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Hilber Psychological Services

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No Drama Discipline: The Foundation, Part 1

As discussed in previous article “Parenting 101: Discipline, Part 1”, it can be difficultfor parents to find that balance between the role of a loving and nurturing parent while also having to enforce rules and regulations within the home. Dr. Thomas W. Phelan, author and creator of “1-2-3 Magic,” believes parents have three roles. 1.) Control Obnoxious Behavior, 2.) Encourage Positive Behavior, and 3.) Build Relationships with Your Child. I’ve discussed evidence-based practices for controlling obnoxious behaviors in articles “Parenting 101: Discipline, Part 1” and “Parenting 101: Discipline, Part 2.” Articles “Parenting 101: Positive Reinforcement, Part 1” and “Parenting 101: Positive Reinforcement, Part 2” discuss how a parent can encourage positive behaviors in his or her child. Today, I will discuss how to find the balance between disciplining your child while still showing that you love your child by focusing on the connection between parent and child. This is based on the research of Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson in their book "No-Drama Discipline."

You may be wondering how it is possible to maintain a loving connection while having to discipline your child. Typically, children do not like to be disciplined - it does not always feel good. But it is not impossible to discipline your child in a loving way - remember, discipline is an opportunity to teach your child and provide your child with skills necessary to navigate the real-world. It is not about making a child feel bad. Dr. Siegel and Dr. Payne Bryson use the term “response flexibility” to discuss how a parent can maintain a close connection with the child while enforcing rules. They define response flexibility as the ability to be flexible about a parent’s response to a child’s situation. This is another way of saying that it is important for a parent to be willing, or flexible, to hear his or her child’s perspective before jumping to conclusions about the child.

Jumping to these conclusions may lead a parent to discipline his or her child more harshly (due to perceived conclusions that a child is a “repeat offender” of a certain behavior) than if the parent had viewed the situation from a blank slate (having no assumptions about the child’s past behavior). When a parent takes the time to respond to his or her child for each individual situation, the parent is able to address that specific incident without any bias. This is what it means to be a “mindful parent” - the ability to take the time to reflect, or be mindful, of an entire situation before responding to the event.

You may still have questions about all these terms - “response flexibility,” “mindful parenting” - what does this actually look like? Below is an example about common assumptions a parent may make about his or her child and typical parental reactions that accompany the assumption.

Cindy and Kevin are siblings who are two years apart. During playtime in the past, it was not uncommon for Kevin to engage in aggressive play with Cindy. This may have included throwing items, stepping on Cindy’s toys, or pushing Cindy. Cindy and Kevin are playing in the family room while their parents cook dinner together in the kitchen. Suddenly, the parents hear Cindy crying. Immediately, both parents begin to say, “Kevin, stop, or you’re grounded” as they both walk into the family room. Kevin screams back at his parents, “What!? I didn’t do anything!” Cindy continues to sit on the floor and cry. One parent begins to lecture Kevin while the other parent comforts Cindy. At this point, the entire family is elevated - Cindy is crying, one parent is upset that Kevin hurt Cindy, the other parent is arguing with Kevin, and everyone is in a vulnerable emotional state.

Based on the previous discussion, in what ways could Kevin and Cindy’s parents change their behaviors? Even now as readers, do we know what truly happened that night? Was Kevin really bothering Cindy in this particular incident? Did the parents jump to conclusions about the events that took place? How could the parents handled the situation differently? Below is an alternative approach these parents could have taken in the same scenario based on the research of Dr. Siegel and Dr. Payne Bryson.

Cindy and Kevin are playing in the family room while their parents are preparing dinner in the kitchen. Suddenly, Cindy starts crying. One parent quietly walks into the family room to see what happened. The parent kneels down next to Cindy, and softly asks, “Why are you crying?” Cindy replies to her parent, stating, “I stepped on a toy and hurt my foot.”  Cindy’s parent responds as the parent hugs Cindy, “I’m so sorry that you hurt your foot. It sounds like it hurt really bad. How painful.” By approaching each situation without any assumptions, a parent has the opportunity to connect with his or her child. Unlike the above scenario, each member of the family is able to regulate his or her own emotions without upsetting another family member. One parent is still calmly cooking in the kitchen, one parent is soothing Cindy, Kevin is still playing on his own, and Cindy's need to be comforted is being addressed.

Be sure to come back next week as I continue to discuss how parents can redirect their focus and energy when it comes to mindful parenting. If you are interested in this article and would like to learn more, or if you are a parent and feel that you could use some extra support, therapy may be a great option. For more information, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services or contact us to schedule an appointment.