's', hitting, whining, parent deafness, tantrums, lying, 'gimmes', mealtime and bedtime refusals, I suggest checking out THE POCKET PARENT, a quick read A-Z guide, loaded with hundreds of fast answers and tips to try. The bite-sized pieces of information (called 'sanity savers') are written exclusively for preschool behavior and are based on a solid philosophy that maintains a real sense of concern for the needs and feelings of both children and their parents. I highly recommend both books for workable discipline options that parents (and preschooler teachers) can choose from while trying to remain sane in the process!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I use this book almost exclusively in my practice with families. Simple to implement, yet extremely effective.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was easy to read and the instructions clear and simple. I followed this book and used the program on my 7 and 10 year old daughters. At first it seemed they were in 'timeout' almost constantly then one day it just clicked. They have been well-behaved children, for the most part, ever since!