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Do You Believe in Magic?

1-2-3Magic-Book_T1, 2, 3 Magic … Really? Who would have believed that something so simple could have such an impact?

As an educator, I often think — how hard can it be to manage my own two children? After all, I’ve spent 14 years implementing a variety of positive behavior systems. I’ve made dozens of visual charts, elaborate goal sheets, and reward certificates. I’ve bought prizes, toys, trinkets, and stickers

I’ve also spent nine years as a parent trying the same techniques … all to no avail with my own children.

On a recent Saturday morning, in just a few short hours, my parenting eyes were opened. I heard a keynote presentation at the Parenting Matters conference (put on by Bradley Hospital) at Barrington High School by Dr. Thomas Phelan, the creator of “1, 2, 3, Magic,” an incredibly simplistic, easy to learn the system for effective discipline in children. Basically, this system gets control back into your life. The kids are no longer the ones in control, the parents are, and that is a really good feeling!

I was skeptical at first — All you have to do is count to 3?? It couldn’t be that easy …

”That’s 1.”

(Wait 5 seconds.)

“That’s 2.”

(Wait another 5 seconds.)

“That’s 3, take 5.”

Huh? That’s it? I know … I was thinking the same thing. How can it be that easy? My kids are never going to respond to the count of 3, nor go to timeout.

But I had to try.

I bought Dr. Phelan’s book and read the first 50 pages that same day. The next day, I had a family meeting with my 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. I explained how I would be counting 1-2-3 anytime they were behaving in a way they weren’t supposed to (the book calls them “Stop” behaviors because you want them to stop). If the child did not stop the behavior by the count of 3, he or she would be going to their room for a timeout.

My daughter had a few questions; my younger, very spirited son told me it was a “stupid book” and I shouldn’t read it. I smiled (he is lucky he is cute), but I was determined to try.

The next time my daughter talked back to me, I said, “That’s 1.” I didn’t yell (the book tells you not to, but that’s easier said than done). I didn’t threaten. I just said those two words.

She talked back to me again. “That’s 2.”

She did it again. “That’s 3, take 9.” (Nine minutes because she’s 9 years old.) She left and went to her room.

My son, having watched the whole thing, now knew Mom meant business. For the next two days — I’m not kidding you — he behaved like a new kid, a complete angel.

Are our discipline problems cured? Absolutely not. Since the initial rollout, my son has been counted many times. My daughter is also a repeat offender. But things are calming down, and I find I’m doing a lot less explaining, reasoning and yelling around the house. These days, I deliver a calm 1-2-3, and things quiet down a lot sooner than they used to.

Is it magic? No. But it’s making a difference in our house, and it might make a difference in your house, too. If you’re interested, you can find the series of books (one for parents, one for teachers and one for the kids) in our school library or here. Be sure to read the whole thing, because even though it sounds as easy as 1-2-3, it’s a little more involved than that. Your delivery, your emotional control and your non-disciplinary encounters with your children are also critically important (i.e., no more parental temper tantrums!).

If you have questions, or if you try 1-2-3 and have feedback, please feel free to share them with us. Especially if you discover a little magic in your house.


  1. REPLY
    Chris Alviar says

    Great first blog entry. And now that I know you are an expert LAX player – I think it’s time for a faculty vs parent scrimmage.

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