Unless you relish the blow-your-stack feeling of rising blood pressure,
One-Two-Three Magic could be for you.  This discipline trick with the
preschool or elementary-aged child in your life just might make your
days a little bit easier.

I thank Dr. Jeffrey Glasser for passing this my way.  He claims you can
use this system effectively for children up until about age 12.

When Amy, my youngest, was three, the word “no” in its various
forms was still quite a large part of her vocabulary.  Her twos were
more the Tentative Twos than the Terrible Twos.  Now we needed new
strategies – to motivate her to pick up toys, to head up to bed, to
share during a play date…or when mama and daddy want three
minutes to ourselves. (Okay, just kidding).

One-Two-Three Magic is a visual and verbal countdown to Time Out. 
The magic comes when you use the system calmly, consistently, and
without compromise.
  A raised voice lets the child know you’re upset
and also gives her attention…she knows she can get a rise out of you.
Threatening Time Out without following through weakens the magic;
your kid won’t take you seriously.

You can explain to your child that you are going to use this warning
system when they are not cooperating.  The sell?  Your one-two-three
counting gives them time to stop a behavior before they go into Time
Out. (The sell will come in handy for your older children, the more
concrete thinkers.)

So you’ve asked nicely twice, and the undesirable behavior continues. 
Hold up your index finger and CALMLY say, “That’s one.”  Wait about
three to five seconds, finger still in the air, to see if there’s any change
in behavior.  If not, hold up two fingers and say, “That’s two.”  Wait
five more seconds and hold up three fingers, saying “That’s three.” 

Upon three, you need to move your child into a Time Out place that is
free from stimulation of almost any kind.  No TV, no toys, no
conversation. The child can be on the floor, chair, couch, or wherever
they feel safe.  In your home, let them pick a place you can approve. 
Outside of your home (for example in the grocery store), you’ll
probably have to think on your feet (can you leave a fussing child
between the cucumbers and the broccoli for three minutes?).

How do you get them to go into Time Out?  Tell them that if they go
willingly without complaint, they stay in Time Out for three minutes
(measure this with some short distance between your two hands in the
air).  If they go kicking and screaming and you have to carry them,
they go in for ten minutes (greatly increase the visible distance
between your two hands).  Repeat:  Willingly, three minutes (small
space between hands), unwillingly, ten minutes (let child watch space
between hands grow).

We used One-Two-Three Magic regularly for a few years, and then we
tapered off when our first grader seemed to be cooperating more
consistently.  I thought we were done; that the magic would last
through the years.

When an attitude resurfaced during second grade, I was distraught.  I
was arguing with Amy, raising my voice and not getting the results I
wanted.  I had forgotten about One-Two-Three Magic, and wasn’t it for
younger kids anyway?  Dr. Jeff reassured me that it was going to work
just as well for my seven through twelve-year-old as it had for my
three, four and five-year-old.

Amy, on the other hand, had a different opinion.  When I picked my
eight-year-old up from school one day, she announced, “Isabel and I
have decided that Time Out is for babies.” 

“I hear you, honey.  We’re going to keep using it until you stop talking

“But Mom,” (raising voice), “it IS for babies and everyone says so!”

“Amy, that’s one….”

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and stepparent located in
Northern Colorado.  For more information on her stepparenting book,
go to


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1 Comment on One-Two-Three Magic

  1. luvmybabes says:

    We have always used “one, two, three” with my kids. I find that it calms me down, as well, when they don’t jump to my direction! I know that they have time then to make their choice knowing that they will face a consequence when I get to 3. I’ll never forget when I went to visit my sister and she was amazed at how well our method of counting to 3 worked. She asked, “what happens when you get to 3?” The question surprised me, as I didn’t know the answer…I realized at that point that we had never gotten to 3! My children are older now, and we have gotten to 3. When I get up to 2, I tell them what the consequence will be and then if we get to 3, consequence is served. This has worked very well for us.

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