The Magic of 1,2,3
January 25, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink

There are very few books that are essential to raising children. An exception to that is Dr. Thomas Phelin’s 1,2,3 Magic.  This book on discipline is one that parents read, use, re-read, share and rely on. The basic premise is that children are little beings who need to be taught without shame, but with clarity and repetition – how to behave. In our talk-focused culture, parents often use too much language to teach children what is, and is not, appropriate. 1,2,3 Magic uses the universality of counting to abbreviate long “Charlie Brown’s teacher” lectures into clear, understandable limits.

Let’s say your toddler throws a block at you. An age appropriate behavior, nothing to be worried or angry about, but one that needs correction. Here’s an example of a very natural but not very effective way to teach your your toddler not to throw at you.

A mother says, “Oh no, honey, that’s not nice, gentle, gentle. It hurts mommy when you hit her, it makes mommy sad, ” while she takes his hand and shows him how to stroke her face.  How  is a 20 month old supposed to pull the main idea out of this intervention? What is gentle? Why is mommy sad? Throwing, patting? Chances are your toddler will not really understand this form of discipline. With 1,2,3 Magic, you repeatedly “count” behaviors you want to stop. “That’s one” means pay attention, you are doing something that is not ok. “That’s two” translates to here’s your chance to stop yourself. “That’s three” means here comes your consequence.

Instant replay on the block throwing toddler using this discipline technique. So, if you say “one..” with a raised inflection, take the blocks away. If he swats at you again, you say “two” firmly, and if he gets another block and throws, pick him up firmly but without anger and say “that’s three” and bring him into his room, maybe even putting him into his crib for a minute. He will get upset, of course, but there is a clear connection between throwing and the consequence.

Those of you with older children will also recognize the toddler you become when you let them get away with too much and then get angry. “I can’t believe you thew that at me, how many times do I have to tell you not to do that. No one is going to want to play with you if you behave that way!” Counting also protects your child from the anger, frustration and inappropriate things you (like us all) do when stressed. With this script,  it helps you not commit character assassination on your child.

Time after time, parents are amazed when they really use the technique. Kids understand and appreciate the clarity and neutral affect as they learn how to navigate their impulses and how to control them.

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