What’s Wrong with 1, 2, 3…Magic?
I’ve spoken to a surprising number of parents lately who have tried the parenting technique from the book 1, 2, 3…Magic!
These parents spoke in a disheartened, frustrated tone. “We tried 1, 2, 3…Magic and it just didn’t work for us.”
I have used this technique myself because the book was given to me by one of my supervisors at my social work field placement back in 2008.
This is the book they gave to all the young moms who needed help with parenting.
The basic premise is this: kids need to know the rules and need to know what to expect when they break the rules. They need consistent boundaries and predictable consequences. The predictable consequence, in this case, is a time-out. The “time” is calculated as one minute per year of the child’s age (so a 3-year-old would get a 3-minute time out and an 8-year-old would get an 8-minute time out.)
The “1… 2… 3” are the warnings the child receives before being put in a time-out.
The parent is instructed to do this in a calm, emotionally neutral way. All business. Matter-of-fact. And the child is supposed to learn that if they “misbehave,” there will be the same consequence every time.
Let’s unpack what’s wrong with this approach.
While I appreciate the attempt to modernize the “I’m going to count to three” approach that many of us were raised with (often having no idea what would happen when mom got to “3” – often nothing, but sometimes something much worse than a time-out), 1, 2, 3…Magic is still, at its core, a punishment technique.
Isolating a child when they misbehave is punishment.
Yes, we all need time to “cool down” or “take a break,” but making a child sit apart from you when they are upset and dysregulated (which is what’s really going on underneath their behavior) is counter-productive.
Young children cannot “calm down” without the support of a calm, well-regulated adult.
Sending a child AWAY in these moments of upset just further activates their nervous system’s stress response. It teaches them that the adults are not there for them when they most need support.
When my daughter was a toddler and I was trying to use this approach with her, I felt like I just wasn’t “doing it right.” (There must be something wrong with ME.)
One day we were in the grocery store and my daughter was misbehaving in the cart. (I can’t even remember what she was doing – probably trying to grab stuff off the shelves.) I pushed the cart over to a corner of the store, took a few steps away from the cart, and stood there with my back to my screaming child…just like the book said to do.
I held back my own tears of shame and embarrassment as other shoppers walked past and glared at me. I remember someone commenting “Is your daughter ok?” – while visibly judging me for having my back to my crying child – and all I could think was, “I’m following an approach! Can’t they see that I’m trying to do it right?! Haven’t they read the book?!”
(If I felt this bad…imagine how my daughter was feeling!)
I did not know that my daughter was having a hard time, not giving me a hard time.
I did not know that she needed my help to calm down.
I did not know at the time that she is a highly sensitive person who was, more than likely, feeling extremely overwhelmed and over-stimulated in that grocery store that day
I did not know that I was literally turning my back on her when she needed me to support her.
Luckily, when you know better, you do better.
It was not long after the grocery store incident that I started to learn about the developing brain, how the brain and the nervous system influence children’s behavior, and how to use certain skills and tools to foster emotional regulation in adults (first!) and children.
I stopped using any form of punishment or consequences…(yes, you CAN raise kind, respectful, autonomous, happy children without ever doling out a consequence!)
Want to learn how?
Check out my mini-course, How to Manage Difficult Toddler and Preschooler Behaviors without Resorting to Bribery or Punishment!
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