Book Review: 1-2-3 Magic

Updated: Oct 12


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Time is our most precious commodity, especially as a parent. Pathfinder’s book series aims to summarize the latest parenting and child development books to provide useable tips for busy parents.


These reviews can help you decide whether adding it to your reading list fits with life’s competing demands. Besides, we read it so you don’t have to!


1-2-3 Magic is a book that we frequently recommend to parents, specifically those who want advice about managing behaviors in 2 to 12-year-old children.


The book provides a conceptual model of parenting centered around three main tasks; controlling bad behaviors, encouraging good behaviors, and strengthening relationships with your child.


The title of the book comes from its key concept--stopping unwanted behaviors while controlling your own emotions. Children respond to parental emotions which can complicate efforts to change behavior.


By removing emotion from the equation, you are simplifying the task for both you and your child.


Applying the Pathfinder PROE model of child development:

The key components of most well-known child development theories can be placed into one (or more) of four main concepts, Play, Relationships, Observation, and Experiences, that we call the PROE model of child development.


Pathfinder Health takes an active approach to child development and the PROE model of child development is based on action-oriented concepts. Several PROE concepts can be found throughout this book.


The 1-2-3 Magic Strategy:

Effective parents often have two important qualities; warm and friendly at times while demanding and firm at other times. The situation often dictates the predominant quality at the time.


The book highlights three important aspects of parenting; controlling obnoxious behavior, encouraging good behavior, and strengthening your relationship with your child. The methods described in the book are specific and meant to be implemented consistently.


Controlling obnoxious behavior.

The two biggest discipline mistakes parents make according to the author are too much talking and too much emotion.



Observation is a key component of the book. Children learn constantly through observation. Observing how a parent responds to a child’s behavior is just one way in which observation affects development.


Through the power of observation, a child learns what is permissible and what is not. It is how they learn about the social constructs around them.


Your response to unwanted behaviors is an amazing time to model desired behaviors.


A key component of 1-2-3 Magic is to remove your own emotion from the situation and respond in a calm, controlled manner. Your child will observe this and possibly learn to emulate it.


Prior to implementing 1-2-3 Magic, the author recommends starting by having a conversation with your child and explaining that you will be using this method going forward.


Role-playing or providing an example to your child is important as it allows them to understand the method.


The steps involved in controlling obnoxious behaviors are as follows:

  • When a child is exhibiting an unwanted behavior (yelling, not following directions) you can say “That’s 1.” There is no further discussion, and there should be little emotion when saying this. Wait for about 10 seconds to give your child a chance to self-correct.

  • If the behavior persists or the child starts exhibiting another undesirable behavior you say “That’s 2.” Again, avoid further discussions or emotions. Give an appropriate amount of time for the child to self-correct.

  • If the behavior still persists, say “That’s 3. Take 5.” Take 5 refers to the consequence. Typically we think of a time-out as one minute per age (in years). So a 3-year-old might get 3 minutes for example. The consequence can also be something other than a time out such as the loss of a privilege.

The key to this method is to show little emotion and not engage the child in further discussions or arguments as stated previously. There are of course exceptions to the rules.


Sometimes a brief discussion is warranted after the timeout if the behavior is new or if it is dangerous.


Likewise, some behaviors do not need to be counted and you can simply jump right to “That’s 3. Take 5”, particularly for dangerous behaviors.


The book also provides guidance on dealing with children who challenge the method such as what to do when a child refuses to go to a timeout, when you are out in public, sibling rivalry and lying among other things.


The author provides plenty of examples of these various scenarios throughout the book if you are interested in learning more.


Encouraging good behaviors.

While the first part of the book is about counting and managing inappropriate behaviors, the next section of the book sets the framework for establishing positive routines in a child’s life through the use of several tactics which include positive reinforcement, simple requests, timers, a docking system, natural consequences, charts, and variations on counting.



Experience is central to learning about acceptable behaviors and building positive routines. The book discusses natural consequences as one way to consider an outcome of behavior.


A natural consequence is something that happens to a child when there is no parental intervention. A child who is reminded the night before to wear a coat to school but forgets the next morning will experience the “natural consequence” of being cold or wet perhaps.


Loss of privileges, or a docking system, is another experiential learning opportunity that can arise from unwanted behaviors or failure to establish new positive routines.


Behavioral learning theory and emotional intelligence theory underpin many of the recommendations made in the book.


Strengthening your relationship with your child.

The final chapters of the book focus on strengthening the parent-child relationship through listening, engaging in play, problem-solving, and being consistent.



Play is an important part of strengthening your relationship with your child while having fun. It can also be a means by which to help your child problem-solve when things don’t go their way.


Relationships are a central component of the book. Your relationship with your child is central to their development and behavior.


Strengthening the bond between you and your child is not only a critical part of parenting but also a skill that will allow them to flourish as they learn to build their own relationships.


Make sure to set aside some one-on-one time to play and have fun with your child.