How to use 1-2-3 magic discipline

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If you've ever heard a mother sternly counting to three when her child is misbehaving, you've witnessed the impact of "123 Magic" on today's parenting culture. Developed by psychologist Thomas Phelan, 123 Magic is all about being consistent with consequences and not getting all worked up when you put your child in time out.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Hold a family meeting to tell your child that you'll be using 123 Magic--if she or he is old enough to understand. The technique is appropriate for kids aged two through 12, but a two year old probably would not sit still through the meeting, let alone understand the concept. For older children, tell them that after they are warned, they will receive consequences for their behavior if they don't obey.

  2. 2

    Begin counting to three whenever your child misbehaves. Use a calm, firm, controlled voice as you say, "One ... two ... three."

  3. 3

    Put your child in time out if he has not stopped the inappropriate behavior by the time you reach "3." The actual expression Phelan uses is "One, two, three ... and take five." Time out should be in the child's room according to this parenting philosophy.

  4. 4

    Make time out last as many minutes as your child is years old. A four year old would have a four minute time out, while a seven year old's time out would be seven minutes. During this period, completely ignore your child. If she destroys her room, don't respond--and don't clean it later, either.

  5. 5

    Carry unwilling children into time out. If your child is a preteen who is too big to be carried, take away a possession or money if they don't choose to go into time out.

  6. 6

    Add a minute to time out each time your child attempts to escape. A five year old would have a seven minute time out if he tempted to leave time out twice.

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