1-2-3 Magic By Thomas W. Phelan, PhD

1 – 2 – 3 Magic
By Thomas W. Phelan, PhD. is a very popular discipline book for caregivers working with children ages 2 to 12.

The methods described in the book are easy to master and you can start the program right away. Dr. Phelan explains how to stop behaviors like whining, disrespect, tantrums, arguing, teasing, fighting, pouting, and yelling. He explains how to start behaviors like cleaning rooms, doing homework, practicing the piano, getting up and out in the morning, going to bed, eating supper, and being nice to other people.

The book advocates a form of discipline that keeps the adult in charge without arguing, yelling, or showing much emotion. Dr. Phelan’s basic approach is when children misbehave caregivers should count each infraction up to the number three. Once the caregiver reaches the number three the child receives a time-out or other predetermined consequence.


To start positive behavior caregivers use a choice of seven tactics. These tactics include: praise, simple requests, kitchen timers, the docking system, natural consequences, charting, and variations of the 1-2-3 system.

Basic Rules of 1-2-3 Magic:


Counting. The foundation of 1-2-3 Magic is in the counting until the number three. Once the caregiver reaches the number three the child either gets a time-out or other predetermined consequence. Adults say, “That’s one” for the first warning, “That’s two” for the second warning, and “That’s three.” Then, take five, for a rest period. According to Dr. Phelan, this approach usually will save caregivers frustration and keep the house calmer once this technique is instituted correctly.


Consistency. Both parents and all caregivers should all be on the same page whether you are home, have visitors, are in public or in the car.

Rest Period. The rest period is an interruption of the child’s activities and can take place in the child’s bedroom or other area that removes the child from the area where the behavior in question has occurred.


No-Talking and No-Emotion. Dr. Phelan explains that children are not little adults. Long speeches about how their behavior is right or wrong does not work with children. He notes that behaviors will be repeated more often if the caregiver expresses anger. The more emotion caregivers express the more the child will try to get that same reaction in the future. The best policy is to use the counting method and not talk or show any emotion during the counting stage or after a rest period if needed.
Dr. Phelan explains that kids will continuously test and manipulate their caregivers to avoid discipline and try to get what they want. Such manipulative behaviors do not mean that the child is good or bad. Children are manipulative because they are children. They live in the moment, will do anything to get what they want, and are self-centered simply because they are children – not because they are good or bad. Adults should be ready for this while using the 1-2-3 Magic method. Martyrdom, where the child makes the parent feel guilty, is very common.
You can purchase your own copy of the book by clicking links below:

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12


  1. The part that was most useful for me in this book was that it explained not to show emotion or talk too much to children when they need to be punished. We all instinctively act as our parents did and how we see others treat kids and I’m surronded by nanny friends that scold and yell, which is demoralizing for a child. Now if I need to punish I just say it calmly and let the punishment do it’s job. It’s true that we are mad about the behavior, not mad at the child. So better to let the punishment do it’s job and then move on and give the child the benefit of the doubt and just conitnue with our day. Does that make sense?Live in Nanny Sharon, Northern NJ

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