Behavioral Book Review: 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2–12

“The ability to delay gratification now for something better later is one foundation of book 2emotional intelligence” is one of my favorite sentences from 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2–12. This book is an excellent primer on the mindset of children and the rationale for this parenting strategy. The basic premise is that the parent has three jobs:

1. Controlling obnoxious behavior

2. Encouraging good behavior

3. Strengthening your relationship with your child

Jobs # 1 and 2 are subdivided into “stop” and “start” behaviors.  The “stop” behaviors (e.g whining, arguing, pouting etc…) are managed by counting—hence the title of the book.  The “start” behaviors (e.g bedtime, picking up, homework, etc…) are managed by a variety of other behavioral management strategies described in the book as well.

What makes this book strong is that it immerses the reader into both the mindset of a toddler and the parents during a behavioral management scenario. The chapter titled “Little Adult Assumption” was a great example of this depth: it helps the motivational aspect of this book.   When the parent understands the underlying motivations of their child and recognizes their own style, then they are truly deputized to change behavior.

One limitation of the book is that the format is not activity-specific like the “first-aid” style of Discipline without Shouting or Spanking: Practical Solutions to the Most Common Preschool Behavior Problems. 1-2-3 Magic needs to be read from the beginning and is a little hard to reference behavioral solutions for a specific activity despite the index.  Although masters of the technique probably have no problem applying 1-2-3 to a variety of behaviors, it might be difficult for first-time parents. The other major limitation of this book is that is starts at age 2. I think behavioral concerns start for many families anywhere from 12-18 months, before the book is applicable (“Discipline without Shouting or Spanking” starts at age 1 and is more useful for 1-2 year olds).

I speak for my father when saying that I think he would take umbrage with some points made in Chapter 18 (Going to Bed-and staying there!), however, I thought Chapter 23 (Kids, Tweens and Tech) was fairly balanced and thoughtful.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to any parent of a child over 2 years old.

-Daniel Weissbluth

Weissbluth Pediatrics


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