1-2-3 Magic: Review

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I recently read 1-2-3 Magic, by Thomas Phelan… I know, in the past I’ve talked negatively about mass cultivation of parenting books, mainly because over-reading tends to eliminate personal  authority and experience.  Why trust instincts when a book can tell you what to do? The truth is, sometimes parenting books can be helpful, specifically in reassuring parents and caregivers that what their child is doing is “normal.”

Children are constantly going through dramatic developmental changes, and often with these new and exciting shifts come earth-shattering tantrums. I have been going through this lately, and I must admit, sometimes reading a book can be helpful, mainly in reassuring me that the fits are normal and that the way I’m handling the tantrums is best for all involved.

1-2-3 Magic provides some helpful tips about discipline and motivation, 2 key factors when dealing with a tantrumy toddler.  We need discipline to make sure that during the tantrum phases we aren’t automatically giving into the irrational demands and poor behavior from out little ones.  And we need helpful motivation (for them) to make transitions easier.

What I like about 1-2-3 Magic:  It’s simple and honest, for example: “You’ll never like or get along with your children if they are constantly irritating you with behavior such as whining, arguing, teasing, badgering, tantrums, yelling and fighting.” (11) Here the author displays a simple and honest truth, which most parents don’t want to admit to, that is, it’s possible to not always like your children.  I want to insert here that the author rightly so differentiates between like and love, while you will always love your children despite their terrible behavior, you probably wont like them because of that same terrible behavior.

The counting of negative behavior is simple: Your 5 year-old  Jimmy is throwing a fit because you won’t give him chocolate, you say “1…” Jimmy continues, “2…” He’s still going “3, take 5(alone minutes)”

Promoting Start behavior is slightly more complex, only because there are many ways to see the process through.  You can chart, reward, time them, etc. I like that the author explains the difference between “stop” and “start” behaviors.  This is important because you don’t want to count your child, and negatively reinforce them when trying to get them to brush their teeth on their own.  That will only leave a bad taste in their mouth about brushing teeth (pun intended.)

What I don’t love about 1-2-3 Magic:  The author emphasises a no talk method while counting and even after the child has some minutes alone.  He explains that young children are not logical, reasonable people (true), and that by talking, and explaining details of why certain behavior is “bad” only leads to frustration for both parent and child.  The author thinks it’s best to keep quiet and not explain, simply count. I don’t like this because I think it’s important to *calmly* and *simply* explain why certain behaviors are wrong.  I have often had success by calming talking something out.

I think instead of simply eliminating communication parents and caregivers should be encouraged to both use a tactic like counting, coupled with a follow up explantation, i.e., “You had to take 5 because you hit me, and that hurts.”  The explanation should not be a monologue, it should be one simple, calm sentence.  I think children deserve to know what happened, and why they had a “timeout,” so communication is necessary. We don’t need talk to them like adults, but like people we respect, and whom we want to respect and communicate with us later in life.

One other thing that bothered me…. the author is heteronormative in his language and scenarios.  I’m probably, being overly PC, but it definitely stuck out to me, so if your someone who notices this type of behavior be warned, but also know that it doesn’t seem to affect the potential effectiveness of the 1-2-3 model. It’s just slightly disappointing.

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