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Parenting Book Review: 1-2-3 Magic

Effective Discipline for Children 2-12

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Parenting Book Review: 1-2-3 Magic

1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.

Photo courtesty of 1-2-3 Magic

By Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.; 212 pages

Bottom Line

If you’ve ever heard a parent say to a child who isn’t behaving “One…two…,” then you’ve probably heard of 1-2-3 Magic. There’s a good chance you might have even picked up on this method yourself, without ever actually even picking up the book.

1-2-3 Magic provides parents with an excellent guide to effective discipline strategies. It helps parents understand the basic types of discipline and offers a brief explanation for the underlying theories about why the program works. It offers a great overview to discipline while also providing information on how to target some of the most common behavior problems.

It also covers how to use the program throughout your child’s development, right through the tween years. While many programs lose effectiveness, 1-2-3 Magic can grow along with your child and be used for many years.

Book Contents

Part I: Thinking Straight
  • Chapter 1: Orientation to the Parenting Profession
  • Chapter 2: Your Three Parenting Jobs
  • Chapter 3: The Little Adult Assumption
  • Chapter 4: The Two Biggest Discipline Mistakes

Part II: Controlling Obnoxious Behavior (Job #1)
  • Chapter 5: Counting: Simple But Not Easy
  • Chapter 6: Frequently Asked Questions
  • Chapter 7: Out in Public
  • Chapter 8: Sibling Rivalry, Tantrums and Pouting

Part III: Managing Kids’ Testing and Manipulation
  • Chapter 10: The Six Types of Testing and Manipulation
  • Chapter 11: Counting in Action
  • Chapter 12: More Serious Offenses in Tweens

Part IV: Encouraging Good Behavior (Job #2)
  • Chapter 13: Establishing Positive Routines
  • Chapter 14: Up and Out in the Morning
  • Chapter 15: Cleaning Up and Chores
  • Chapter 16: Suppertime
  • Chapter 17: Homework
  • Chapter 18: Going to Bed- And Staying There

Part V: Strengthening Your Relationship with Your Children (Job #3)
  • Chapter 19: Sympathetic Listening
  • Chapter 20: Real Magic: One-on-One Fun
  • Chapter 21: When Can You Talk?
  • Chapter 22: Solving Problems Together
  • Chapter 23: Kids, Tween and Tech

Part VI: Enjoying Your New Family Life
  • Chapter 24: Staying on the Wagon
  • Chapter 25: Your New Life


  • The book starts out by helping parents recognize when to seek professional help for behavior problems.

  • It focuses on building a healthy relationship using positive attention.

  • The program helps parents keep their cool while disciplining.


  • In the real world, your boss won’t count to three as a warning.

  • It gives kids up to three chances to listen to you. Your child might learn not to do what you say the first time.

Guide Review

The premise of the book is based on a fairly simple concept. It encourages parents to give directions more effectively and to reduce the amount of arguing, nagging and pleading to get kids to be compliant. Kids are told to do something and if they don’t comply, parents start counting. If the child hasn’t complied by the time the parent reaches the number three, the child is given a negative consequence, such as time out.

Of course, when kids exhibit certain behavior, such as aggressive behavior, they aren’t given three opportunities to hit before they are given a time out. Instead, those behaviors result in an automatic time out. The program helps parents make consequences more effective while reducing manipulative behavior, such as whining and begging.

The program doesn’t just discourage negative behavior. Instead, it also encourages good behavior through the use of praise. It also promotes the use of natural consequences, in addition to time out. The program show parents how to use discipline to teach life skills, such as problem-solving skills.

Readers are encouraged to get all caregivers on board with the program. When a child has a behavior management plan that is consistent among caregivers and different environments, it is much more likely to be effective in changing behavior.

Overall, 1-2-3 Magic is likely to save parents lots of energy and increase the effectiveness of their discipline. It’s also likely to help kids learn new skills and to reduce a lot of behavior problems. It’s likely to be effective with many children with special needs, including kids with ADHD.

For parents who want even more information, the 1-2-3 Magic website offers many DVDs, books and resources for both parents and teachers.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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