While The Whole-Brain Child is definitely an awesome approach to child-rearing, the neurobiology can be a bit of a bear to get through. For No-Drama Discipline, the authors zero in on disciplining with the Whole-Brain approach and the result seems to be much more practical (or at least as practical as neurodevelopment can be).
No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Since we’ve spent the last month learning Whole-Brain strategies, I wanted to highlight the points of this book that shift the traditional perspectives on discipline. I personally had a hard time getting through this book. Not because the subject material was difficult, but because my mind kept going on tangents to my own childhood. There are only so many times you can yell out, “OMG right?!?!?!?”.
So this post won’t be a usual book review; more like the statements that I found particularly mind-blowing.
Statement #1: Completely start over.
Growing up, I never really understood my parents’ methods of “discipline”. It just seemed like I was getting in trouble for very random, subjective reasons. What I love about this book is from the very beginning, it tells you to throw everything you know about discipline out the window. Spanking, grounding, time-outs, yelling, lecturing; none of that is theoretically necessary or even effective most of time.
So let’s take this moment and clean-slate everything, especially what your parents did.
The root of “discipline” is “to teach”, which is where the Whole-Brain Approach comes in. The book explains that discipline has two parts: 1) to stop the immediate bad behavior, and 2) to teach a lesson that will prevent future bad behavior.
While some reviews of this book express disappointment that this disciplinary style has no “teeth” when it comes to punishment, the Whole-Brain approach focuses on connecting first. If you and your child are mutually and emotionally connected, the “teeth” part of punishment isn’t needed.
Statement #2: No strategy will work every time with every child.
With my girls, I feel like I’m constantly picking up messes and putting out fires. Not sharing, pushing, hitting, I want this snack, I don’t want to watch that, the cat touched me; the causes of all these big feelings are never-ending and there is no magic bullet. Start from square one every time.
It may take different strategies, or a combination of strategies to get through and make a connection. Your toddler/kid/teen might not even be in a place/state to make connection at that moment, so don’t try to rush it. When we take the time to let our kids feel safe and heard, they are much more receptive to learning the lesson; and in the long-run, they are changing their brain for the better.
Statement #3: Disengage Parental Autopilot
It’s very easy to dismiss a lot our kids’ episodes as ridiculous and irrational, especially in the toddler stage. But when you think about it, you have 20-30+ more years of experience co-regulating your emotions and making sense of situations. They have jack.
When we are on autopilot, we’re just trying to make it through the day and we don’t see all the little triggers that can set our kids off. So when one of our kids goes into a tantrum, we react. Or when something goes wrong in our day, we react and probably project that onto our kids. And as we learned from Strategy 3, this only escalates the situation. In this vicious cycle, no true learning can be taught and you lose the opportunity to model good behavior.
Is it hard to be fully present and calm in every situation? Absolutely. Our mental bandwidth is not infinite. So, when tantrums and meltdowns happen, we have to make an intentional, concerted effort to stay on top of ourselves and not go into a volatile state.
Statement #4: Keep Context in Mind
The situations or episodes where discipline is needed aren’t always black and white. We need context before we jump to conclusions. Always try to ask questions and let your child tell their side of the story.
My toddler twins constantly bicker and get in each other’s way. If Z is crying, I can’t just assume A did something mean to her. If A is pushing her sister, it could be because she wants her space, or because she doesn’t want to share, or because she’s trying to correct her, or because she wants Z to do something with her. It’s not enough just to say, “Don’t push your sister.”
This should also go without saying, but your approach to disciplining a toddler should be different than the way you discipline a teenager. As our kids grow, their brain grows, their motivations and logic grow, and the way we parent should grow alongside. This could mean letting your teen/pre-teen help in problem-solving or negotiating, or less pointing out/correcting problems and instead providing more emotional support. In many cases, older kids know when they’ve done something wrong and they don’t need a parent to double down.
Statement #5: You Will Make Mistakes
In the Further Resources section of the book, the authors Dan and Tina share two personal stories of when they lost it with their own kids. There is also a list of things parents forget when they think they are disciplining (here’s a link to the excerpt). Adults make mistakes all the time and we need to normalize it. I don’t think many parenting books acknowledge how much our generation was taught to be competitive, but the resulting mom-shame is insane and we need to squash it
When we make mistakes and lose our cool, we have to take accountability. Simply apologizing and communicating to your child that you didn’t handle yourself well can be a huge step in building your parent-child relationship. It also models appropriate behavior for your child, teaching them that not only is it human to make mistakes, but acknowledging and apologizing are part of the game.
Statement #6: NO, THIS WILL NOT SPOIL YOUR KID
This was far and away what I want to shout from the mountaintops.
I can hear it now… If we’re supposed to connect and be nice and all Full House when our kid is bad, won’t our kid be spoiled?
The idea that our kids need to learn “the hard way”, or that we need to toughen them up, or instill fear in order for them to be respectful is pretty damaging. Physical punishment or emotional shame will only damage your relationship with your child. Plus, it models that physical punishment and losing your sh*t on someone is allowable as an adult.
To paraphrase from another parenting book, “Instead of learning a lesson, your child will most likely grow resentful and angry with their punisher. Instead of a well-adjusted moral compass and a kid who tries to do the right thing, you get a kid who only tries to avoid punishment by not getting caught.” (Yeah, that’s me…I was that kid.)
“Spoiled” refers to a child that always gets what they WANT.
When parents emotionally connect and let their children feel safe in the moment, we are attending to their NEEDS. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences for bad behavior. It just means that the consequences don’t involve major blowups, or stewing resentment, or distrust between parent and child.
If my kid gets angry and lashes out because she can’t have a doll at Target, I can calm her down and help her regulate her downstairs brain back to a peaceful state. That is her immediate NEED. However, she still isn’t getting the doll, which would be the WANT.
For another perspective, if we are permissive with bad behavior and let our kids get what they want in order to keep the peace and avoid a tantrum, that would lead to “spoiled”. They aren’t emotionally connecting, they aren’t learning a lesson, and their brains learn to not accept no as an answer.
Some other bonuses from No-Drama Discipline: a printable checklist you keep on your fridge as a reminder, a quick guide to the No-Drama approach for caregivers and grandparents, and a sample chapter from The Whole-Brain Child if you need a refresher in the upstairs/downstairs brain.
Like I mentioned before, this book brought up lots of memories growing up. In a podcast with Tina Payne Bryson, she said that 40% of adults did not grow up with a secure attachment to one or both of their parents. This makes me want to double down and break that cycle.
The good news is you can start right now, implementing some Whole-Brain strategies and learning how to be a better, more connected parent.