Friday, January 25, 2008

Book Review: 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for 2-12 year olds

[This post is written by mummyjaan]

Hi, all, Desi Mommies.

January is nearly over, but Slowpoke Mummyjaan has finally had a chance to contribute to this months' theme. This handy little manual is one I like very much, and had wanted to write my review on it for some time. Many of you may be familiar with it - those who aren't might find it very useful. Here it is:

This is a highly successful book on parenting written by a clinical psychologist. It's a short and sweet book, under 200 pages and very easy to read. I was able to go through most of it in the course of a day, in between my various household chores.

The success of the 'program', (as the author calls it) is obvious from the book's cover: "875,000 copies sold", it screams. It also carries the testimonials of parents, teachers, counsellors, psychologists. All are unanimous in their praise of the effectiveness of the techniques that the book talks about.

I first came across this book about 2 years ago. I was working with a consultant who routinely saw children with behavioural problems and he would lend this book - and other similar books - to the parents. One of his assistants did a presentation about this book and the principles it advocates. It was attended by more than just the Paediatric Department - many nurses and office staff were curious to listen to it because they are all parents once they finish work and go home.

So I had read the book before Apya was even 2. She was too young then for me to apply any of this 'wisdom' - the key to dealing with younger children is being in tune with their wants and needs and being experts at distraction. However, as she grew up and became more vocal, more manipulative, more ... uh... more 'everything' and altogether too much to handle, I went back to this book to see what it could do for me. I haven't been disappointed.

With 4-year-old Apya, who has an extremely short attention span, but who can be singularly focussed on something she wants, I find the 1-2-3 counting-followed-by-time-out system highly effective. Apya has never had typical 'tantrums' - save an occasional one now and then. However, she is a whiner par excellence. She can repeat her request dozens of times until I stop what I am doing to give her what she wants. It is with this type of behaviour that the 1-2-3 tactic has been most helpful for me. I explain that she can't have what she's asking for because (insert fair and justified reason) and then I start 'counting' her. It has averted 70 percent of the headaches for me. (The other 30 % I'm working on....)

How does 1-2-3 Magic Work?

The book is divided into 3 sections:

Section 1 deals with techniques to stop 'obnoxious behaviour';
Section 2 offers tips to help youngsters develop healthy habits,
and Section 3 talks about building a loving, trusting relationship with your offspring.

In the introductory chapters, Dr. Phelan sets out explaining a few theories on which the rest of the book is based. The first thing he does is debunk the 'Little Adult' assumption. He argues that:

1. Children are not as reasonable as we expect them to be. Certainly not when we most want them to be.

2. They have short attention spans.

3. Which is why, arguments and explanations don't work. In fact, arguing with a child is a sure-fire way to lose!

And the most important concept:

4. The 'No-talking, no-emotion' rule.

No. 4. is, the author claims, the real secret behind the success of 1-2-3 Magic. Children apparently love the feeling of power that they get from seeing you riled up, and when they see that their bad behaviour is not in fact driving you up the wall and you are still in control, they check their bad behaviour quickly.

In a way, 1-2-3 Magic is a technique for the parent to keep his or her cool when faced with a child's disobedience or challenging behaviour. The author devotes a whole chapter to describing the half a dozen ways in which children try to get what they want (something the cruel parents are denying) and this is indeed a valuable read. The author calls these 'testing and manipulation tactics'.

I have not needed to apply the advice in Section 2 yet, but I think I will use the kitchen-timer idea (another favourite of parents) for some 'Start' behaviours of Apya's that are getting a bit difficult (preparing for bedtime, especially, always a big challenge in our house).

The book is simply written, and does not bore you with lots of theoretical stuff. Instead, the author uses common everyday scenarios to demonstrate the 1-2-3 'technique'. There are simple diagrams and summary boxes throughout, emphasizing the core points. All written in a pleasant, humorous way.

Overall, if you are a parent of a child over 3, you will find this book highly valuable, even if your child is easy to manage. There is nothing really 'magical' about it - time-outs are an age-old technique of successful, in-control, sensible parents. The only 'magic' about it is that as one parent claims, "Guess what, folks? It works!"


Dhivya said...

hey good idea.i am a new blogger plz do see my blog and encourage me

Asha said...

Sounds like a great book MJ. I agree with "who is in control" situation. Some parents try to be overly friendly with their kids, which is so wrong!

indosungod said...

What I hear about the book seems all good, let me see if I can find a copy!

mummyjaan said...

Hi, Divya. Clicked on your profile but your blog didn't show up.

Asha, I have been guilty of being 'too friendly' with my rascal - she took advantage of it, as any self-respecting child would. I now realize that even a young child feels *more secure* if the parent doesn't give in to every demand. It's very important, as you say, to be 'in charge'.

Indosungod, you can get it on Amazon. The picture I uploaded links to it. I'm sure any library would also have it.

scribblermom said...


It sounds like a great book... i wish to find a copy of it...

btw i am a new mommy blogger.. check out my blogs at

Five Spices said...

Hi, Thank you so much for this useful information. I will read this book and let you know.

Ashwani said...

Two important concepts simplifies all the discipline which becomes implied as the little one get practice of.

First is the patience required to teach the little ones from the early age of as little as 3 months.

Second one is the concept of learning curve. You may understand it for yourself but you do need it for the patience (stated above), but the understanding is needed for the little one - what sort of learning curve the little one needs to learn anything and do you have the enough patience to teach.

Once these two concepts are completely comprehended, the whole personality building up from 3 months onwards becomes a game for the little ones and the parents too.

I have brought up two of mine, my mind is full of reminiscences of so many episodes, without ever referring to any of the books written on the subject. I am proud of the what they are up to now - elder one is half way through MD, while the younger one is about to complete Master from UCSD; with all the values they learned and acquired along the growth time line.

Divya said...

I just came across this blog and chanced upon this post.Wish I had seen this earlier! Though Im a little late, I must say this....I've read this book and I swear by this system of discipline....I have tried the same with my four year old! It a charm!!