16 min read ⌚
The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
Parenting is an art.
And Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson are acclaimed artists.
With them, we explore the ultimate child-raising challenge: discipline.
And a special kind of discipline as well:
Who Should Read “No-Drama Discipline”? And Why?
We’ll allow the authors to answer these questions:
Are you open to at least thinking about a different approach to discipline? One that helps you achieve your immediate goals of getting your kids to do the right thing in the moment, as well as your longer-range goals of helping them become good people who are happy, successful, kind, responsible, and even self-disciplined?
If so, this book is for you.
About Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., is an acclaimed author, award-winning educator, executive director of the Mindsight Institute, and clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine.
internationally renowned, he is the author of several highly praised bestselling books, such as Mindsight, Brainstorm, and The Developing Mind.
Find out more at https://www.drdansiegel.com/.
Tina Payne Bryson is a psychotherapist.
She is also the Founder/Executive Director of The Center for Connection, and of The Play Strong Institute.
So far, she has co-authored three books with Siegel: The Whole-Brain Child, No-Drama Discipline, and The Yes Brain. The fourth collaboration of the two (The Power of Showing Up) should be published in 2020.
Find out more at https://www.tinabryson.com/
“No-Drama Discipline PDF Summary”
Yesterday, we told you something about how Daniel J. Siegel managed to calm the chaos inside Chelsea Handler’s brain; and the day before that, we allowed Esther Wojcicki to teach you how to raise successful people.
Well, consider this book the illegitimate child of the two: it is Daniel Siegel teaching parents how to discipline their children.
Introduction: Relational, Low-Drama Discipline: Encouraging Cooperation While Building a Child’s Brain
The word “discipline” comes directly from the Latin word disciplina, which was used as far back as the eleventh century to mean teaching, learning, and giving instruction.
After all, the root of the word “discipline” is disciple, which means “student,” “pupil,” and “learner.”
However, for modern parents, the word discipline seems to have taken another meaning, as in the sentence: “I’m doing a lot of teaching with Sam, but when do I start disciplining him?”
But when your child misbehaves, what do you want to accomplish through your actions? Is spanking the objective or should spanking merely teach him/her a lesson about something else? Surely, it is the latter: the objective of discipline is still not merely punishing, but teaching via punishing.
Now, there’s a problem with this: as practically any parent you’ve ever met would tell you, it doesn’t really work.
The good news?
Well, unlike previous generations, we now have better models for disciplining – in the right sense of the word. And this is because we now know that “the way to help a child develop optimally is to help create connections in her brain—her whole brain—that develop skills that lead to better relationships, better mental health, and more meaningful lives.”
Put simply, our words and actions quite literally change the behavior of our children, and that’s because our children’s brains will actually change because of them.
And that’s the goal of the no-drama discipline advocated by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. It’s a model of parenting which revolves around the motto “say no to the behavior, but yes to the child” via a very simple “connect and redirect” strategy.
It’s time to say goodbye to the act-react disciplining cycle!
Read ahead to learn how!
Chapter 1: ReTHINKING Discipline
As we said above, the word “punishment” shouldn’t be synonymous with “discipline.”
Paradoxically, that is precisely the reason why Siegel and Bryson chose it: they wanted to reframe the whole discussion, to reclaim the word “discipline” along with its original meaning, to inspire caregivers to start thinking of discipline as “one of the most loving and nurturing things” they can do for kids.
And the first lesson is this: there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all discipline.
Really, you ask? What about spanking and time-outs? They have stood the test of time and have been around since the dawn of times!
Well, the reason why spanking and time-outs have stood the test of time is pretty much synonymous with the problem: these are autopilot reactions.
In other words, if your child misbehaves, the very first words that come to your mind are “Go to your room and think about this;” if it’s something more serious, then you skip the words and proceed to the spanking; sometimes, it’s both.
Either way, it’s not rocket science: it’s the very basic, most primitive reactions available at your disposal.
The problem is that this inspires your kid to do the same; his/her action causes an immediate reaction of yours; your reaction, in turn, causes your child to autopilot-react as well.
That’s why it never actually learns anything.
There’s a better way, of course!
Instead of reacting—lecturing, spanking, timing-out—you could just take a moment and ask yourself three simple questions:
#1. Why did my child act this way?
#2. What lesson do I want to teach in this moment?
#3. How can I best teach this lesson?
Since every child and situation are different, the answers will differ from case to case.
But, after all, that is pretty much the point!
Chapter 2: Your Brain on Discipline
Have you ever heard of the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together”?
If not, it describes something otherwise known as Hebb’s axiom, according to which “when neurons fire simultaneously in response to an experience, those neurons become connected to each other, forming a network. And when an experience is repeated over and over, it deepens and strengthens the connections among those neurons.”
This is colloquially known as neuroplasticity and has enormous ramifications in terms of parenting.
Because, as Siegel and Bryson note, “if repeated experiences actually change the physical architecture of the brain, then it becomes paramount that we be intentional about the experiences we give our children.”
Let’s illustrate this a bit better.
Liz and Tim have two children: Vera, a seven-year-old, and Nina, a four-year-old. For convenience’ sake, it makes sense for Tim to take Nina to school and Liz—Vera.
However, one day, Nina rebels: “You took Vera yesterday! I want you to take me today.” Liz tries to explain away her reasons: “I know, sweetheart. That’s because Vera’s school is right by my work.”
This, expectedly, doesn’t get to Nina and, in a few minutes, the situation boils over: after a few shouts and screams—and maybe even a slap—Nina is forced to go with Tim and cries all the way to school, and Liz’s day is ruined from the morning.
What Liz should have done?
Firstly, she should have asked herself the three questions introduced above. Secondly, she should have hugged Nina. Finally, she should have offered her a choice: she can go to school alone or with her dad.
Why this would work?
Because spanking and shouting engage the downstairs brain (the amygdala); and it doesn’t learn. Hugs and thinking, on the other hand, engage the upstairs brain; it learns and changes.
Chapter 3: From Tantrum to Tranquility: Connection Is the Key
Before going on, let’s sum up the things discussed so-far in merely a few sentences.
Science has taught us that our children’s brains are changing, changeable, and complex. In simplified terms, they consist of two sections: the downstairs brain, and the upstairs brain. The downstairs brain is the reptilian one; the upstairs the human one.
Now, most parenting techniques are reactive: they are merely reactions to some actions, and engage the downstairs brain of the child; thus, they encourage him/her to counteract.
There’s a better way!
It’s called proactive parenting, and it consists of two steps: connecting and redirecting. Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 analyze the art of parent/child connecting.
Now, why connecting?
For three reasons:
#1. Connection moves a child from reactivity to receptivity
#2. Connection builds the brain
#3. Connection deepens the relationship with a child
And this is true even in the worst-case scenarios, i.e., tantrums:
A No-Drama response to a tantrum begins with parental empathy. When we understand why children have tantrums—that their young, developing brains are subject to becoming dis-integrated as their big emotions take over—then we’re going to offer a much more compassionate response when the screaming, yelling, and kicking begin. It doesn’t mean we’ll ever enjoy a child’s tantrum—if you do, you might consider seeking professional help—but viewing it with empathy and compassion will lead to much greater calm and connection than seeing it as evidence of the child simply being difficult or manipulative or naughty.
Chapter 4: No-Drama Connection in Action
Now, that’s connection in theory.
This is how it looks in practice.
First, let us look over three No-Drama connection principles that set the stage and allow for connection between parent and child.
Connection Principle #1: Turn Down the Shark Music
Remember the sound of Jaws?
Play it over a video depicting a man walking through a beautiful forest to the ocean, and the peaceful scene would suddenly become more than threatening!
Well, that’s exactly how phrases such as “Go to your room!” “Because I said so!” or “Here we go again” sound to your child. How about switching to something more akin to “You seem disappointed about this grade”?
Connection Principle #2: Chase the Why
“One of the worst by-products of shark music,” write Siegel and Bryson, “is the parental tendency to make assumptions about what we perceive to be obvious.”
Sherlock Holmes would be the first to differ: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data,” she famously says. “Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
So, instead of blaming and criticizing (“What did you do this time?”), you should instead consider chasing the deep and profound why (“What happened here?” “I wonder what you two were aiming for this time!”)
Connection Principle #3: Think About the How
The third connection principle focuses on the way you actually interact with your children.
It challenges you to consider the way you talk to your kids when they’re having trouble managing themselves or making good decisions.
What you say to your kids is, of course, important. But you know that just as important, if not more important, is how you say it.
In other words, even orders such as “Get in your car seat!” if told with a Jim Carrey voice and a Monster-Mash face, can sound wacky and alluring!
The No-Drama Connection Cycle
The No-Drama Connection Cycle looks something like this:
Let’s see what it means in practice.
Connection Strategy #1: Communicate Comfort
Communicating comfort is the basic (and, in most cases, the foremost) connection strategy; it is primarily non-verbal and, most powerfully, it is expressed through a loving touch.
Connection Strategy #2: Validate, Validate, Validate
When your child is sad for missing a playdate, you shouldn’t react the way you’re automatically inclined to – by dismissing the importance of the event. On the contrary, in fact: you must validate it before moving on with the other strategies. In other words, instead of saying, “What’s the big deal about missing a playdate?” say, “I understand that you’re sad. You really wanted to go.”
Connection Strategy #3: Stop Talking and Listen
This one’s pretty much self-explanatory: talking often compounds the problem; so, be quiet for some time and just listen.
Connection Strategy #4: Reflect What You Hear
Reflecting what you hear is similar to validating, but it differs in that in the fourth connection strategy, you focus specifically on what your kids have actually told you.
Chapter 5: 1-2-3 Discipline: Redirecting for Today, and for Tomorrow
Now, that you’ve learned how to connect with your child, it is time to learn how to redirect his/her behavior in the desired direction.
In “Chapter 5,” Siegel and Bryson go over the redirection basics, helping readers remember one definition of discipline (to teach), two key principles (wait until your child is ready, and be consistent but not rigid), and three desired outcomes (insight, empathy, and repair).
No-Drama Discipline is all about teaching, and that is because all discipline should be about teaching, and not about consequences.
So, instead of immediately giving consequences (“I can’t believe you’ve stolen my cigarettes! No going out for a month!”), you should initiate a conversation (“Can you tell me something more about my cigarettes?”)
Only in the second case, you can hope that you and your child will learn something; in the first case, things might just go worse, because “downstairs-brain reactions” breed “downstairs-brain reactions.” It’s as simple as that.
The two main principles when redirecting your kids encourage cooperation and make life easier for both your children and you.
These principles are #1: wait until your child is ready, and #2: be consistent, but not rigid.
In essence, they mean that you shouldn’t rush anything and that instead of rigidly commanding and demanding (“You can’t talk to me that way! You’re in a lot of trouble now!”) you should give your child practice doing the right thing (“Let’s have a do-over. I know you can say that again in a more respectful way.”)
Three Mindsight Outcomes
In other words, “when we ask our children to consider their own feelings (using personal insight) while also imagining how someone else might experience a particular situation (using empathy), we are helping them develop mindsight.”
You can learn more about mindsight if you read the summaries linked above, but, explained most simply, “mindsight is the ability to see our own mind, as well as the mind of another. It allows us to develop meaningful relationships while also maintaining a healthy and independent sense of self.”
And that’s what you’re aiming with your kid, aren’t you?
Chapter 6: Addressing Behavior: As Simple as R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T
Chapter 6 “concentrates on specific redirection strategies you can use for achieving the immediate goal of eliciting cooperation in the moment, and for teaching kids about personal insight, relational empathy, and taking steps toward making good choices.”
Siegel and Bryson have made an effort to organize these strategies in an acronym which spells their goal: R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T.
#1. Reduce words
The last thing a child needs is a long lecture about their mistakes; so, resist the urge to overtalk.
#2. Embrace emotions
“We want to say yes to our kids’ desires,” write Siegel and Bryson, “even when we need to say no to their behavior and redirect them toward appropriate action.”
So, don’t squelch emotions saying things like “I know you don’t hate your brother;” say something like “OK, you feel like you hate your brother, but let’s talk about other ways to express this.”
#3. Describe, don’t preach
What kids need is for their parents to redirect them, “helping them recognize the bad decisions they’re making and what leads up to those decisions, so they can correct themselves and change whatever needs to be changed.”
In other words, instead of preaching along the lines “If everyone put the shoes at the front door, it would be a mess: put your shoes away,” use a mere description which says even more under the surface: “I see shoes at the front door.”
#4. Involve your child in the discipline
“When children are involved in the process of discipline,” inform Siegel and Bryson, “they feel more respected, they buy into what the parents are promoting, and they are therefore more apt to cooperate and even help come up with solutions to the problems that created the need for discipline in the first place.”
The lesson: parents and children should work as a team to figure out how best to address disciplinary situations.
That starts with a dialogue which doesn’t start with “You don’t know what you’re doing and saying,” but with a question: “What could you do next time you’re mad?”
#5. Reframe a no into a conditional yes
Most parents use a “no” even though a “conditional yes” is also a possibility and actually helps. Transform the “No, we can’t stay” into “Of course you can have more time with Nana,” with a simple time-conditioned question: “How about this weekend?”
#6. Emphasize the positive
We all know how to scold negative behavior, but very few of us really encourage positive traits in our children.
And it’s fairly easy to do that: just catch your kid behaving well, and emphasize that to create synaptic networks inside her/his brain.
#7. Creatively approach the situation
Remember: your kids are kids; in other words, they like games more than almost anything in the world.
So, start masking the orders (i.e., the things they must do) into games (i.e., playful, creative ways to spend the time).
Need an idea?
How about, instead of saying “Get in your car seat right now!” you say something like “Please, please don’t sit in that car seat because Jimmy Jimmerino is already sitting there!”
Of course, Jimmy Jimmerino is your imaginary friend (who, we feel, will make quite a few appearances along the way).
#8. Teach mindsight tools
The final redirection strategy, say Siegel and Bryson, is perhaps the most revolutionary.
Because it involves you teaching your children the things they taught you throughout this book.
Think of it this way: the earlier your child learns to tell the difference between downstairs and upstairs brain, the earlier it too can become an active participant in the No-Drama Discipline school of parenting.
That will certainly allow you to skip a few steps.
Conclusion: On Magic Wands, Being Human, Reconnection, and Change: Four Messages of Hope
The book’s concluding chapter offers four messages of hope intended to help you take the pressure off yourself as you discipline.
#1. There Is No Magic Wand
#2. Your Kids Benefit Even When You Mess Up
#3. You Can Always Reconnect
#4. It’s Never Too Late to Make a Positive Change
Don’t forget these four messages of hope and solace—especially not in those difficult moments you’ll inevitably face at one time or another as you discipline your children.
“Even with the best ambitions and the most intentional methods,” conclude Siegel and Bryson, “sometimes everyone walks away from a disciplinary interaction feeling angry, confused, and frustrated.”
Key Lessons from “No-Drama Discipline”
1. Twenty Discipline Mistakes Even Great Parents Made
2. The Eight Basic Principles of No-Drama Discipline
3. The Connect and Redirect Refrigerator Sheet
Twenty Discipline Mistakes Even Great Parents Made
Keeping these twenty mistakes in mind can help us to avoid them or to step back when we start heading down the low parenting road:
#1. Our discipline becomes consequence-based instead of teaching-based.
#2. We think that if we’re disciplining, we can’t be warm and nurturing.
#3. We confuse consistency with rigidity.
#4. We talk too much.
#5. We focus too much on the behavior and not enough on the why behind the behavior.
#6. We forget to focus on how we say what we say.
#7. We communicate that our kids shouldn’t experience big or negative feelings.
#8. We overreact, so our kids focus on our overreaction, not their own actions.
#9. We don’t repair.
#10. We lay down the law in an emotional, reactive moment, then realize we’ve overreacted.
#11. We forget that our children may sometimes need our help making good choices or calming themselves down.
#12. We consider an audience when disciplining.
#13. We get trapped in power struggles.
#14. We discipline in response to our habits and feelings instead of responding to our individual child in a particular moment.
#15. We embarrass our kids by correcting them in front of others.
#16. We assume the worst before letting our kids explain.
#17. We dismiss our kids’ experience.
#18. We expect too much.
#19. We let “experts” trump our own instincts.
#20. We’re too hard on ourselves.
The Eight Basic Principles of No-Drama Discipline
If you want to avoid the twenty mistakes above, you need to start practicing the no-drama discipline, which is founded upon eight basic principles:
#1. Discipline is essential.
#2. Effective discipline depends on a loving, respectful relationship between adult and child.
#3. The goal of discipline is to teach.
#4. The first step in discipline is to pay attention to kids’ emotions.
#5. When children are upset or throwing a fit, that’s when they need us most.
#6. Sometimes we need to wait until children are ready to learn.
#7. The way we help them be ready to learn is to connect with them.
#8. After connecting, we redirect.
The Connect and Redirect Refrigerator Sheet
Don’t really understand #7 and #8 above? Well, that’s really what No-Drama Discipline is all about! And this is its brief summary:
No-Drama connection principles
• Turn down the “shark music”: Let go of the background noise caused by past experiences and future fears.
• Chase the why: ask yourself “Why is my child acting this way? What is my child communicating?”
• Think about the how: What you say is important. How you say it is even more important.
The No-Drama connection cycle: help your child feel felt
• Communicate comfort: By getting below your child’s eye level, then giving a loving touch, a nod of the head, or an empathic look, you can often quickly defuse a heated situation.
• Validate: Even when you don’t like the behavior, acknowledge and embrace feelings.
• Stop talking and listen: When your child’s emotions are exploding, don’t explain, lecture, or try to talk her out of her feelings. Just listen, looking for the meaning and emotions your child is communicating.
• Reflect what you hear: Once you’ve listened, reflect back what you’ve heard, letting your kids know you’ve heard them. That leads back to communicating comfort, and the cycle repeats.
1-2-3 discipline, the No-Drama way
• One definition: Discipline is teaching.
• Two principles: 1. Wait until your child is ready (and you are, too); 2. Be consistent but not rigid.
• Three mindsight outcomes: 1. Insight: Help kids understand their own feelings and their responses to difficult situations; 2. Empathy: Give kids practice reflecting on how their actions impact others; 3. Repair: Ask kids what they can do to make things right.
No-Drama redirection strategies
• Reduce words
• Embrace emotions
• Describe, don’t preach
• Involve your child in the discipline
• Reframe a no into a yes with conditions
• Emphasize the positive
• Creatively approach the situation
• Teach mindsight tools
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“No-Drama Discipline Quotes”Say yes to the feelings, even as you say no to the behavior. Click To Tweet For a child or an adult, it’s extremely powerful to hear someone say, ‘I get you. I understand. I see why you feel this way.’ This kind of empathy disarms us. Click To Tweet As scientists put it, the brain is plastic, or moldable. Yes, the actual physical architecture of the brain changes based on what happens to us. Click To Tweet Curiosity is the cornerstone of effective discipline. Click To Tweet One of the most powerful ways we connect with our children is simply by physically touching them. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
No-Drama Discipline may not be a fairly long book, but don’t let this fool you: it introduces a new approach to parenting and disciplining children, which, for starters, gives back the original meaning to the word “discipline.”
Helpful and well-structured, this is one of the books you should read and reread if you want to master the art of parenting.