Over the years, my husband and I have occasionally disagreed about discipline. Typically, he's thought I was too soft, and sometimes he's been right. Often, though, I think I'm just more empathetic about why one of my girls had a seemingly unnecessary meltdown or made a big fuss about putting her plate in the dishwasher. Of course, being understanding shouldn't mean that you throw all your rules out the window.
So I was particularly interested in the new book, No-Drama Discipline: The Whole Brain Way to Calm to Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, by Daniel Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. The authors—whose discipline advice is based on their understanding of children's neurological development—believe that expressing empathy should always be step one. "When your child is at his worst, that's when he needs you the most," they write.
As you've certainly heard before, the real meaning of the word discipline is "to teach," so the goal of our response to our children's bad behavior should be to help them learn to act differently in the future. The authors don't think that ignoring tantrums or enforcing time-outs are the best ways to do that. They think these teach your child that you only want to be with him when he's happy.
There are a lot of fascinating insights in this book, but this analogy to dealing with dogs rang true to me:
If you had to interact with an angry-looking dog, would you approach it with an aggressive body posture and demand that the dog "knock it off an calm down"? That wouldn't be very smart, nor would it be very effective. The reason is that it would communicate to the dog that you're a threat, and the dog would have no other option than to react, either by cowering or by fighting. So instead, we're taught to approach a dog by putting out the back of our hand, crouching down low, and speaking with a soft, reassuring voice. In doing so, our whole body communicates a message: "I'm not a threat." In response, the dog can relax, calm down, feel safe, and then approach and engage.
If you stay calm when your kid is upset, he is more likely to calm down. The first way to connect with your child is through loving touch: put your hand on his arm, rub his back, or hug him. To make him feel comforted, you can also get down below your child's eye level. Then you want to validate what he's feeling (such as "I can see that you're really upset that we can't go") and listen to him rather than lecture him. The goal is to send this message: "I get you. I see what you're feeling, and I acknowledge it. If I were in your shoes and at your age, I might feel the same way."
Once you've connected emotionally in this way, then you can redirect him to think about more appropriate behavior. The authors write, "Even when we say no to our children's behavior, we always want to say yes to their emotions, and to the way they experience things."
I know this book will spark some good conversation in my own home...it's an eye-opener worth reading.