1-2-3 Magic – Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 – Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.

My house gets a little crazy at times. With four strong-willed children, I can go nuts in about thirty seconds flat. Reading “1-2-3 Magic” by Thomas W. Phelan has given me some new direction, and even some new hope, in disciplining my children.

I confess I tend to be a lecturer. When one of my children misbehaves, I think if I explain to them why their action was inappropriate, they’ll understand and want to do better. Dr. Phelan explains why this isn’t true. Children aren’t fully able to grasp the implications of their actions, and even when it’s explained to them, they’re hearing a lot of static without understanding the words. He says that the biggest mistake parents make in raising children is their belief that children are just small adults. He sets out to debunk this myth, telling us that while children are young, they must be shown, not told, the consequences of their actions.

I confess I sometimes rage, too. I get frustrated and I say things like, “I told you twelve times not to do that. Why do we have this conversation every single day?” And of course, the more I talk, the more frustrated I get. This book showed me how my actions aren’t going to solve a single solitary thing.

So how does this “magical” system work? Say Jr. is starting to act up. You calmly say, “That’s one.” If he continues, you say, “That’s two.” If he doesn’t end his behavior, you put him in time out. (And how do you do that without feeling like you’re caging a tiger? The book tells you how!) If you are consistent, soon all you’ll have to say is “That’s one,” and the behavior will stop.

I’ve tried counting to three before. In fact, I’ve done it most of my children’s lives. But why hasn’t it worked for me? Because I talk too much and I show too much emotion. This is me:

Me: That’s one.
Me: Now, I told you, that’s one. You need to listen or you’ll go to your room. No, we aren’t going to hit! I said no. Okay, that’s two.
Me: (wiping tears of frustration from my eyes) Okay, now I’ve really had it. You’re in for it now, buster. Go to your room! Now, get!

I have the best intentions in the world, and I just can’t understand why my children don’t get that I’m acting in their best interest. So I allow my emotions to take over. With the 1-2-3 method outlined in the book, emotions don’t come into it. You’re not getting overly upset, and you’re also not getting overly angry, which I think is fabulous in this day and age where child abuse is so prevalent.

I only finished the book this morning, but I have been using the 1-2-3 method since I started reading. Can I just say, it really does work. The keys are parental unity, parental consistency, and parental willingness to see it through. My house is calmer and quieter, I’m calmer and quieter, and now that I’ve read the last page and learned all the tools, I’ll be going whole hog. I can’t wait to regain control of the atmosphere in my home.

(This book was published in 1995 by Child Management Inc.)

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