As children head back to school this week in Miami-Dade County, many parents and teachers will be concerned about discipline issues that arise in the school environment. Discipline issues are a cause of much stress for parents and teachers as well as for the children involved. In fact, according to the authors of a soon to be released new book on mindful, effective ways of dealing with discipline concerns, many common approaches to discipline end up causing distress and disengagement for children rather than actually teaching them or guiding them to act in more positive and productive ways.
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. & Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. have created what they refer to as a "no-drama" guide to discipline. The book is called No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. In this insightful book that will be released next month in September 2014, the authors point out that the original purpose of discipline is lost when people think of it as punishment or behavior modification. Discipline is really about teaching desirable ways of acting. The initial goal of immediate cooperation is often the focus, without consideration of how the attempt to gain cooperation will affect the longer term goal of helping children develop self-control, thinking skills, responsibility, and a moral or ethical compass that will guide them even when there is no external authority figure to monitor them. The authors believe that discipline needs to be done more intentionally, with the long term goal in mind. They refer to this approach as "whole-brain" since it involves engaging multiple areas of the brain. A developing brain is not helped by responses that invoke fear and distress. It is better to establish connections where communication can occur and emotions can be processed.
Siegel and Bryson encourage caregivers to connect and redirect rather than punitively responding to behaviors. Combining empathic connection with clear, appropriate boundaries, allows for children to calm down and be open to learning and establishing healthy brain connections and neural pathways. This book does not present a specific system or routine of discipline, as it recognizes that different children and circumstances will require varying responses. It does offer a variety of examples and suggestions for handling challenging situations. The book guides readers to first wait for a child to calm down and become receptive before trying to redirect and teach the desired behavior. When children are emotionally agitated they are not ready to listen and use the higher reasoning centers of their brain, so taking time to help a child calm down and feel emotionally and physically safe is critical to being successful with subsequent redirection and efforts to guide and teach. Since adults are themselves often agitated and stressed by child misbehavior, the adult needs to calm down and play his or her part in establishing an empathic connection. The authors also point out that while having consistency with discipline is important, rigidity can be unhealthy, as life calls for us to be flexible at times and think with consideration about real circumstances rather than rigidly applying rules.
The book examines outcomes of this positive approach to discipline which the authors refer to as "mindsight" outcomes. Mindsight is a term coined by Dr. Siegel, meant to represent the ability to perceive one's own mind as well as the minds of others. That ability enables a person to develop a healthy sense of self in addition to having meaningful, compassionate relationships with others. This concept is placed into an equation as "insight + empathy = mindsight." When confronting challenging child behaviors, the authors collect key strategies into the acronym R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T. This stands for 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. Siegel and Bryson encourage readers to not feel bad about their discipline efforts, to recognize that we can all slip into counterproductive reactions. They even share examples of their own missteps with discipline.
This book is a thought provoking follow-up to the authors' previous book, The Whole Brain Child: Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. These books both integrate modern research about neuroscience and discipline to help parents and other caregivers respond to children in more mindful ways. The ideas presented in this latest book can actually be applied to all of our relationships, as it will help us in many circumstances to be able to calm down, have empathy for another person, and then communicate in a constructive way about our concerns and proposed solutions. What works to help children learn and behave better might also help our world's leaders and large groups of people get along better, as many of us adults failed to develop these mindsight skills as we were growing up and we tend to sabotage our relationships with others as a result. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or just a person who wishes to learn to get along better with others, you may find some valuable insights in No-Drama Discipline.