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Parenting 101: Discipline, Part 2

Last week in the article "Parenting 101: Discipline Part 1," we discussed the foundation for parents to create an effective discipline plan. Today, we will discuss the implementation plan of a parenting technique known as “1-2-3 Magic" based on the work of psychologist Thomas W Phelan. It is intended for the parenting of children ages 2-12 years old. This method is best used for “stop” behaviors, such as tantrums, arguing, yelling, whining, and/or teasing. 1-2-3 is based on a counting system used to stop behaviors. It should be done as the following:

  • 1 is the first warning,
  • 2 is the second warning,
  • and 3 is the consequence.

It is important for parents to wait approximately 5 seconds between counting. This allows the opportunity for the child to correct his or her behavior.

Choosing Consequences: Remember to acknowledge your child’s age and developmental level when applying 1-2-3 Magic. For example, older children may have the choice between consequences, such as having a time-out or losing a privilege. If the child does not pick one, the parent may choose for the child. Consequences must be clear, concise, and specific. Listed below are some examples of possible consequences and tips for implementing them.


  • The time-out should be approximately 1 minute for every year of the child’s age. For example, a 5 year old should have a 5 minute time-out, while a 3 year old should have a 3 minute time-out.
  • Younger children should be escorted to time-out without showing emotion or speaking
  • Technology such as smartphones, television, video games, etc. should not be accessible while the child is in time-out
  • The location of the time-out should be in a different room than where the parent will be (remember, children look for emotional reactivity in their parents, so by being separated children are not granted that power)
  • If the child wrecks or destroys the room during a time-out, it is important as a parent not to react. Simply let the child live in that space. After a few peaceful days, the parent may go and clean the room if necessary.
  • If the child is 4 years old or older, the time-out begins after the child’s temper tantrum is over.

Loss of privilege:

  • When choosing the loss of a privilege, it is important for the child to lose something meaningful. It will have no effect, for example, if a parent takes away a toy the child no longer plays with.
  • Some examples may include: Loss of going to a friend’s house, or the loss of time on electronics, such as the television, iPad, or video game consoles

In situations in which a child continues to have a temper tantrum and/or refuses to calm down, parents may “reverse” the timeout by simply walking out of the room.

For children who tend to try and test their parents when first starting 1-2-3 Magic, most will become compliant within 7-10 days. As a reminder, it is important for parents not to express too much emotion and not to talk too much during discipline.

Over time, the family will adapt to this new system. Parents may want to consider that when things go well in the family, they may “slip off” the wagon of parenting. It’s vital to stay consistent in parenting, even during long spans of time when things are going well.

One final tip to remember is that discipline is less about trying to “punish” a child or make the child feel bad, and more about teaching the child the difference between good behavior and bad behavior. As parents, it is important to prepare your child to be a functional adult in the real world where there are real consequences based on the choices being made.

There may be times when, as a parent, you could use extra support. If you feel that you would like to begin therapy to further explore parenting options or caregiver stress, please contact us at Hilber Psychological Services to set up an appointment. If you have any general questions about therapy, you can visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.