1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan

9781492629887by Thomas Phelan
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This parenting book shows a discipline strategy of counting a child’s misbehaviors (Stop Behaviors, or things you want them to stop doing, such as hitting their sibling or throwing a tantrum) until you get to three and then giving the child a break (or timeout, if you prefer). You count without emotion, and without extra talking or explanations of why you’re counting or what the kid did wrong. The break time is supposed to get them to calm down, not be a punishment, per se, which is how they tend to get misused, he explains. The flip side to this is Start Behaviors, or times when you want the kid to start doing something (putting on their shoes, doing their homework), and he offers some tactics for that, but specifically you are NOT supposed to do the counting for Start behaviors.

I read this for a (short-lived) childcare job at the suggestion of the parents who were already using it, so some of the information on how to introduce it to your child didn’t apply, but it was still well laid out and well explained. I also appreciated that they didn’t just go through the best case scenario but also potential unexpected responses from the child. He also shows three different ways to handle the same situation (one bad, one better, and one best), which was helpful for clarifying. One situation he didn’t go much into, but which would have been helpful in my situation, was actually how to handle more than one child at once, especially more than one behavioral situation at once.

A few caveats: I came into a pandemic confinement situation, which exacerbated all of the behavior issues, plus this family of 3 kids was on the verge of adding #4, among other challenges, so there was a lottttt going on. I also think I overdid it on the discipline side and did not have enough positive experiences with the kids to balance it out (Phelan does talk about the importance of creating bonding times with your kids, which I didn’t really get to do).

I will say that once or twice, when I was able to count without emotion and just walk away (which is SO HARD!), it worked exactly like the book said (“Whyyyyy?…. Aw, man” and stopped). I have a feeling that with enough repetition and in a different situation, this might have worked really well. It requires a LOT of work and self-control on the adults’ part, depending on how short a fuse you have (mine is pretty short, apparently!).

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