Parenting Strategies for Young Kids

In my Grand Rapids counseling office, I counsel lots of parents who want to develop moreeffective discipline and parenting strategies. One of the simplest strategies that works well for parenting young kids is the 1-2-3 Magic program designed by Dr. Thomas Phelan. I have used it with my own son and have recommended it to hundreds of parents. You can buy the book or video to learn the specifics (I have no monetary connection to the program).

The method is simple and is designed for the basic task of getting your child to follow a direction you’ve given them, either to do something or stop doing something. When your child learns to follow your directions without arguing, the rest comes pretty easy.

It’s a simple strategy. All you do is this: Tell your child to do something, or to stop doing something (i.e. stop playing catch with my expensive glass vase). If they comply within about 5 to 10 seconds–great. But if they don’t comply, then you look at them, say “that’s one” in a stern voice while holding up one finger (generally your index finger, not the driving finger). If they comply after this–great. If they don’t comply after about ten seconds, then you hold up two fingers and say, “that’s two”. Again, if they comply–great. If they don’t comply after about ten seconds, then you say, “that’s three; take five”.. This means you got to three and they need to take a five minute time out in their room, or in a quiet corner if you are out in public.

Where most parents fall flat is that they are hoping they won’t get to three so they don’t actually have to put their child in time out. This may be because they don’t want to cause a scene in public. Perhaps they are just too nice and don’t want to punish their kids. So for this to work, you have to have the mindset of wanting to get to three so you can put them in timeout. This helps avoid the common mistake of going, “that’s 1, that’s 2, that’s 2 1/2, 2 3/4…..” and never getting to 3.

If you falter, your child learns they don’t have to listen to you when you count to three. But if you make a point to do the counting, and nothing but counting until either the child complies, or you get to three, they learn quickly that you mean business.

There are a lot of parenting strategies that are easy to use and simple to understand. For the 1-2-3 Magic parenting strategy, there are some other nuances that are helpful to learn, such as what to do once your child is in time out. If you”re interested in learning more, give me a call.

Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan.  He provides counseling for couples, counseling for teenagers, and adults.  He provides counseling for anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, and relationship problems.  For more information, please visit the website at