Written by: Richard Doyle, MSW – Family Services Coordinator, Supervisee in Social Work
In my last blog post I introduced the book No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson. Central to their approach to discipline is the phrase connect and redirect. They also stress taking an approach that is intentional and responsive. Last time we considered asking yourself three questions to help respond to behavior rather than react to it. As a refresher, the questions were:
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.
These questions also promote the idea that discipline is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Each child is unique and comes with a different set of needs. Further, the same child’s needs change day to day, situation to situation, sometimes even minute to minute. Because of this, it is important to approach delivering discipline with a mindset of “this one child in this one moment” (Siegel & Bryson, 2014, p.15). Doing so steers us away from autopilot and general thinking, and moves us toward creating specific plans that effectively address each situation as it emerges.
It’s also worth considering the idea of can’t vs won’t. It’s deciding whether your child is choosing to misbehave (i.e. won’t), or is incapable of behaving (i.e. can’t). While it’s tempting to put most negative behavior under the won’t column, the reality is that a huge percentage of behavior belongs in the can’t column. Often misbehavior is a signal that a child is unable to meet the expectations of–or cope with–a particular situation. This is exceptionally true for children in foster care with People Places, as they tend to possess significant histories of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). This in turn often means the child is developmentally behind their biological age (i.e. a 10 year old that acts more like a 7 year old), and/or the child possesses a limited ability to self-regulate.
It’s a false assumption that a child’s capacity to handle situations well and make good decisions is stable and constant. The reality is that this capacity fluctuates in every human based on the circumstances and context of a given situation, though it’s particularly true for a developing brain in the mind of a developing child. This is why it’s important to avoid assuming a child won’t do something, or to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. Despite what some discipline programs claim, there is no silver bullet or magic wand that always effectively addresses any behavior for any child in any situation. Children, and our interactions with them, are simply too complex for one thing to work 100% of the time.
Do your very best to take an intentional approach to discipline that focuses on “this one child in this one moment” (Siegel & Bryson, 2014, p.15). Consider the child’s age, (trauma) history, and the situational context. Consider the child’s developmental capacity, temperament, and emotional style. Try not to rush to the assumption that the child won’t behave. Try not to switch to auto-pilot or fall back to a one-size-fits-all approach. Finally, remember that every human’s capacity to make good decisions fluctuates, including yours. You won’t always be an intentional and responsive parent, but that’s okay, this just means your human. When this happens, it’s important to make amends and reconnect with the child; however, don’t forget to show yourself compassion and forgive yourself too.
Until next month!
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.