1-2-3 Magic for Christian Parents: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 Paperback – Oct 1 2011
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About the Author
Dr. Thomas W. Phelan is an internationally renowned expert, author, and lecturer on child discipline and Attention Deficit Disorder. A registered Ph.D. clinical psychologist, he appears frequently on radio and TV. Dr. Phelan practices and works in the western suburbs of Chicago.
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I was an abused kid. It has taken years for me to be able to admit this. I wasn't spanked often. I was hit in the face. I was thrown against a wall and grabbed by the throat. This didn't happen lots mind you, it was random. I have happy memories of my dad. And terrible ones. The terror filled moments are rare. I can count them on one hand. But they are vivid. The psychological torment wasn't constant either. But it happened more often than I would like to admit.
I rediscovered the teachings of my Catholic faith about 6 years ago, and committed myself to Christ and what I believe to be his Church. (Please don't attack me here... this is just a review of a good book). My father was a liberal who had no faith, who used drugs and wrote bad poetry and didn't work as was bad tempered. My mom's Catholic faith presented many many answers to the questions I was having.
The reason I bring this up is that, like most of you may know, the Catholic Church has teachings on contraception that my wife and I took seriously as we became deeply committed Catholic Christians.
As we started having children (the logical outgrowth of Catholic marriage) I knew enough to keep a close eye on myself. I read the conservative Catholic books on the topic of discipline because I heard these authors on EWTN. People whom I still love and respect, like Steve Wood and Ray Guarendi, advocated and endorsed spanking for certain misbehaviors, as they contended that both Scripture and Tradition supported that stance. In fact, they seemed to imply, there was something wrong with those who didn't spank.
Spanking tore me up inside. I felt like puking. I cried. It brought back horrible memories. I knew enough to know that I had to get help. I got therapy.
My therapist was great... but was a conservative Catholic, like me... I wouldn't go to a guy who would look at me like I was crazy because I rejected artificial contraception. I found a good and faithful Catholic therapist. In between marathon session about my anxiety and my childhood (which were SO helpful... really.. I owe that guy my life) he tried to reassure me about spanking. "Have you read Steve Wood?" he asked... "yes... yes... of course" my answer. "You can't equate a spanking with being thrown against a wall and beaten. You are not your father." "Yes, yes... of course" was my answer. I didn't feel it though. That part about spanking is the only part of my therapy that didn't help.
Spanking wasn't working. For my oldest daughter, it worked great. I only ever spanked her once or twice in her life, and that was enough. My son (who is our middle child) was a different story. The spankings were not decreasing in frequency. It wasn't working. I was an emotional and spiritual wreck.
My youngest daughter... the third... was just plain too happy to take any discipline seriously. I am not kidding. She laughed through time outs. Laughed one minute after a spanking. Smiled and kissed us and kept doing whatever she was doing. She is the happiest kid I have ever seen... and she just didn't care about our consequences.
Our children were never out of control, were relatively well behaved, and were very respectful. Overall they were happy. But I was not. I just knew in my heart that my children were not getting the dad they deserved. The dad I never had.
I prayed about it and asked God to send me a faithful answer that would help me be a better husband and father. This is part of the prayer I pray every night. "Please Lord, help me be the father and husband you made me to be."
I found this book while browsing on my Kindle and bought it. I read it and after getting through about 10% of it thought to myself "this is garbage." I had read criticisms of "counting" before, and I was upset by the tone of the book. For the first 10% or more of the text you really don't learn anything at all. It is an anti-spanking tirade. I got through it with effort. I was open to what this book had to say. That is why I bought it. The first 10% or so is just overkill. Still, even with this weakness, the book is so life transforming that I have to give it five stars.
FINALLY, I got to the system, and I found it intriguing. I began trying it out. I sat my kids down and met with them and explained the system and said "I don't like spanking, and neither do you. I don't think it is working. It is making me unhappy and you unhappy. Mommy and Daddy are going to do something different."
I let my wife know what I was reading and said that I wanted her to try it; that I thought we should do this together. She happily agreed.
So began our journey about three weeks ago. The transformation has been amazing. The kids are listening better than before by a long shot, and my blood-pressure goes up MUCH less frequently. Emotionally, I am SO MUCH happier I can't even tell you. I feel healthy, and hole as a parent for the first time in a long time. I have been working on this for years. My oldest is now six, my youngest two (we have three). This system just plain works! It works better than spanking. My youngest is actually listening!! It is AMAZING. (Once you slog past that first 10% of the book).
My children are so happy. Just tonight we were out for our nightly walk and my oldest turned to me and said "I am so happy there are no spankings anymore. You don't yell as much either." She said this matter of factly. I was so happy I nearly cried. It is working. Therapy, this book, and constant effort and prayer are paying off.
Please... buy this book. I will never be one of those extremists who equates spanking with child abuse. That is offensive. I know what first hand child abuse really is. If all I ever had to endure as a kid was an occasional spanking I would be grateful beyond measure. Dr. Ray Guarendi and Steve Wood and Dr. Dobson all make great points. Please.... I am not an extremist. Go see the reviews of these authors books and you will find anti-spanking extremists who never read their work giving them one star reviews. It is terrible. Spanking is NOT child abuse.
But this system works way better for me and my family. For my family it has been life transforming. Because of my family background, it has given me my life back.
In closing I thank God for professional psychologists who have a deep and abiding faith in God, like the author of this book, and my therapist, and so many others who seek to make sure that the Body of Christ is whole mentally and spiritually. What a gift, and what a vocation.
I AM saying that this system WORKS, and for me, it has given me my life back. With my background, spanking was destroying me. This book allows me to retain my parental authority without raking me with guilt and pain.
That is worth five stars any day.
I wanted to add this addenda now that I have been living with this system for some time. I recently read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right and I learned something of use when implementing 123 magic.
I suggest coming up with a simple "discipline checklist" based on this system. Print it out and post it in the parts of your house where you most often interact with the kids. Whenever you are faced with a behavior you need to stop, run the checklist based on 123 Magic.
This has been an essential piece of staying on track for me. Old habits die hard, and kids LOVE to test, especially when you are trying something new. They will push hard to get you back into your old habits. They are like routine sponges, getting into groves and staying there, and resisting any attempt to switch tactics. We as adults are the same way.
My advice is to create a checklist based on this system and run it. If after a week you think it needs tweaking, go back and tweak the checklist and rehang it. The key here is to have (and force yourself to use) the checklist for consistency. It also helps to reread sections of the book when your feel yourself being pulled off track.
The one problem with how the book is written is that it a) is repetitive, b) begins with a tirade that doesn't teach you much, and c) when you get to the system is not structured as logically and sequentially as I would like. It is still a five star book, but the reader can go a long way to making up for these shortcomings by creating a good checklist.
For me there are two key points: (1) 1-2-3 Magic is counting to 3 without emotion as the child does one, then two and then three things against the rules or does not stop breaking one rule. The key is no emotion. (2) The second key is to not lecture or reason with the child. Stop talking and just calmly give them a time out.
The book is worth buying and reading although I have shared these two critical steps because the authors provide a lot of other insights.
Every parent should read this book. It will be one of the best $10 investments you will ever make.
Before you start, KNOW what is going to be the result when you get to 3. Think through how you will handle a 3 when the child is doing homework... when you are at a sporting event... when you are on the freeway...when you are at your inlaws' place... when you are in a restaurant...