In 1-2-3 Magic, Thomas Phelan outlines his deceptively simple approach to discipline. Any time that a child is engaged in a disapproved of activity, the parent gives two warnings followed by a time out. The first warning is indicated by the parent saying “that’s one.” The second warning is indicated only by “that’s two.” Finally, the parent says, “that’s three” and sends the child to his or her room for a time out. The strength of this book is in its simplicity. Faced with misbehavior, a parent knows just what to do. Knowing what to do makes it much less likely that a parent will act out of anger and frustration with yelling, scolding or criticism. Knowing what to do also makes it less likely that the parent will act inconsistently with discipline. Because misbehavior triggers 1-2-3, the parent is less likely to ignore an infraction in one instance, or overreact in another.
Alan Kazdin’s book, The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child, is a must read for any parent whether or not that parent has a difficult child. In this book, Dr. Kazdin lays out the basic principles of reinforcement and punishment and shows how reward/sticker charts can be used to modify almost any child’s undesirable behavior. These techniques can be quite powerful. Additionally, as parents we control many of the “rewards” in our child’s life, including the most important reward of all, our attention. If we are ignorant of the principles of reinforcement, we often end up rewarding our children for behaviors that we consider undesirable. Kazdin’s book is a favorite of mine and is an indispensable resource for all parents.