No-Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD
Discipline is an area of parenting that families deal with everyday, and with which many parents struggle. There are many opinions out there about what the best approach is. As a result, it can often be challenging for parents to decide what strategy works for their child in any given situation, especially amidst the hectic day to day many families find themselves dealing with.
This book offers an understanding of the developing child informed by brain science and a complementary set of strategies that may resonate with some parents (and teachers). The authors of this book compare a child’s brain to a house under construction that is ever changing based on internal and external experiences. The “downstairs” is the more basic, reactive, and often emotional part of the brain, while the “upstairs” brain is the part that can engage in calm, rational thinking and even problem solving. The philosophy of this book is to find ways to connect with your child that will allow them to calm down and engage with you rationally rather than further upsetting and fueling their already enraged downstairs brain.
Parents are encouraged to find a way to connect with their child - which could be a hand on the shoulder, a hug, a statement that shows you understand they are upset, a compassionate look -before engaging in any sort of discipline. The idea is to connect with your child in a way that helps calm them down enough to be able to have a conversation with you and genuinely learn from a situation rather than serving their punishment and never reflecting on their own behavior in a situation.
Parents are also encouraged to first make sure that they are using their own “upstairs” brain before addressing the situation with their child. When parents are themselves calm, they are best positioned to truly be able to connect with and hear their child. They are then encouraged to consider the following questions before engaging their child in a discussion to address the concern at hand:
1) Why did my child act the way that they did?
I believe all children’s behavior has meaning and this is part of what I’m here for as a therapist is to help you make sense of why your child is acting in a certain way. Getting your attention is not a bad thing – it’s a normal and healthy thing for kids to want. It’s about helping the find positive ways to get it.
2) What am I hoping my child will learn from this situation? This is best guided by your own parenting philosophy – something we can work on together and that I encourage you to discuss with your child’s other parent/caregivers.
3) How can I best teach my child given their age, developmental stage and the situation we are currently in? This can be the hard part – it is easier when you are in control of your own emotions and again something we can work on together so that you will be prepared for situations that have be historically difficult for you and your child to handle together.
The authors of the book make the point that when parents immediately and sometimes angrily offer consequences without connecting with and understanding their child, the end result is often an angry kid. This angry child often then channels their energy into anger for their parent rather than experience their own guilt and reflection about their misbehavior. The opportunity for learning from the situation and potentially preventing the behavior from reoccurring is then missed. Which means that you will probably have to deal with the same situation again in the near distant future.
The authors acknowledge that this is by no means a fail proof approach and that it can be difficult for even the most reflective of parents when they are really affected by their child’s behavior (and they even offer examples of their own parenting challenges with their kids). However, they reinforce the long-term benefits to this approach, including decreasing family conflict and improving children’s decision-making abilities, ability to delay gratification, think flexibly and to solve problems.