When you have a baby you are filled with the joy and possibilities. After a few years, that joy may be covered up by yelling, repetitive lectures and frustration. If you are a single parent this can seem overwhelming. There’s no partner to bounce discipline ideas off of or to simply take a break. Your are on full time. Although there are many parenting styles there doesn’t seem to be one technique to stop unwanted behavior. Well, that’s where 123 Magic! comes in.
I recently finished reading “1-2-3 Magic!” after hearing a grandmother say she was interested in starting this with her defiant grandson.
The author divides behavior into 2 basic categories; “Stop” behaviors (those caregivers want to stop) and “Start” behaviors (when we want the child to do something). For instance, we want them to stop whining but we want them to start picking up their toys. The “1-2-3” part is only for “stop” behaviors.
The basic premise is that a child is “counted” and have 2 chances to stop a particular behavior (except when a violation is too big to provide chances). When the child does not stop, they reach 3 and are thus provided a time-out or rest period (usually 1 minute per age of child). If there is no time for a time-out, or for some other reason it’s not able to be delivered then a time out alternative can be the consequence.
“Start” behaviors, says the author, are more difficult because they require a longer time period of sustained attention and focus. The book provides many struggles and examples of how structure, routine, incentives, praise and similar rewards/consequences can help a parent keep their cool.
What I like about 1-2-3 Magic
At it’s core this program provides a formula for parents to manage unwanted behavior. It’s simple, easy to teach and easy to learn and use. The discipline strategy gives the child multiple chances to correct their behavior. This is similar to “cue” and “actions” words that can help build executive functioning. See ADHD article for more.
It can be applied to schools, sitters or grandparents. With a simple “1”, a child stops pestering, badgering, whining and attacking a rule or boundary their caregiver has set. Another big plus to this book was starting with where the “magic” comes from – parents. Two basic rules dictate that parents do not lecture nor show emotion when triggered.
I’m a bit torn on this because I think it’s important to let our kids see how they affect us sometimes. However, if we’re playing a victim and not in control that can really scare a child. The author uses the metaphor of a child throwing a stone in the water over and over. They like to see the big splash – they like to see their effect on the world around them. So, when parents show emotional reaction, usually anger, the child’s brain gets rewarded – something like, “ooh, I made the parent get upset all by myself!”
Where 1-2-3 falls short
Once the book gets past using this formula for “Stop” behaviors, it becomes scattered with different tools for different situations. Many of which were valuable and I realize that there’s no one manual for parenting. Every situation, child and household is different. However, parents need straight-forward tools that can be used in a variety of situations.
Also, the program does not appear to be trauma-informed. When a child or parent has experienced trauma, they may feel anxiety, have symptoms of PTSD, or are simply easily affected by life stress. The book talked about locking doors to keep a child in time-out or other similar methods that could only increase anxiety and further harm a parent/child relationship.
The program has been around for some time so you should be able to check it out at your local library. There was mention of a DVD as well. It doesn’t hurt to check it out and talk with your partner about whether the “1-2-3” method is right for your child and family. It may just save you from some unpleasant public breakdowns!
However, if your child has experienced any traumatic event in their life that may be underlying their behavior, it may be better to explore more trauma-informed methods like Dan Siegel’s The Whole Brain Child.
Want more support? If you’re in the northern Colorado area take a moment to schedule a free consultation and we can talk about ongoing family therapy to support you, your child and your family.
Jeff A. VoVillia, MA
333 W. Drake Rd. Suite #14
Fort Collins, CO 80526