No Drama Discipline by Dr. Dan Seigel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is a must read for parents who want to use connected, respectful, and positive strategies when it comes to discipline. I literally recommend it to every parent I know. Concise, clear, and practical, it gives specific examples and things to try when disciplining our children, all while explaining the neuroscience behind them. A refreshing take in the world of “perfect parenting”, Dan and Tina even give examples of when they lost their cool as parents, or times when they used all the tools in their toolbox and still had to put a screaming toddler in the car. I think we can all relate. Here are just some of the things this book taught me as a professional and a parent.
1. How The Brain Works in Terms of Discipline
In an easy to understand way, Dan and Tina explain how a child’s brain (and really all of our brains) function when we are dysregulated. They also make it clear that it is developmentally normal for our children to “flip their lids” when they get overwhelmed and their downstairs primitive brain is triggered. When this happens, our kids cannot hear us or process language, so we must wait until they are calm to do any sort of discussion. Otherwise, we are just wasting our breath, and sometimes causing our children to escalate more.
2. The Language to Talk About Spanking
The first time I read this book, I got to the section where they discuss spanking, and found myself yelling “yes!” at the pages. On this re-read, I found a post it on this page where I had written the same thing. Clearly this resonated with me. In an eloquent and practical way, Tina and Dan explain that spanking (and really any form of fear-based discipline) is counterproductive to the goals of changing behavior and building a child’s brain. It causes the child’s brain to go into a paradox of being unable to process that their safe person who is supposed to protect them when they are scared or in pain is also the one causing fear or pain, and it teaches children that one way to resolve conflict is to inflict physical pain on another person. This has given me the words to have reasonable discussions around why my family chooses not to spank, and why spanking can be harmful, especially for children from hard places.
3. It’s Important to Be Intentional
It’s a fact that most of us are just trying to survive day to day as parents, and this is the first book I read that encouraged parents to take a step back and decide what they wanted to achieve when it comes to interactions and teaching their children. Whether this is in the moment and you are deciding what you want to teach in this situation, or whether it’s a long-term goal of independence, empathy, or resilience, it makes so much sense to be intentional in your strategy, or as Tina and Dan put it “respond” rather than “react”. We plan our finances, our jobs, our relationships, our vacations, our fantasy football teams. We should be planning our parenting with just as much intention.
Dan and Tina also give examples of how proactive parenting can sometimes lead to avoiding a meltdown or a discipline moment altogether. If that is not motivation, I don’t know what is!
4. Sometimes Connection is All that is Needed
Connection has many facets. If we are connected and attuned with our children, we know what their triggers are and what might be hard for them. We know that if they don’t get a snack after school they turn into a hangry terror, or if they don’t get to burn their energy running around they will never sit still in a classroom. Every child is different and knowing them is the key to being able to see their needs in the moment and decide how to handle the situation. Tina and Dan’s strategy in a nutshell is “connect and redirect” and they spend a lot of time talking about the connection piece. Why? Because connection is the key to getting a child’s brain to calm down when they are dysregulated so that they can be receptive to any sort of teaching. Sometimes, connecting is all it takes to find a small moment of teaching and then move on with your day. Every lesson doesn’t have to be a masterclass in how to put your toys away correctly or how hitting your sister is wrong. The authors give lots of practical ideas for connecting, from soft words, to touch, to seeing the why behind a behavior. One I find myself coming back to again and again is to get BELOW your child’s eye level. Lots of experts recommend getting AT a child’s eye level, but getting BELOW takes it one step further, and communicates to your child’s primitive brain “I am not a threat right now”. Try it. It really works.
5. Shark Music is Real
The first time I read about Shark Music, it was like a veil lifted and I saw myself clearly. Shark music happens when some interaction with our child triggers a fear reaction in ourselves as parents. It might be subconsciously connected to something that happened to us when we were young, or it might be from an experience where our child got hurt, or something bad happened. It is called shark music after the ominous theme from the movie Jaws that would play every time the shark was about to attack. You know you are experiencing shark music when your heart beats faster, your breath gets shallower, you start sweating or your face gets hot. It is important to be aware of what causes shark music for us as parents because often it is a false alarm. If we parent from a place of fear, we aren’t being intentional, and we are letting our own primitive brains hijack us, and as a result, our interactions with our children.
6. Parenting is All About Creativity
I think we all wish there was a “one size fits all” approach to discipline and parenting. Sort of like Ikea instructions where if we just follow the photo steps we will end up with a reasonably stable structure. We want to do the right thing, and have it turn out ok. The good news and bad news are that parenting and discipline are never one size fits all, and each child and situation brings different needs and necessary strategies. For me, that is one of the things that makes parenting fun. It is a never-ending puzzle to navigate and figure out. Although challenging, those times where you fit the pieces together and it works are moments of great joy where you feel on top of the world. This also gives us the freedom as parents to do what works for OUR family and OUR child. Just because someone else does it that way doesn’t mean it works for us.
7. We Are All Going to Mess it Up. But We Can Repair It Too.
We know that parenting is basically just trial and error. When we get it right, it feels great! But a lot of times we get it wrong. We lose our temper. We get triggered by shark music. We make the wrong call and it goes badly. When that happens, it feels terrible. But there is a light at the end of that tunnel. When things go wrong, one of the most powerful things we can do with our kids is come back to them and repair the situation. This means admitting when we were wrong, apologizing for losing our temper, and resolving the issue. This teaches our kids that we are human, and that when we mess up, they are important to us, and resolving conflict in our relationship is just as important. It also teaches them that it's ok to make mistakes, and that we can always go back and make amends. That’s a lesson that every child could benefit from learning. As parents, mistakes are not the end of world. In fact, they are often just the beginning of another lesson to teach our kids.
Want to learn more? Read No Drama Discipline by Dr. Dan Seigel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, or download their pdfs of their Connect and Redirect strategies and “A Note to Our Child’s Caregivers” which explains their connected parenting strategies to friends, family members, and babysitters.
Also, be sure and register for adoption education trainings through Gladney University.