Parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and anyone else in frequent contact with kids can all stand to learn more about how to stay calm. No-Drama Discipline offers example-backed tools to help us discipline children in a supportive and lasting way.
This is not the first book that Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson have written together. Their earlier book was the bestselling The Whole-Brain Child, and they use concepts from that first book in their second. About the brain, they write that in addition to it having a left and right side, the brain of a child also has a lower portion and upper portion. The “downstairs” brain is where children’s emotions, basic instincts, and basic functions are controlled. This part of the brain begins to work right at birth. The “upstairs” brain, meanwhile, is where reasoning, thought, conscience, and understanding develop.
This part is not very well developed at birth, and may not become fully developed until the person is in her mid-twenties. However, the upstairs brain is continually growing as the child grows, so it makes sense that we would try to influence it according to our values.
The book reminds us right at the beginning that the word discipline comes from the Latin disciplina, which means “teaching, learning, and giving instruction.” Often when we think of discipline we think of punishment. But this is the crux of the book: to get us to change behavior by teaching our children rather than punishing them.
In order to do this, the essential theme is to connect with a child, then redirect their thinking.
Connect here means to establish rapport, get on the kid’s level, understand their upset or motivation, and get them to communicate. Redirect, as the authors use it, ultimately means to help a child develop self-control and to have a moral compass that guides their decisions.
We have all likely experienced this: When someone is emotionally upset, it becomes hard to communicate with them. After we console and empathize with the person, it becomes much easier to talk about change or resolution.
We want our children to cooperate by changing bad behavior to good, and we might sometimes think that yelling at them, or putting them in a timeout, is the way to go. But what we want for the longer term is that they cooperate with our expectations, and do it because they understand why a certain behavior is desirable — not do it just because they want to avoid punishment.
One of the features I liked best about the book is that the authors freely admit to their own parenting mistakes, and with that admission, allow us the same privilege to make mistakes. We should accept our errors and then work to repair any damage we might have done. They acknowledge that there are just going to be circumstances in which we will not be able to control ourselves. In that sense the book gives something akin to dieting advice: It is normal to go off a diet on occasion, but we should get right back on it as soon as we can.
Another feature that appealed to me is the notion that we can confront a child’s misbehavior with an attempt to understand the motivation behind it — and get on the child’s level to establish together a better way to behave in that situation. Before we can do that, however, we must help the child become ready to talk about it. The authors point out that we, the adults, must also become ready, by being composed and calm.
The book is easy to read, stylistically. It is almost as if the authors are presenting a program to a large audience, complete with graphics, stories, and audience participation (that is where we, the readers, admit to all the mistakes we have made in parenting). There are funny moments, too, in the real-life examples throughout the text.
While the book is most helpful to dealing with younger children, and its emphasis is there, it also has applicability to older children and even adults. Picture, if you will, a couple about to get into a heated “discussion” about overspending, or about behavior at a party. Instead of allowing it to turn into a battle, a spouse with the skills from No-Drama Discipline can turn it into a calm and supportive — yet effective — conversation instead.
The book includes a so-called refrigerator sheet to keep the tips in front of you at home. The sheet alone will not teach what the entire book does, but it can help remind you of what you’ve learned from the stories and examples in the larger text.
There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the book. I enjoyed the writing style and found it easy to understand. Much of it “hit home” with situations I have faced — and I suspect most readers will have faced them as well.
After learning some ways to enhance your childcare skills and to keep things calm, not only will the kids in your life behave better, but you’ll be happier and less stressed, too.
No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
Bantam Books, September 2014
Hardcover, 288 pages