No one said that parenting would be a piece of cake. And it isn’t, especially when it comes to disciplining children. As a parent, it sounds natural to use traditional methods of disciplining such as time-outs or spanking. But deep down, all parents know that these have never really helped.
No-Drama Discipline (2014), by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, gives a fresh insight into disciplining children positively, without using traditional negative methods and by understanding the neuroscience of how children’s brains work when parents try to discipline them. This is a fantastic book for parents that are serious about being the best people they can be for their children. At the end of each chapter are exercises and discussion about the science behind it all.
In this book, the authors share the below 7 lessons for effective parenting :
1. The Importance of Learning Lessons
The conventional tried-and-tested methods of disciplining such as time-outs and spanking rely on punishment and fear. These methods have proven that children focus more on reflecting on how unfair their parents are or become more fearful of their parent’s actions whenever used. They do not emphasize on learning lessons from errors or the development of the child, often resulting in the exact opposite of what the disciplining is intended for.
To make disciplining fruitful, it should be more proactive, where the goal should be to get the child to cooperate and improve their behavior and eventually, relationship skills. To achieve this, parents need to first connect with their children in order to redirect them towards good behavior.
Solution: Parents should consider misconduct as teaching and learning opportunities.
2. Upstairs Brain, Downstairs Brain
The downstairs brain refers to the lower part of the brain that controls the basic functions of the body such as digestion, breathing, etc. and is well developed in children. On the other hand, the upstairs brain, the cerebral cortex, is responsible for cognition, empathy, and emotions, which is underdeveloped in children. Through the growing years of childhood, our brain forms new neural connections and grows ( a concept known as neuroplasticity – the ability to change physically.)
Therefore, it is possible to change the brain towards positive experiences by treating misdemeanors as learning opportunities rather than a channel for punishment.
Solution: Parents can use positive emotions and empathy to help the child’s upstairs brain to develop.
3. From Reactive To Responsive State
Children respond positively to communicative discipline. This helps in building stronger and loving bonds between the parent and the child.
Disciplining works when parents are able to steer children from a reactive state into a receptive state. In a reactive state, the downstairs brain is in control and children often throw tantrums, have a meltdown, and engage in acts such as yelling or screaming, or even get physical. Disciplining the child in this state leads to a feeling of resentment and the situation worsens.
Solution: Parents should try to get the child into a responsive state, where the child is able to calmly adapt to the situation. This can be achieved via an emotional connection. Creating meaningful emotional connections with children can help in the integration of the brain that promotes neural functions leading to upstairs brain development. While this might not be achieved immediately, patience and empathy will help in the long run.
4. Comfort, Validation, and Listening
Creating a connection with children will help parents to strengthen their relationships with them. This connection needs to be nurtured, especially if parents want children to accept their reasoning. It can be created and nurtured by comfort, validation, and listening.
Children who become unruly, misbehave, or engage in difficult behavior need comfort rather than punishment. The most effective manner in which a parent can comfort a difficult or unruly child is to use non-verbal gestures such as a hug, a pat on the back, or even an encouraging smile. This non-verbal comforting can then be validated by verbal assurance. Parents can encourage the child to talk about the emotion that the child is feeling.
Solution: Comfort and validation come with connecting, and listening is the key. Parents should listen to their children and reflect on what the child is experiencing.
5. Response Flexibility
Response flexibility refers to a parent’s ability to respond to behavior or situation based on the child’s age, level of mental and social development, and temperament. There are three ways to maintain response flexibility –
Keep your own emotions in check – This refers to keeping an eye or examining ones own mental condition before reacting to the child’s behaviour. For example, snubbing a child simply because the parent is irritated will aggravate the situation. Rather the parent should calm down before responding to the child.
Finding the Why – It is essential to get to the root cause of the child’s behaviour. Knowing the reason behind the misdemeanor will help in redirecting the child and understanding the child’s emotional needs.
Paying attention to our responses – The way we respond to children when they misbehave makes a big difference. Rather than responding with threats (If you don’t listen…) and snubs, parents should use a positive tone while responding.
Solution: Maintaining response flexibility and using positive responses also becomes an example of appropriate behaviour for children.
6. Developing Mindsight Outcomes
Children need positive emotional experiences that they can relate to. Therefore, parents need to help them develop the ability to use insight coupled with empathy to solve their problems. This ability is known as developing mindsight outcomes.
Disciplining using mindsight outcomes involves helping the child understand her own emotional experiences by listening and labeling what they feel with an empathetic view. Parents can also ask the child to try to find the solution themselves.
Solution: Mindsight outcomes help children evaluate their own behavior by either empathetically reiterating them, or by helping them develop a solution for their own problems.
7. No Lecturing
Lecturing children always results in defiance, rebellion and makes children feel like victims of injustice. While parents cannot always give in to the demands of their children, a calm explanation of why the parent says no to something is better than a flat-out ‘no’. Such redirecting of behavior also helps children cope with disappointment.
Another productive method is to allow the child to steer the conversation and voice out what the problem is, and then offer a solution to the incorrect behavior.
Solution: Redirecting the child to reflect and then provide a solution will ensure positive disciplining and help establish mutual respect.
Disciplining children is an opportunity for teaching them positive life-long lessons. Using empathetic reasoning to appeal to their upstairs brain, offering validation and comfort via listening, keeping responses flexible, and helping them develop mindsight outcomes will teach them to consider the impact of their behavior in a more natural way.
This is a great book for whoever would like to be a better parent. There are no big rules on how to parent but on how to be a better person backed by science, which in turn should improve your relationship with your child too. It does a good job of explaining psychological terms using laymen’s words.