No-Drama Discipline - Daniel J. Siegel, Tina Payne Bryson - Book Summary
When our children are upset and are acting up - we usually find ourselves becoming upset as well. When this happens - we find our amygdala, our reptilian brain gets activated and we find both ourselves and our children in a fight or flight mode - both trying to win, and in fact we both lose, escalating the fight and hurting our relationship in the process.
When our children in this reactive state - they are not open to learning, they are in an unregulated state - experiencing big feelings they cannot handle, and their brain is being washed with cortisol - the stress hormone.
If our goal in disciplining our children is to teach them, and not punish them - then yelling at them when this happens doesn’t achieve that - as in this state - they cannot learn, and by threatening, yelling at them we just “poke the lizard” making their reptilian brain active and ready to attack.
Punishments like spanking or timeouts are not effective. Not only that children are not ready to learn in this state, but also this shifts the focus from the child’s innate guilt for their misbehavior to the parents’ being unfair or scary. This robs them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes (only maybe how not to get caught), and it also sends a message to the child that the love for them is present only when they are good and well behaved. It is also not very effective for learning - as the punishment is not related in any way to the action - so the brain doesn’t see this easily as an action and result.
Instead, the authors suggest that you “connect and redirect”. When the emotions run high - try to calm them down. You will do this by first - calming yourself down and make sure you maintain a calm, non-threatening posture, voice and other non-verbal ways of communicating to your child. Try to go down to his level, hug him, and empathize with their motives and feelings that caused the misbehavior to occur.
This is not spoiling the child. This is your way of telling your child that you are there for him - no matter what - even if he is at his worst, and this is not saying you should not put boundaries.
Do not disregard the child’s emotions or minimize them - even if they seem silly to you, or just make no sense - because they are very real to him.
Before doing anything, try to answer these 3 questions: Why did my son act this way? What is the lesson I want to teach in this case? and how to best teach this lesson?
Use the “Halt” rule - is My child Hungry? Angry? Lonely? or Tired?
Answering the why might also help to calm yourself down - if you see things from his own perspective and not think that he did those actions in spite or wanted to purposely annoy you.
Then you connect to your child. Calm him down and allow his big emotions to dissolve and regain control of himself - letting his prefrontal cortex (upstairs brain) take charge again.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is in charge of thinking rationally, empathizing with other people and problem-solving. This is that part of the brain that you want to engage (and not enrage the downstairs/reptilian brain). When you calm down yourself - you also teach your child a valuable lesson on how this can be done.
When you help your child calm down - by providing validation, repeating his feelings to him, providing physical touch, giving social acceptance, communicating comfort and even by identifying naming the big feelings that he is feeling (“you are angry that your sister...”, you help him calm down sooner, become ready for learning and also - you help his brain learn to do this on his own, because “neurons that fire together - wire together” - so if you repeatedly help your child regulate himself in this way - he will eventually learn to do this himself making him less reactive as time passes.
Once your child is calm - you can teach him the lesson - about not hurting others, about respect to things, and so on.
There is no “one solution fit all” way to react to your child’s misbehavior. You should always match the learning to the child’s temperament and developmental stage, your parenting style, and the context.
Once your child is ready to learn you want to make sure you are consistent - but not rigid. Make sure you are predictable in your teachings, but not blindly following rules - this way you can model flexibility, and still provide the teaching for your child.
You can ask him to “re-do” - so he can practice the good behavior while rewiring his brain for the good behavior, you can problem solve with the child - and even ask for solutions from him or how can he fix the situation. Those are all good ways to address the situation while teaching your child how to handle these things. Instead of talking you can ask questions to help your child cultivate his mindsight - the ability to see his own mind and the mind of the other - by asking questions like “how is she feeling now?” or “how did you feel when you stole this?” - this will strengthen the social engagement circuitry of the prefrontal cortex that is in charge of social behavior and empathy, and teach him an innate sense of morality that he will have also when you are not there.
You can use the acronym r-e-d-i-r-e-c-t for the possible strategies: Reduce words Embrace emotions Describe, don’t preach Involve your child in the discipline Reframe a no into a conditional yes Emphasize the positive Creatively approach the situation Teach mindsight tools
Make sure you judge the situation for what it is, and do not add context from other children and from your own experience that is not necessarily relevant in this situation (turn down the shark music), but still keep track of problematic patterns that emerge over time.
When embracing emotions - you want to not take a current emotion and paint everything with it (“I understand that you feel you hate your brother *right now*”).
We should take note that while discipline can be beneficial for the child learning and for the relationship, signaling the child that we are indeed there for him - it’s never fun, and it can sometimes be avoided by being more proactive and fixing the situation before it becomes a crisis.
Some children that are repeatedly reactive might be suffering from some underlying challenge such as sensory issues or trauma and it’s best to seek professional help.