Recently, a parent chuckled when she saw a copy of the book No-Drama Discipline on the top of a stack of books in the YISS elementary library. “They don’t know my kids,” she commented to the librarian. Some parents may think that this book should be in the fiction section of the library, but don’t judge THIS book by its cover.
As you begin to read No-Drama Discipline, you will notice the authors are not necessarily referring to children when they use the words “no drama” in their title. Children’s brains are still under construction, and they often lose control of their “thinking” brain when they misbehave. Yes, there is a lot of drama when a child is “throwing a tantrum,” “having a meltdown,” or losing the ability to behave rationally. However, it is the reaction of adults to misbehavior that either adds to the drama or diminishes it.
Then there is the word “discipline” in the title. What did you think of when you heard this word? Did you think of words like “punishment” or “consequences”? Unfortunately, we have forgotten the true meaning of this word. The root of “discipline” is the word “disciple,” which means “student.” A disciple, the one receiving discipline, is learning through instruction. The authors decided they wanted to reclaim the word “discipline” and differentiate discipline from consequences and punishment.
Effective discipline means that we are not only stopping a bad behavior or promoting a good one but also teaching skills and nurturing the connections in our children’s brains that will help them make better decisions and handle themselves well in the future. Consequences and punitive reactions are often counterproductive, not only regarding building brains but even when it comes to getting kids to cooperate.
The next time your child misbehaves, take a moment to ask yourself three simple questions:
- Why did my child act that way? In our anger, our answer might be “because he’s a spoiled brat” or “because he’s trying to push my buttons!” However, when we approach the question with curiosity instead of assumptions, looking deeper at what is going on behind a particular misbehavior, we can often understand that our child was trying to express or attempt something but simply did not handle it appropriately. If we know this, we can respond more effectively–and compassionately.
- What lesson do I want to teach in this moment? Again, the goal of discipline is not to give a consequence. We want to teach a lesson–whether it is about self-control, the importance of sharing, acting responsibly, etc.
- How can I best teach this lesson? Considering a child’s age and developmental stage, along with the context of the situation, how can we most effectively communicate what we want to get across? Too often, we respond to misbehavior as if consequences were the goal of discipline. Sometimes natural consequences result from a child’s decision, and the lesson is taught without us needing to do much. However, there are usually more effective and loving ways to help our kids understand what we are trying to communicate than to immediately hand out one-size-fits-all consequences.
By asking ourselves these three questions–why, what, and how–when our children do something we do not like, we can more easily shift out of autopilot mode. That means we will be much more likely to respond in ways that are effective in stopping the behavior in the short-term while also teaching more significant, long-lasting lessons and skills that build character and prepare children for making good decisions in the future.
The authors of No-Drama Discipline hope you will discover that the moments when discipline is called for are some of the most critical moments of parenting, times when you have the opportunity to shape your children most powerfully. When these challenges arise–and they will– you will be able to look at them not merely as dreaded discipline situations full of anger, frustration, and drama, but as opportunities to connect with your children and redirect them toward behavior that better serves them and your whole family.