Is the following scenario familiar? You come downstairs in the morning and two of your children are bickering. A bowl of cereal spills on the table and the dog jumps in to “help” clean it up. Another child is half-dressed, half-awake, and about to miss his bus for the third time this month. The phone rings, it’s the babysitter cancelling on you for this evening. You hang up the phone and repeat the phrases “hurry up” or “knock it off” for the fifth time today. It’s only 7:30am.
If the above scenario rings true, take heart, it just means you’re a human being and you’re a parent. Parenting is tough work, particularly when it comes to delivering effective discipline. I suspect every parent has a moment where they think, ‘there must be a better way.’ A way that gets children to do the right thing in the moment, but also builds their ability to make good choices in the future. A way to set limits and boundaries with children while also maintaining a respectful and nurturing connection. If you can relate, consider making a fresh start with your approach to discipline in 2018.
In No Drama Discipline, Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson set out to teach ‘a better way,’ and they boil it down to one simple phrase: connect and redirect. Their premise is that the first step in effective discipline is to connect with a child emotionally. As they put it, “our relationship with our kids should be central to everything we do (Siegel & Bryson, 2014, p. xxii). To be clear, this does not mean letting children do whatever they want. Connection needs to be combined with setting clear and firm boundaries as well as structure. This is where the redirect part comes into play, but the idea is that redirection is rarely successful when a child’s emotions are running high. Ultimately, the authors believe this approach will help parents teach their kids to be better human beings, both now and in the long run. It will move children to a more receptive state in the moment while also building the internal skills they need to be successful in life.
In the coming months I plan to go through each of the main concepts from this book in more detail. My hope is that these posts get you thinking, spark discussion, and offer some tools to add to your parenting toolkit. Now, onto the first consideration.
All too often the word discipline gets equated with punishment and/or consequences. As you may recall from PST, the word “discipline” comes from the latin word disciplina, which in English literally means “to teach.” This means the primary goal of discipline is not to punish or consequence, but to teach. Consequences and punitive reactions don’t help teach children the skills they need to be successful in life, and often aren’t even effective in getting kids to cooperate in the moment.
The next time your child misbehaves, instead of automatically giving a consequence, ask yourself the following three questions: Why? What? How?
- Why did my child act this way?
- Be curious, don’t make assumptions. Look deeper and think about what’s behind the behavior
- What lesson do I want to teach in this moment?
- It’s not about giving a consequence, it’s about teaching. Maybe you’re trying to teach self-control, acting responsibly, expressing an emotion in a safe way, etc.
- How can I best teach this lesson?
- Consider the child’s age and developmental level. Consider the context of the specific situation. Consider how to most effectively get your message across.
Again thinking about PST, you may recall the concept of reactivity vs responsiveness. Asking yourself the three questions–why, what, and how–helps promote an approach to discipline that is intentional and responsive. This in turn makes you more likely to respond in a way that is more effective in getting the child’s cooperation in the moment, while also working to instill bigger, long lasting skills in them.
Until next month,
Richard Doyle, MSW
(Rich is the Family Services Coordinator and Supervisee in Social Work at People Places, Inc. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (434) 996-2262.)
Siegel, D. & Bryson, T. (2014). No-Drama Discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind. New York, NY: Bantam Books.