1-2-3: It really is Magic!

My kids are wild! I feel like I have seen it all from them, and my oldest is not even four. We’ve dealt with the hitting, pushing, biting, screaming like every other toddler/preschool mom. My kids aren’t any worse than other kids, but they are intense sometimes, even relentless.

When my son was two and a half, I was about to lose my mind. We had just moved back to the States, he wasn’t in preschool yet and the pushing and hitting was completely out of control. I would get so worked up I could hear the blood pulsing in my ears. Sometimes I was sure my head would explode! A neighbor recommended the book 1-2-3 Magic by Dr. Thomas Phelan. I bought it and read it within an evening since I was desperate for some change and peace in our house. Within two days, it had worked it’s magic! Not just on him but on me.

I will recommend if you want to do this, you really should get your hands on the actual book. He has some very sound advice and recommendations for following through. He even gives you various scenarios to use it, including just plain whining from a child. But here is the gist of it. You explain to your child first that he will have, basically, two chances to stop doing what he’s doing. By the time you get to number 3, there will be a consequence. You have to be pretty ready to follow through on your threat immediately. I used to give Alex ample room in the beginning like:

Mom: Leave that toy in the car.
Alex: No
Mom: Leave that toy in the car or we’re not going to [fill in blank].
Alex: No
Mom: That’s 1
Alex: No
Mom: That’s 2
Alex: Ok, fine.

So really, he’s had more than two chances once I explained it to him what was going to happen. But as we progressed with this method, I would barely get to 1 before he would figure out it was just not worth fighting it. Sometimes, getting to ‘3’ meant a time out. Sometimes it meant the toy disappeared. Sometimes it meant no TV, music or something related. Sometimes it meant we had to go home or do something else.

Beyond the counting method, is Dr. Phelan’s discussion of lecturing to children as part of the discipline process. I used to go on and on with my son telling him why he shouldn’t do this and that. The author’s point is for a two-year old, beyond the first few words is completely lost. They are kids! And to them hear “don’t do this . . . blah, blah, blah, blah.” So why waste our energy and breath on a lecturing a two or three-year old.

Using this method was never perfect. But 99 percent of the time it worked. One of the fundamental things to doing this is mom has to keep her cool. This is extremely hard for me because I am a very impatient person. But it actually helps me separate myself from the situation. If I’m calm, they are calm. And if in the end he throws a fit anyway, I don’t care as much since I didn’t invest the energy in getting worked up.

Ss a side note, this does not work its magic quite as well with my daughter. I have no idea why. But it just doesn’t. My ROI with her is about 80 percent. Still pretty good odds, just not as effective. Perhaps I need to go back and reread the book with her in mind.

But if you’re looking for a new discipline routine—besides timeouts, screaming, or lecturing—this will leave you less stressed at the end, you might give this book a read (or even a scan). You can get the bulk of it from a quick read.

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