I often get asked my opinion on 1-2-3 Magic, a popular book and method of discipline. I have to say right out – I have not read the book itself, but I think I have a handle on the process and premise:
The method is to give your child a warning by counting up to three and if they don’t change their behaviour by the time you get to three, they are put in a time out. An example would be the child who won’t turn off the TV, so when they ignore you, you say "That’s ONE"…. "That’s TWO" and then finally "That’s Three – you are in a time out……. "
I believe that author was trying to address one of today’s big parenting problems: lack of parental follow through! Many parents simple flap their lips, hurl negative statements, fill the air with ineffective (and often toxic) comments. All to often parenting is reduces to tossing empty threats that the parents don’t take action on – AND the child knows it!
With the 1-2-3 method, I think the counting is MORE for the parents than for the child. (boy – when i get to 3 I am going to have to DO something!). And parents often turn to some huge punishment like spanking (which is absolutely WRONG) or something harsh like like "that’s it fella – you’ve blown it … No game boy all week" which parents are apt to forget or not enforce, and the child fears is punitive and hurtful.
So – the "time out" of 1-2-3 Magic is the alternative to these typical parenting practices that the author is endorsing.
The Problem Parents Report to Me
Parents tell me that what they like about using 1-2-3 magic is that they feel they are being more responsive. The trouble they report is that it is only good for getting children to STOP something (like turning off the TV) but it is not good at getting a child to initiate an activity. If you can’t get Johnny to put on his shoes to go to nursery school and you are late – its is only slowing you down MORE to put him in a time out!
My 2 Cents
I do agree we need to be consistent and follow through and not be punitive – but this is too simplistic an approach. Here are my concerns:
1. Parents who have trouble following through just elongate the counting anyways: "2…. 2 1/2…. 2 3/4….. "
I am not sure what is supposed to be happening during this time except stalling on both the part of the child and the parent. The child is not "thinking" about what will happen – they are stringing you along and you look foolish mom and dad.
I suggest you skip the counting and just offer a simple choice and then move along, as in "can you keep your hammer calm or do I need to take it away?" "I see you need help" (remove the hammer from the child). No counting needed…. choice and action is just fine.
2. Time out is not the only consequence
While I think a time out is much better than spanking or scolding – it is NOT the only parenting tool and it will be so over used. Each situation requires an evaluation of what the "Logical Consequence" should be. A logical consequence for not putting your clothes in the laundry hamper is that your laundry doesn’t get done. A logical consequence for getting down from the table is that your meal is over. If you don’t use the safety rules on our bike, your bike is no longer available for a day.
And watcha gonna do with those kids who won’t go to a time out anyway? 1-2-3 Magic won’t work for them either.
We are still focussing on symptoms and not addressing the root cause.
If we don’t learn about the underlying issues and address the child’s discouragement we are just putting bandages on, and another misbehavior is sure to sprout. A child who is being non-co-operative needs to be helped in finding ways of feeling connected and valued in the family.
We must win the the child’s co-operation and counting to three and putting them in a time out just isn’t going to make it in the long run…. sorry…. humans are just more complex than that.