1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12

There’s a joke about the things we say we’ll never do before we became parents. I always said I’d never count to three with my kids. I saw parents doing it, but it never seemed to work. So when Fernanda from Raincoast Books sent me Thomas W. Phelan’s book 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, I was dubious. It took me quite a while to pick up the book, but I finally decided I should give it a try. I’m so glad I did.

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Dr. Thomas W. PhelanBefore he explains counting, Dr. Phelan spends several chapters talking about common parenting misconceptions. The biggest is treating kids like little adults and expecting to be able to reason with them. He quoted that famous saying that “childhood is a period of temporary psychosis.” We, the parents, are the adults and we are responsible to train our children.

Next, he talks about two big discipline mistakes: too much talking and too much emotion. I’m totally guilty of that. He said these two usually create a “parental temper tentrum” that puts the kid in control. I could immediately think of a time when I noticed that Sunshine seemed to be enjoying the lecture she was getting about the way she’d treated her sister. That attempt to discipline wasn’t working, because she knew she was in control and getting the attention she wanted.

With the groundwork laid out, Dr. Phelan explains how 1-2-3 works. I realized in reading his rules that the parents I’d seen using this technique weren’t using it properly. It seems simple, but it’s still hard to do. Yet when it’s done right, it works. I saw immediate results with my daughters when I began using it (thankfully, my girls seemed to fall into the “immediate co-operation” category, rather than “immediate testing”).

I have rarely had to count my daughters past 1. Usually, as soon as I say “that’s 1,” Sunshine (for she’s the one getting counted most) stops what she’s doing. She knows I’m serious. The first time I counted to two was when we were in Mass and I was using my fingers to count her; I don’t think she realized I was counting her until I held up two fingers, and then she immediately stopped. Score! A system that allows me to discipline in Mass without anyone else noticing is a win in my mind.

The funny part is that often when I say to Sunshine or Lily, “That’s one,” Jade pipes up to say “That’s two!” She likes counting. However, I’ve also counted her (only a couple times) and she understands the idea (because she’s seen me count her older sisters so many times). She has also stopped misbehaving with just “That’s one.”

So far, I’ve been working mostly on “stop behaviour” with the girls (whining, talking to me when I’m on the phone, pestering me about something, fighting with each other, etc). The second half of the book is dedicated to “start behaviour,” or how to motivate kids to start doing things like chores and homework. I’m considering how to implement some of Dr. Phelan’s ideas but I like what he suggests there too.

1-2-3 Magic includes “Quik Tips” every couple of pages, plus a handy “Chapter Summary” that gives the key points. There are also “Real Life Stories” (in comic book form!) throughout the book, to give you an idea how other parents have implemented and found success with this strategy. The end of the book includes an Appendix with further readings.

Of course, it’s best if both parents are in on any discipline strategy. Because I was dubious about the system at first, I didn’t tell my husband about it until I’d been trying it for about a week. Then, when I saw it was working, I said, “You gotta read this book.” He asked me to give him the shortened condensed version. I tried to explain the main ideas. Then I remembered that Dr. Phelan had mentioned a DVD, so I looked that up at the library. We spent an evening watching it together, which was a good refresher for me. Plus, Dr. Phelan has a good sense of humour so there was plenty of laughter about kids and parenting throughout the DVD.

I’ve read quite a few parenting books over the past 8 years and I gotta say, I really like 1-2-3 Magic. Dr. Phelan knows what it’s like to be a parent (he shares his own ups and down in using this system with his kids) and what kids are like. He talks about how a good discipline system helps kids behave so that families can spend more time having fun together and less time fighting or disciplining. I don’t want my kids to remember that I always yelled at them because I was frustrated that they weren’t listening or that I had to explain something again; I want them to remember that we had fun together.

If you’re looking for an effective discipline system to use with your children, I heartily recommend 1-2-3 Magic. Dr. Phelan’s system is working for our family and I’m sure it can help yours too.

I received this book for review courtesy of Raincoast Books; all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Show Comments


  1. Alison January 23, 2016
  2. Lisa Marie January 23, 2016

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.