Sports Car Styling Tips

Are you planning to enhance the aesthetic look of your automotive? Need to get that sporty and smooth look? Then listed below are some pointers that may assist you in costume up your automotive.

What merchandise to select from

When deciding what sort of setup you’ll do to your automotive, you need to first remember the fact that there is a mess of merchandise being bought on the market which declares superior efficiency and economical. However, the actuality is there are some good ones and lots of dangerous ones. Be choosy when on the lookout for automotive equipment and keep in mind it’s not a nasty thought to have a look at the established manufacturers earlier than contemplating untested manufacturers.

The wheels

One of many preliminary issues {that a} automotive fanatic does when dressing up an automotive is to interchange the prevailing wheels with customized-made ones. However, this isn’t only for seems since efficiency wheels and tires additionally improve an automotive’s dealing with and efficiency. Selecting between tall wheels and quick ones would be the subsequent step. Greater wheels get observed extra and improve the look of an automotive dramatically. Smaller wheels however have that classic or retro look.

Stickers Galore

Making use of sticker designs on the automotive hood or the opposite components of the automotive physique is, without doubt, one of the most cost-effective methods to change and customize your automotive. Sticker designs vary from widespread efficiency components logos of producers in addition to these designed for a rally and indy races. In case you are able to make your personal stickers, you will need to get permission for copying a design as it might be copyrighted. In case you are planning to place stickers on the hood, select the sort that won’t be broken by the warmth of the engine. Metallic foil stickers are perfect for use on automotive hoods.

Decreasing kits

Decreasing your automotive means making your automotive extra steady in turns except for giving it an aggressive and sporty look. Automobiles usually are not the ones that have decreasing kits, so in case you have a pickup truck, the likelihood is, there’s decreasing equipment made on your automobile. Though having a decrease journey means improved dealing with, the commerce-off is poor journey high quality because the automotive springs are stiffer and shorter.

These are a few of the issues that you are able to do to enhance the look and stance of your automotive. Your automotive is a represents you so naturally, you need it to look interesting. In fact, having a very good trying automotive additionally means spending hundreds of {dollars}. If that is your ardor, then paying additional won’t be an issue for you.

 

All identifying details, including names, have been changed except for those pertaining to
the authors’ family members. This book is not intended as a substitute for advice from a
trained professional.
Copyright © 2014 by Mind Your Brain, Inc., and Bryson Creative Productions, Inc.
Excerpt from The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson,
Ph.D., copyright © 2011 by Mind Your Brain, Inc., and Bryson Creative Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division
of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
BANTAM BOOKS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Siegel, Daniel J.
No-drama discipline : the whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s
developing mind / Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
pages cm
ISBN 978-0-345-54804-7 (hardback) — ISBN 978-0-345-54805-4 (ebook) 1. Parenting.
2. Child development. 3. Child rearing. I. Bryson, Tina Payne. II. Title.
HQ755.8.S5327 2014
649.1—dc23
2014008270
Illustrations by Tuesday Mourning
www.bantamdell.com
Title-page illustration: © iStock.com/Leontura
v3.1
To the youth of the world, our vital teachers (DJS)
For my parents: my first teachers and my first loves (TPB)
CONTENTS
Cover
Title Page
Copyright
Dedication
Before You Read This Book: A Question
Introduction: Relational, Low-Drama Discipline
Chapter 1 ReTHINKING Discipline
Chapter 2 Your Brain on Discipline
Chapter 3 From Tantrum to Tranquility: Connection Is the Key
Chapter 4 No-Drama Connection in Action
Chapter 5 1-2-3 Discipline: Redirecting for Today, and for
Tomorrow
Chapter 6 Addressing Behavior: As Simple as R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T
Conclusion On Magic Wands, Being Human, Reconnection, and
Change: Four Messages of Hope
Further Resources
Connect and Redirect Refrigerator Sheet
When a Parenting Expert Loses It
A Note to Our Child’s Caregivers
Twenty Discipline Mistakes Even Great Parents Make
An Excerpt from The Whole-Brain Child
Acknowledgments
Other Books by This Author
A
BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
A Question
cereal bowl gets thrown across the kitchen, splattering milk
and Cheerios all over the wall.
The dog runs in from the backyard and has inexplicably been
painted blue.
One of your kids threatens a younger sibling.
You get a call from the principal’s oɽce for the third time this
month.
What do you do?
Before you answer, we want to ask you to completely forget
about everything you know about discipline. Forget what you think
the word means, and forget what you’ve heard about how parents
should respond when kids do something they’re not supposed to.
Instead, ask yourself a question: Are you open to at least
thinking about a diʃerent 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.
Y
INTRODUCTION
Relational, Low-Drama Discipline: Encouraging
Cooperation While Building a Child’s Brain
ou are not alone.
If you feel at a loss when it comes to getting your kids to
argue less or speak more respectfully … if you can’t ɹgure out how
to keep your toddler from climbing up to the top bunk, or get him
to put on clothes before answering the front door … if you feel
frustrated having to utter the same phrase over and over again
(“Hurry! You’re going to be late for school!”) or to engage in
another battle over bedtime or homework or screen time … if
you’ve experienced any of these frustrations, you are not alone.
In fact, you’re not even unusual. You know what you are? A
parent. A human being, and a parent.
It’s hard to figure out how to discipline our kids. It just is. All too
often it goes like this: They do something they shouldn’t do. We get
mad. They get upset. Tears ɻow. (Sometimes the tears belong to
the kids.)
It’s exhausting. It’s infuriating. All the drama, the yelling, the
hurt feelings, the guilt, the heartache, the disconnection.
Do you ever ɹnd yourself asking, after an especially agonizing
interaction with your kids,
“Can’t I do better than this? Can’t I
handle myself better, and be a more eʃective parent? Can’t I
discipline in ways that calm the situation rather than create more
chaos?” You want the bad behavior to stop, but you want to
respond in a way that values and enhances your relationship with
your children. You want to build your relationship, not damage it.
You want to create less drama, not more.
You can.
In fact, that’s the central message of this book: You really can
discipline in a way that’s full of respect and nurturing, but that also
maintains clear and consistent boundaries. In other words, you can do
better. You can discipline in a way that’s high on relationship, high
on respect, and low on drama and conɻict—and in the process, you
can foster development that builds good relationship skills and
improves your children’s ability to make good decisions, think
about others, and act in ways that prepare them for lifelong success
and happiness.
We’ve talked to thousands and thousands of parents all over the
world, teaching them basics about the brain and how it affects their
relationship with their kids, and we’ve seen how hungry parents
are to learn to address children’s behavior in ways that are more
respectful and more eʃective. Parents are tired of yelling so much,
tired of seeing their kids get so upset, tired of their children
continuing to misbehave. These parents know the kind of discipline
they don’t want to use, but they don’t know what to do instead.
They want to discipline in a kind and loving way, but they feel
exhausted and overwhelmed when it comes to actually getting their
kids to do what they’re supposed to do. They want discipline that
works and that they feel good about.
In this book, we’ll introduce you to what we call a No-Drama,
Whole-Brain approach to discipline, oʃering principles and
strategies that will remove most of the drama and high emotions
that so typically characterize discipline. As a result, your life as a
parent will be easier and your parenting will become more
eʃective. More important, you’ll create connections in your
children’s brains that build emotional and social skills that will
serve them now and throughout their entire life—all while
strengthening your relationship with them. What we hope you’ll
discover is that the moments when discipline is called for are
actually some of the most important moments of parenting, times
when we have the opportunity to shape our children most
powerfully. When these challenges arise—and they will—you’ll be
able to look at them not merely as dreaded discipline situations full
of anger and frustration and drama, but as opportunities to connect
with your children and redirect them toward behavior that better
serves them and your whole family.
If you are an educator, therapist, or coach who is also
responsible for the growth and well-being of children, you will ɹnd
that these techniques work just as well for your students, patients
and clients, or teams. Recent discoveries about the brain give us
deep insights into the children we care for, what they need, and
how to discipline them in ways that foster optimal development.
We’ve written this book for anyone who cares for a child and is
interested in loving, scientiɹcally informed, eʃective strategies to
help children grow well. We’ll use the word “parent” throughout
the book, but if you’re a grandparent, a teacher, or some other
signiɹcant person in the life of a child, this book is also for you.
Our lives are more meaningful with collaboration, and this joining
together can begin with the many adults who cooperate in the
nurturing of a child in the earliest days of life onward. We hope all
children have many caregivers in their lives who are intentional
about how they interact with them and, when necessary, discipline
them in ways that build skills and enhance their relationship.
Reclaiming the Word “Discipline”
Let’s begin with the actual goal of discipline. When your child
misbehaves, what do you want to accomplish? Are consequences
your ultimate goal? In other words, is the objective to punish?
Of course not. When we’re angry, we may feel like we want to
punish our child. Irritation, impatience, frustration, or just being
unsure can make us feel that. It’s totally understandable—even
common. But once we’ve calmed down and cleaned the raw egg
out of everyone’s hair, we know that giving consequences is not
our ultimate goal.
So what do we want? What is the goal of discipline?
Well, let’s start with a formal deɹnition. 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. So, from its inception in the English language,
“discipline” has meant “to teach.”
These days, most people associate only punishment or
consequences with the practice of discipline. It’s like the mother
with the eighteen-month-old son who asked Dan: “I’m doing a lot
of teaching with Sam, but when do I start disciplining him?” The
mother saw that she needed to address her son’s behaviors, and she
assumed that punishment is what discipline is meant to be.
As you read the rest of this book, we want you to keep in mind
what Dan explained: that whenever we discipline our kids, our
overall goal is not to punish or to give a consequence, but to teach.
The root of “discipline” is the word disciple, which means
“student,
” “pupil,
” and “learner.” A disciple, the one receiving
discipline, is not a prisoner or recipient of punishment, but one
who is learning through instruction. Punishment might shut down a
behavior in the short term, but teaching oʃers skills that last a
lifetime.
We thought a lot about whether we even wanted to use the word
“discipline” in our title. We weren’t sure what to call this practice
of setting limits while still being emotionally attuned to our
children, this approach that centers on teaching and working with
our kids to help them build the skills to make good choices. We
decided that we want to reclaim the word “discipline,
” along with
its original meaning. We want to completely reframe the whole
discussion and differentiate discipline from punishment.
Essentially, we want caregivers to begin to think of discipline as one
of the most loving and nurturing things we can do for kids. Our
children need to learn skills like inhibiting impulses, managing big
angry feelings, and considering the impact of their behavior on
others. Learning these essentials of life and relationships is what
they need, and if you can provide it for them, you’ll be oʃering a
signiɹcant gift not only to your children, but to your whole family
and even the rest of the world. Seriously. This is not mere
hyperbole. No-Drama Discipline, as we’ll describe it in the coming
pages, will help your kids become the people they are meant to be,
improving their ability to control themselves, respect others,
participate in deep relationships, and live moral and ethical lives.
Just think, then, about the generational impact that will have as
they grow up with these gifts and abilities, and raise children of
their own, who can then pass on these same gifts to future
generations!
It begins with rethinking what discipline really means,
reclaiming it as a term that’s not about punishment or control, but
about teaching and skill building—and doing so from a place of
love, respect, and emotional connection.
The Dual Goals of No-Drama Discipline
Eʃective discipline aims for two primary goals. The ɹrst is
obviously to get our kids to cooperate and do the right thing. In the
heat of the moment, when our child is throwing a toy in a
restaurant or being rude or refusing to do homework, we simply
want her to act like she’s supposed to. We want her to stop
throwing the toy. We want her to communicate respectfully. We
want her to get her homework done.
With a small child, achieving the ɹrst goal, cooperation, might
involve getting him to hold your hand as he crosses the street, or
helping him put down the bottle of olive oil he’s swinging like a
baseball bat in aisle 4 at the grocery store. For an older child it
might mean problem-solving with him to do his chores in a more
timely fashion, or discussing how his sister might feel about the
phrase “fat-butted lonely girl.”
You’ll hear us say it repeatedly throughout the book: every child
is diʃerent, and no parenting approach or strategy will work every
time. But the most obvious goal in all of these situations is to elicit
cooperation and to help a child behave in ways that are acceptable
(like using kind words, or putting dirty clothes in the hamper) and
avoid behaviors that aren’t (like hitting, or touching the gum
someone left under the table at the library). This is the short-term
goal of discipline.
For many people, that’s the only goal: gaining immediate
cooperation. They want their kids to stop doing something they
shouldn’t be doing or begin doing something they should be doing.
That’s why we so often hear parents use phrases like “Stop it now!”
and the timeless “Because I said so!”
But really, we want more than mere cooperation, don’t we? Of
course we want to prevent the breakfast spoon from becoming a
weapon. Of course we want to promote kind and respectful
actions, and reduce the insults and belligerence.
But there’s a second goal that’s just as important, and whereas
getting cooperation is the short-term objective, this second goal is
more long-term. It focuses on instructing our children in ways that
develop skills and the capacity to resiliently handle challenging
situations, frustrations, and emotional storms that might make
them lose control. These are the internal skills that can be
generalized beyond the immediate behavior in the moment and
then used not only now, but later in a variety of situations. This
internal, second major goal of discipline is about helping them
develop self-control and a moral compass, so that even when
authority ɹgures aren’t around, they are thoughtful and
conscientious. It’s about helping them grow up and become kind
and responsible people who can enjoy successful relationships and
meaningful lives.
We call this a Whole-Brain approach to discipline because, as
we’ll explain, when we use the whole of our own brain as parents,
we can focus on both the immediate external teachings and the
long-term internal lessons. And when our children receive this form
of intentional teaching, they, too, come to use their whole brains.
Over the generations, countless theories have cropped up about
how to help our children “grow up right.” There was the “spare the
rod and spoil the child” school, and its opposite, the “free to be you
and me” school. But in the last twenty years or so, during what’s
been called “the decade of the brain” and the years that have
followed, scientists have discovered an immense amount of
information about the way the brain works, and it has plenty to
tell us about loving, respectful, consistent, effective discipline.
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. You could call it brain
sculpting, or brain nourishing, or brain building. Whatever phrase
you prefer, the point is crucial, and thrilling: as a result of the
words we use and the actions we take, children’s brains will
actually change, and be built, as they undergo new experiences.
Eʃective discipline means that we’re 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. Automatically.
Because that’s how their brains will have been wired. We’re
helping them understand what it means to manage their emotions,
to control their own impulses, to consider others’ feelings, to think
about consequences, to make thoughtful decisions, and much more.
We’re helping them develop their brains and become people who
are better friends, better siblings, better sons and daughters, and
better human beings. Then, one day, better parents themselves.
As a huge bonus, the more we help build our kids’ brains, the
less we have to struggle to achieve the short-term goal of gaining
cooperation. Encouraging cooperation and building the brain: these
are the dual goals—the external and the internal—that guide a
loving, eʃective, Whole-Brain approach to discipline. It’s parenting
with the brain in mind!
Accomplishing Our Goals: Saying No to the Behavior, but Yes to the
Child
How do parents typically accomplish their discipline goals? Most
commonly, through threats and punishment. Kids misbehave, and
the immediate parental reaction is to oʃer consequences with both
guns blazing.

Kids act, parents react, then kids react. Rinse, lather, repeat. And
for many parents—probably for most parents—consequences (along
with a healthy dose of yelling) are pretty much the primary go- to
discipline strategy: time-outs, spanking, taking away a privilege,
grounding, and on and on. No wonder there’s so much drama! But
as we’ll explain, it’s possible to discipline in a way that actually
removes many of the reasons we give consequences in the ɹrst
place.
To take it even further, consequences and punitive reactions are
actually often counterproductive, not only in terms of building brains,
but even when it comes to getting kids to cooperate. Based on our
personal and clinical experience, as well as the latest science about
the developing brain, we can tell you that automatically giving
consequences is not the best way to accomplish the goals of
discipline.
What is? That’s the foundation of the No-Drama Discipline
approach, and it comes down to one simple phrase: connect and
redirect.
Connect and Redirect
Again, every child, like every parenting situation, is diʃerent. But
one constant that’s true in virtually every encounter is that the ɹrst
step in eʃective discipline is to connect with our children
emotionally. Our relationship with our kids should be central to
everything we do. Whether we’re playing with them, talking with
them, laughing with them, or, yes, disciplining them, we want
them to experience at a deep level the full force of our love and
aʃection, whether we’re acknowledging an act of kindness or
addressing a misbehavior. Connection means that we give our kids
our attention, that we respect them enough to listen to them, that
we value their contribution to problem solving, and that we
communicate to them that we’re on their side—whether we like
the way they’re acting or not.
When we discipline we want to join with our kids in a deep way
that demonstrates how much we love them. In fact, when our
children are misbehaving, that’s often when they most need
connection with us. Disciplinary responses should change based on
a child’s age, temperament, and stage of development, along with
the context of the situation. But the constant throughout the entire
disciplinary interaction should be the clear communication of the
deep connection between parent and child. Relationship trumps
any one particular behavior.
However, connection isn’t the same thing as permissiveness.
Connecting with our kids during discipline doesn’t mean letting
them do whatever they want. In fact, just the opposite. Part of
truly loving our kids, and giving them what they need, means
oʃering them clear and consistent boundaries, creating predictable
structure in their lives, as well as having high expectations for
them. Children need to understand the way the world works:
what’s permissible and what’s not. A well-deɹned understanding of
rules and boundaries helps them achieve success in relationships
and other areas of their lives. When they learn about structure in
the safety of their home, they will be better able to ɻourish in
outside environments—school, work, relationships—where they’ll
face numerous expectations for appropriate behavior. Our children
need repeated experiences that allow them to develop wiring in
their brain that helps them delay gratiɹcation, contain urges to
react aggressively toward others, and ɻexibly deal with not getting
their way. The absence of limits and boundaries is actually quite
stressful, and stressed kids are more reactive. So when we say no
and set limits for our children, we help them discover
predictability and safety in an otherwise chaotic world. And we
build brain connections that allow kids to handle diɽculties well in
the future.
In other words, deep, empathic connection can and should be
combined with clear and ɹrm boundaries that create needed structure
in children’s lives. That’s where “redirect” comes in. Once we’ve
connected with our child and helped her calm herself so she can
hear us and fully understand what we’re saying, we can then
redirect her toward more appropriate behavior and help her see a
better way to handle herself.
But keep in mind, redirection is rarely going to be successful
while a child’s emotions are running high. Consequences and
lessons are ineʃective as long as a child is upset and unable to hear
the lessons you’re oʃering. It’s like trying to teach a dog to sit
while he’s ɹghting another dog. A ɹghting dog won’t sit. But if you
can help a child calm down, receptiveness will emerge and allow
her to understand what you’re trying to tell her, much more
quickly than if you just punished or lectured her.
That’s what we explain when people ask about the demands of
connecting with children. Someone might say,
“That sounds like a
respectful and loving way to discipline, and I can see how it would
help my kids in the long run, and even make discipline easier down
the road. But come on! I’ve got a job! And other kids! And dinner
to make, and piano and ballet and Little League and a hundred
other things. I’m barely keeping my head above water as it is! How
am I supposed to ɹnd the extra time necessary to connect and
redirect when I discipline?”
We get it. We really do. Both of us work, our spouses work, and
we’re both committed parents. It’s not easy. But what we’ve
learned as we’ve practiced the principles and strategies we discuss
in the following chapters is that No-Drama Discipline isn’t some
sort of luxury available only to people with all kinds of extra time
on their hands. (We’re not sure that kind of parent actually exists.)
It’s not that the Whole-Brain approach requires that you carve out
tons of extra time to engage your kids in discussions about the right
way to do things. In fact, No-Drama Discipline is all about taking
ordinary, in-the-moment parenting situations and using them as
opportunities to reach your kids and teach them what’s important.
You might think that yelling “Knock it oʃ!” or “Quit whining!” or
giving an immediate time-out would be quicker, simpler, and more
eʃective than connecting with a child’s feelings. But as we’ll soon
explain, paying attention to your child’s emotions will usually lead
to greater calm and cooperation, and do so much more quickly,
than will a dramatic parental outburst that escalates the emotions
all around.
And here’s the best part. When we avoid bringing extra chaos
and drama to disciplinary situations—in other words, when we
combine clear and consistent limits with loving empathy—
everyone wins. Why? For one thing a No-Drama, Whole-Brain
approach makes life easier for both parents and kids. In high-stress
moments—for instance, when your child threatens to throw the TV
remote into the toilet mere seconds before the season ɹnale of
your beloved hospital drama—you can appeal to the higher,
thinking part of her brain, rather than triggering the lower, more
reactive part. (We explain this strategy in detail in Chapter 3.) As a
result, you’re going to be able to avoid most of the yelling and
crying and anger that discipline so often causes, not to mention
keeping the remote dry and getting you to your program long
before the first ambulance rolls onto your screen.
More important, connecting and redirecting will, to put it as
simply as possible, help your kids become better human beings,
both now and as they grow toward adulthood. It will build the
internal skills they’ll need throughout their lives. Not only will
they move from a reactive state to a receptive place where they
can actually learn—that’s the external, cooperation part—but
connections in their brain will be built as well. These connections
will allow them to grow more and more into people who know
how to control themselves, think about others, regulate their
emotions, and make good choices. You’ll be helping them build an
internal compass they can learn to rely on. Rather than simply
telling them what to do and demanding that they conform to your
requests, you’ll be giving them experiences that strengthen their
executive functions and develop skills related to empathy, personal
insight, and morality. That’s the internal, brain-building part.
The research is really clear on this point. Kids who achieve the
best outcomes in life—emotionally, relationally, and even
educationally—have parents who raise them with a high degree of
connection and nurturing, while also communicating and
maintaining clear limits and high expectations. Their parents
remain consistent while still interacting with them in a way that
communicates love, respect, and compassion. As a result, the kids
are happier, do better in school, get into less trouble, and enjoy
more meaningful relationships.
You won’t always be able to discipline in a way that both
connects and redirects. We don’t do it perfectly with our own kids,
either. But the more we connect and redirect, the less drama we
see when we respond to our kids’ misbehavior. Even better, they
learn more, they build better relationship and conɻict-resolution
skills, and they enjoy an even stronger relationship with us as they
grow and develop.
About the Book
What’s involved in creating a discipline strategy that’s high on
relationship and low on drama? That’s what the rest of the book
will explain. Chapter 1,
“ReTHINKING Discipline,
” poses some
questions about what discipline is, helping you identify and
develop your own discipline approach with these No-Drama
strategies in mind. Chapter 2,
“Your Brain on Discipline,
” discusses
the developing brain and its role in discipline. Chapter 3,
“From
Tantrum to Tranquility,
” will focus on the “connect” aspect of
discipline, emphasizing the importance of communicating that we
love and embrace our children for who they are, even in the midst
of a disciplinary moment. Chapter 4 stays with this theme, oʃering
speciɹc strategies and suggestions for connecting with kids so that
they can calm down enough to really hear us and learn, thus
making better decisions in both the short term and the long term.
Then it’s time to redirect, which is the focus of Chapter 5. The
emphasis will be on helping you remember the one deɹnition 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). Chapter 6 then concentrates on
speciɹc 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. The book’s concluding
chapter oʃers four messages of hope intended to help you take the
pressure oʃ yourself as you discipline. As we’ll explain, we all
mess up when we discipline. We’re all human. There is no such
thing as a “perfect parent.” But if we model how to deal with our
mistakes and then repair the relationship afterward, even our lessthan-perfect responses to misbehavior can be valuable and give
kids opportunities to deal with diɽcult situations and therefore
develop new skills. (Phew!) No-Drama Discipline isn’t about
perfection. It’s about personal connection and repairing ruptures
when they inevitably occur.
You’ll see that we’ve included a “Further Resources” section at
the back of the book. We hope this additional material will add to
your experience of reading the book and help you implement the
“connect and redirect” strategies in your own home. The ɹrst
document we call a “Refrigerator Sheet.” It contains the most
essential concepts from the book, presented so you can easily
remind yourself of the core No-Drama principles and strategies.
Feel free to copy this sheet and hang it on your refrigerator, tape it
to the dashboard of your car, or post it anywhere else it might be
helpful.
Next you’ll see a section called “When a Parenting Expert Loses
It,
” which tells stories of when we, Dan and Tina, have ɻipped our
lids and taken the low road in our own roles as parents, rather than
disciplining from a No-Drama, Whole-Brain approach. In sharing
these stories with you, we simply want to acknowledge that none
of us is perfect, and that all of us make mistakes with our kids. We
hope you’ll laugh along with us as you read, and not judge us too
harshly.
Next comes “A Note to Our Child’s Caregivers.” These pages are
just what you’d expect: a note you can give to the other people
who take care of your children. Most of us rely on grandparents,
babysitters, friends, and others to help us raise our kids. This note
lays out a brief and simple list of the key No-Drama principles. It’s
similar to the Refrigerator Sheet, but it’s written for someone who
has not read No-Drama Discipline. That way you don’t have to ask
your in-laws to buy and read the entire book (although nobody’s
stopping you from doing that if you want!).
After the note to caregivers, you’ll see a list called “Twenty
Discipline Mistakes Even Great Parents Make.” This is one more set
of reminders to help you think through the principles and issues we
raise in the coming chapters. The book then closes with an excerpt
from our earlier book, The Whole-Brain Child. By reading through
this excerpt, you can get a better idea of what we mean when we
talk about parenting from a Whole-Brain perspective. It’s not
necessary that you read this excerpt to understand what we present
here, but it’s there if you’d like to go deeper into these ideas and
learn other concepts and strategies for building your children’s
brains and leading them toward health, happiness, and resilience.
Our overall goal in this book is to deliver a message of hope that
will transform how people understand and practice discipline. One
of the typically least pleasant parts of working with children—
discipline—can actually be one of the most meaningful, and it
doesn’t have to be full of constant drama and reactivity for both
you and your child. Children’s misbehavior really can be
transformed into better connections both in your relationship and
within your child’s brain. Disciplining from a Whole-Brain
perspective will allow you to completely shift the way you think
about your interactions with your children when they misbehave,
and recognize those moments as opportunities to build skills that
will help them now and into adulthood, not to mention making life
easier and more enjoyable for everyone in the family.
H
CHAPTER 1
ReTHINKING Discipline
ere are some actual statements we’ve heard from parents
we’ve worked with. Do any of them resonate with you?

Do these comments sound familiar? So many parents feel like
this. They want to handle things well when their kids are struggling
to do the right thing, but more often than not, they end up simply
reacting to a situation, rather than working from a clear set of
principles and strategies. They shift into autopilot and give up
control of their more intentional parenting decisions.
Autopilot may be a great tool when you’re ɻying a plane. Just
ɻip the switch, sit back and relax, and let the computer take you
where it’s been preprogrammed to go. But when it comes to
disciplining children, working from a preprogrammed autopilot
isn’t so great. It can ɻy us straight into whatever dark and stormy
cloud bank is looming, meaning parents and kids alike are in for a
bumpy ride.
Instead of being reactive, we want to be responsive to our kids.
We want to be intentional and make conscious decisions based on
principles we’ve thought about and agreed on beforehand. Being
intentional means considering various options and then choosing
the one that engages a thoughtful approach toward our intended
outcomes. For No-Drama Discipline, this means the short-term
external outcome of behavioral boundaries and structure and the
long-term internal outcome of teaching life skills.
Let’s say, for example, your four-year-old hits you. Maybe he’s
angry because you told him you needed to ɹnish an email before
you could play Legos with him, and he responded by slapping you
on the back. (It’s always surprising, isn’t it, that a person that small
can inflict so much pain?)
What do you do? If you’re on autopilot, not working from a
speciɹc philosophy for how to handle misbehavior, you might
simply react immediately without much reɻection or intention.
Maybe you’d grab him, possibly harder than you should, and tell
him through clenched teeth,
“Hitting is not OK!” Then you might
give him some sort of consequence, maybe marching him to his
room for a time-out.
Is this the worst possible parental reaction? No, it’s not. But
could it be better? Deɹnitely. What’s needed is a clear understanding
of what you actually want to accomplish when your child misbehaves.
That’s the overall goal of this chapter, to help you understand
the importance of working from an intentional philosophy and
having a clear and consistent strategy for responding to
misbehavior. As we said in the introduction, the dual goals of
discipline are to promote good external behavior in the short term
and build the internal structure of the brain for better behavior and
relationship skills in the long term. Keep in mind that discipline is
ultimately about teaching. So when you clench your teeth, spit out
a rule, and give a consequence, is that going to be eʃective in
teaching your child about hitting?
Well, yes and no. It might achieve the short-term eʃect of getting
him not to hit you. Fear and punishment can be eʃective in the
moment, but they don’t work over the long term. And are fear,
punishment, and drama really what we want to use as primary
motivators of our children? If so, we teach that power and control
are the best tools to get others to do what we want them to do.
Again, it’s completely normal to just react when we get angry,
especially when someone inɻicts physical or emotional pain on us.
But there are better responses, responses that can achieve the same
short-term goal of reducing the likelihood of the unwanted
behavior in the future, while also building skills. So rather than just
fearing your response and inhibiting an impulse in the future, your
child will undergo a learning experience that creates an internal
skill beyond simply an association of fear. And all of this learning
can occur while reducing the drama in the interaction and
strengthening your connection with your child.
Let’s talk about how you can respond to make discipline less of a
fear-creating reaction and more of a skill-building response on your
part.
The Three Questions: Why? What? How?
Before you respond to misbehavior, take a moment to ask yourself
three simple questions:
1. Why did my child act this way? In our anger, our answer might be
“Because he’s a spoiled brat” or “Because he’s trying to push my
buttons!” But when we approach with curiosity instead of
assumptions, looking deeper at what’s going on behind a
particular misbehavior, we can often understand that our child
was trying to express or attempt something but simply didn’t
handle it appropriately. If we understand this, we ourselves can
respond more effectively—and compassionately.
2. What lesson do I want to teach in this moment? Again, the goal of
discipline isn’t to give a consequence. We want to teach a lesson
—whether it’s about self-control, the importance of sharing,
acting responsibly, or anything else.
3. How can I best teach this lesson? Considering a child’s age and
developmental stage, along with the context of the situation (did
he realize the bullhorn was switched on before he raised it to the
dog’s ear?), how can we most eʃectively 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 our needing to do much. But there are usually
more eʃective and loving ways to help our kids understand what
we’re trying to communicate than to immediately hand out onesize-fits-all consequences.
By asking ourselves these three questions—why, what, and how
—when our children do something we don’t like, we can more
easily shift out of autopilot mode. That means we’ll be much more
likely to respond in a way that’s eʃective in stopping the behavior
in the short term while also teaching bigger, long-lasting life
lessons and skills that build character and prepare kids for making
good decisions in the future.
Let’s look more closely at how these three questions might help
us respond to the four-year-old who slaps you while you’re
emailing. When you hear the smack and feel the tiny, hand-shaped
imprint of pain on your back, it may take you a moment to calm
down and avoid simply reacting. It’s not always easy, is it? In fact,
our brains are programmed to interpret physical pain as a threat,
which activates the neural circuitry that can make us more reactive
and put us in a “ɹght” mode. So it takes some eʃort, sometimes
intense eʃort, to maintain control and practice No-Drama
Discipline. We have to override our primitive reactive brain when
this happens. Not easy. (By the way, this gets much harder to do if
we’re sleep deprived, hungry, overwhelmed, or not prioritizing
self-care.) This pause between reactive and responsive is the
beginning of choice, intention, and skillfulness as a parent.
So as quickly as possible, you want to try to pause and ask
yourself the three questions. Then you can see much more clearly
what’s going on in your interaction with your child. Every situation
is diʃerent and depends on many diʃerent factors, but the answers
to the questions might look something like this:
1. Why did my child act this way? He hit you because he wanted
your attention and wasn’t getting it. Sounds pretty typical for a
four-year-old, doesn’t it? Desirable? No. Developmentally
appropriate? Absolutely. It’s hard for a child this age to wait, and
big feelings surfaced, making it even harder. He’s not yet old
enough to consistently calm himself eʃectively or quickly
enough to prevent acting out. You wish he’d just soothe himself
and with composure declare,
“Mom, I’m feeling frustrated that
you’re asking me to keep waiting, and I’m having a strong,
aggressive impulse to hit you right now—but I have chosen not
to and am using my words instead.” But that’s not going to
happen. (It would be pretty funny if it did.) In that moment,
hitting is your son’s default strategy for expressing his big
feelings of frustration and impatience, and he needs some time
and skill-building practice to learn how to handle both delaying
gratification and appropriately managing anger. That’s why he hit
you.
That feels much less personal, doesn’t it? Our kids don’t usually
lash out at us because they’re simply rude, or because we’re failures
as parents. They usually lash out because they don’t yet have the
capacity to regulate their emotional states and control their impulses.
And they feel safe enough with us to know that they won’t lose
our love, even when they’re at their worst. In fact, when a fouryear-old doesn’t hit and acts “perfect” all the time, we have
concerns about the child’s bond with his parent. When children
are securely attached to their parents, they feel safe enough to
test that relationship. In other words, your child’s misbehavior is
often a sign of his trust and safety with you. Many parents notice
that their children “save it all up for them,
” behaving much
better at school or with other adults than they do at home. This
is why. These ɻare-ups are often signs of safety and trust, rather
than just some form of rebellion.
2. What lesson do I want to teach in this moment? The lesson is not
that misbehavior merits a consequence, but that there are better
ways of getting your attention and managing his anger than
resorting to violence. You want him to learn that hitting isn’t
OK, and that there are lots of appropriate ways to express his big
feelings.
3. How can I best teach this lesson? While giving him a time-out or
some other unrelated consequence might or might not make your
son think twice next time about hitting, there’s a better
alternative. What if you connected with him by pulling him to
you and letting him know he has your full attention? Then you
could acknowledge his feelings and model how to communicate
those emotions: “It’s hard to wait. You really want me to play,
and you’re mad that I’m at the computer. Is that right?” Most
likely you’ll receive an angry “Yes!” in response. That’s not a bad
thing; he’ll know he has your attention. And you’ll have his, too.
You can now talk with him and, as he becomes calmer and better
able to listen, get eye contact, explain that hitting is never all
right, and talk about some alternatives he could choose—like
using his words to express his frustration—the next time he
wants your attention.
This approach works with older kids as well. Let’s look at one of
the most common issues faced by parents everywhere: homework
battles. Imagine that your nine-year-old is seriously struggling
when it’s time to study, and you two are going round and round on
a regular basis. At least once a week she melts down. She gets so
frustrated she ends up in tears, yelling at you and calling her
teachers “mean” for assigning such diɽcult homework and herself
“stupid” for having trouble. After these proclamations she buries
her face in the crook of her arm and collapses in a puddle of tears
on the table.
For a parent, this situation can be every bit as maddening as
being slapped on the back by a four-year-old. An autopilot response
would be to give in to the frustration and, in the heat of anger,
argue with your daughter and lecture her, blaming her for
managing her time poorly and not listening well enough during
class. You’re probably familiar with the “If you had started earlier,
when I asked you to, you’d be done by now” lecture. We’ve never
heard of a kid responding to that lecture with “You’re right, Dad. I
really should have started when you asked. I’ll take responsibility
for not beginning when I was supposed to, and I’ve learned my
lesson. I’ll just jump right on my homework earlier tomorrow.
Thanks for enlightening me on this.”
Instead of the lecture, what if you asked the why-what-how
questions?
1. Why did my child act this way? Again, disciplinary approaches are
going to change depending on who your child is and what her
personality is like. Maybe homework is a struggle for her and
she feels frustrated, like it’s a battle she can never win. Maybe
there’s something about it that feels too hard or overwhelming
and makes her feel bad about herself, or maybe she’s just
needing more physical activity. The main feelings here could be
frustration and helplessness.
Or maybe school isn’t usually that tough for her, but she
melted down because she’s tired and feeling overwhelmed today.
She got up early, went to school for six hours, then had a Girl
Scouts meeting that lasted right up to dinnertime. Now that she’s
eaten, she’s supposed to sit at the kitchen table and work on
fractions for forty-ɹve minutes? No wonder she’s freaking out a
bit. That’s a lot to ask of a nine-year-old (or even an adult!).
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t still need to do her homework,
but it can change your perspective—and your response—when
you realize where she’s coming from.
2. What lesson do I want to teach in this moment? It might be that
you want to teach about eʃective time management and
responsibility. Or about making choices regarding which
activities to participate in. Or about how to handle frustration
more adaptively.
3. How can I best teach this lesson? However you answer question 2,
a lecture when she’s already upset deɹnitely isn’t the best
approach. This isn’t a teachable moment, because the emotional,
reactive parts of her brain are raging, overwhelming the more
calm, rational, thinking, and receptive parts of her brain. So
instead, you might want to help her with her fractions and just
get through this particular crisis: “I know it’s a lot tonight and
you’re tired. You can do this. I’ll sit with you and we’ll knock it
out.” Then once she’s calmed down and you two are sharing a
bowl of ice cream—or maybe even the next day—you can
discuss whether she’s overscheduled, or consider that she’s really
struggling to understand a concept, or explore the possibility that
she’s talking with friends in class and bringing home unɹnished
classwork, meaning she ends up with more homework. Ask her
questions, and problem-solve together to ɹgure out what’s going
on. Ask what’s getting in the way of completing her homework,
why she thinks it’s not working well, and what her suggestions
would be. Look at the whole experience as an opportunity to
collaborate on improving the homework experience. She might
need some help building skills for coming up with solutions, but
involve her in the process as much as possible.
Remember to pick a time when you’re both in a good,
receptive state of mind, then begin by saying something like,
“The homework situation isn’t working very well, is it? I bet we
can ɹnd a better way. What do you think might work?” (By the
way, we’ll give you lots of speciɹc, practical suggestions to help
with this type of conversation in Chapter 6, where we discuss
No-Drama redirection strategies.)
Diʃerent kids will require diʃerent responses to the why-whathow questions, so we’re not saying that any of these speciɹc
answers will necessarily apply to your children at a given time. The
point is to look at discipline in a new way, to rethink it. Then you
can be guided by an overall philosophy when you interact with
your kids, rather than simply reacting with whatever pops out
when your kids do something you don’t like. Why-what-how
questions give us a new way of moving from reactive parenting to
receptive and intentional Whole-Brain parenting strategies.
Granted, you won’t always have time to think through the three
questions. When good-natured wrestling in the living room turns
into a bloody cage match, or when you have young twins who are
already late for ballet, it’s not that easy to go through a threequestion protocol. We get it. It may sound completely unrealistic
that you’d have time to be this mindful in the heat of the moment.

We’re not saying you’ll do it perfectly every time, or that you’ll
immediately be able to think through your response when your
kids get upset. But the more you consider and practice this
approach, the more natural and automatic it will become to oʃer a
quick assessment and respond with an intentional response. It can
even become your default, your go-to. With practice, these
questions can help you remain intentional and receptive in the face
of previously reaction-inducing interactions. Asking why, what, and
how can help create an internal sense of clarity even in the face of
external chaos.
As a result, you’ll receive the bonus of having to discipline less
and less, because not only will you be shaping your child’s brain so
that he makes better decisions and learns the connection between
his feelings and his behavior, but you’ll be more attuned to what’s
happening with him—why he does what he does—meaning that
you’ll be better able to guide him before things escalate. Plus,
you’ll be more able to see things from his perspective, which will
let you recognize when he needs your help, rather than your wrath.
Can’t vs. Won’t: Discipline Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
To put it simply, asking the why-what-how questions helps us
remember who our kids are and what they need. The questions
challenge us to be conscious of the age and unique needs of each
individual. After all, what works for one child may be the exact
opposite of what her brother needs. And what works for one child
one minute might not work for the same child ten minutes later. So
don’t think of discipline as a one-size-ɹts-all solution. Instead,
remember how important it is to discipline this one child in this one
moment.
Too often, when we discipline on autopilot, we respond to a
situation much more from our general state of mind than from
what our child needs at that particular time. It’s easy to forget that
our children are just that—children—and to expect behavior
beyond their developmental capacity. For example, we can’t expect
a four-year-old to handle his emotions well when he’s angry that
his mom is still on the computer, any more than we can expect a
nine-year-old not to freak out about homework from time to time.
Tina recently saw a mother and grandmother shopping. They had
buckled a little boy, who looked about ɹfteen months old, into
their cart. As the women browsed, looking at purses and shoes, the
boy cried and cried, clearly wanting to get out of the cart. He
needed to move and walk and explore. The caregivers
absentmindedly handed him items to distract him, which just
frustrated him more. This little boy couldn’t talk, but his message
was clear: “You’re asking way too much of me! I need you to see
what I need!” His behavior and emotional wails were completely
understandable.
In fact, we should assume that kids will sometimes experience
and display emotional reactivity, as well as “oppositional”
behavior. Developmentally, they’re not working from fully formed
brains yet (as we’ll explain in Chapter 2), so they are literally
incapable of meeting our expectations all of the time. That means
t h a t when we discipline, we must always consider a child’s
developmental capacity, particular temperament, and emotional style,
as well as the situational context.
A valuable distinction is the idea of can’t vs. won’t. Parental
frustration radically and drastically decreases when we distinguish
between a can’t and a won’t. Sometimes we assume that our kids
won’t behave the way we want them to, when in reality, they
simply can’t, at least not in this particular moment.
The truth is that a huge percentage of misbehavior is more about
can’t than won’t. The next time your child is having a hard time
managing herself, ask yourself,
“Does the way she’s acting make
sense, considering her age and the circumstances?” Much more
often than not, the answer will be yes. Run errands for hours with
a three-year-old in the car, and she’s going to get fussy. An elevenyear-old who stayed out late watching ɹreworks the previous night
and then had to get up early for a student council car wash the next
morning is likely to melt down sometime during the day. Not
because he won’t keep it together, but because he can’t.
We make this point to parents all the time. It was especially
eʃective with one single father who visited Tina in her oɽce. He
was at his wits’ end because his ɹve-year-old clearly demonstrated
the ability to act appropriately and make good decisions. But at
times, his son would melt down over the smallest thing. Here’s
how Tina approached the conversation.
I began by trying to explain to this dad that at times his
s o n couldn’t regulate himself, which meant that he
wasn’t choosing to be willful or deɹant. The father’s
body language in response to my explanation was clear.
He crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.
Although he didn’t literally roll his eyes, it was clear he
wasn’t about to start a Tina Bryson fan club. So I said,
“I’m getting the sense you don’t agree with me here.”
He responded,
“It just doesn’t make sense. Sometimes
he’s great about handling even big disappointments.
Like last week when he didn’t get to go to the hockey
game. Then other times he’ll completely lose his mind
because he can’t have the blue cup because it’s in the
dishwasher! It’s not about what he can’t do. He’s just
spoiled and needs stricter discipline. He needs to learn
how to obey. And he can! He’s already proven he can
totally choose how to handle himself.”
I decided to take a therapeutic risk—doing something
out of the ordinary without knowing quite how it would
go. I nodded, then asked,
“I bet you’re a loving and
patient dad most of the time, right?”
He replied,
“Yes, most of the time. Sometimes, of
course, I’m not.”
I tried to communicate some humor and playfulness
in my tone as I said,
“So you can be patient and loving,
but sometimes you’re choosing not to be?” Fortunately,
he smiled, beginning to see where I was going. So I
pressed on. “If you loved your son, wouldn’t you make
better choices and be a good dad all of the time? Why
are you choosing to be impatient or reactive?” He began
to nod and broke out in an even bigger smile,
acknowledging my playfulness as the point sank in.
I continued. “What is it that makes it hard to be
patient?”
He said,
“Well, it depends on how I’m feeling, like if
I’m tired or I’ve had a rough day at work or something.”
I smiled and said,
“You know where I’m going with
this, don’t you?”
Of course he did. Tina went on to explain that a person’s
capacity to handle situations well and make good decisions can
really ɻuctuate according to the circumstances and the context of a
given situation. Simply because we’re human, our capacity to
handle ourselves well is not stable and constant. And that’s
certainly the case with a five-year-old.
The father clearly understood what Tina was saying: that it’s
misguided to assume that just because his son could handle himself
well in one moment, he’d always be able to do so. And that when
his son didn’t manage his feelings and behaviors, it wasn’t evidence
that he was spoiled and needed stricter discipline. Rather, he
needed understanding and help, and through emotional connection
and setting limits, the father could increase and expand his son’s
capacity. The truth is that for all of us, our capacity ɻuctuates given
our state of mind and state of body, and these states are inɻuenced by
so many factors—especially in the case of a developing brain in a
developing child.
Tina and the father talked further, and it was clear that he had
fully understood Tina’s point. He got the diʃerence between can’t
and won’t, and he saw that he was imposing rigid and
developmentally inappropriate (one-size-ɹts-all) expectations on
his young son, as well as on the boy’s sister. This new perspective
empowered him to switch oʃ his parental autopilot and start
working on making intentional, moment-by-moment decisions with
his children, both of whom had their own particular personality
and needs at diʃerent moments. The father realized that not only
could he still set clear, ɹrm boundaries, but he could do so even more
eʃectively and respectfully, because he was taking into account each
child’s individual temperament and ɻuctuating capacity, along with the
context of each situation. As a result, he’d be able to achieve both
disciplinary goals: to see less overall uncooperativeness from his
son, and to teach him important skills and life lessons that would
help him as he grew into a man.
This father was learning to challenge certain assumptions in his
own thinking, such as that misbehavior is always willful opposition
instead of a moment of diɽculty while trying to manage feelings
and behaviors. Future conversations with Tina led him to question
not only this assumption, but also his emphasis on having his son
and daughter obey him unconditionally and without exception. Yes,
he reasonably and justiɹably wanted his discipline to encourage
cooperation from his children. But complete and unquestioning
obedience? Did he want his kids to grow up blindly obeying
everyone their whole lives? Or would he rather have them develop
their own individual personalities and identities, learning along the
way what it means to get along with others, observe limits, make
good decisions, be self-disciplined, and navigate diɽcult situations
by thinking for themselves? Again, he got the point, and it made all
the difference for his children.
One other assumption this father began to challenge within
himself was that there’s some silver bullet or magic wand that can
be used to address any behavioral issue or concern. We wish there
were such a cure-all, but there’s not. It’s tempting to buy into one
discipline practice that promises to work all the time and in every
situation or to radically change a kid in a few days. But the
dynamics of interacting with children are always much more
complex than that. Behavioral issues simply can’t be resolved with
a one-size-ɹts-all approach that we apply to every circumstance or
environment or child.
Let’s take a few minutes now and discuss the two most common
one-size-ɹts-all disciplinary techniques that parents rely on:
spanking and time-outs.
Spanking and the Brain
One autopilot response that a number of parents resort to is
spanking. We often get asked where we stand on the subject.
Although we’re really big advocates for boundaries and limits,
we are both strongly against spanking. Physical punishment is a
complex and highly charged topic, and a full discussion of the
research, the various contexts in which physical punishment takes
place, and the negative impacts of spanking is beyond the scope of
this book. But based on our neuroscientiɹc perspective and review
of the research literature, we believe that spanking is likely to be
counterproductive when it comes to building respectful
relationships with our children, teaching kids the lessons we want
them to learn, and encouraging optimal development. We also
believe that children should have the right to be free from any
form of violence, especially at the hands of the people they trust
most to protect them.
We know there are all kinds of parents, all kinds of kids, and all
kinds of contexts in which discipline takes place. And we certainly
understand that frustration, along with the desire to do the right
thing for their children, leads some parents to use spanking as a
discipline strategy. But the research consistently demonstrates that
even when parents are warm, loving, and nurturing, not only is
spanking children less eʃective in changing behavior in the long
run, it’s associated with negative outcomes in many domains.
Granted, there are plenty of non-spanking discipline approaches
that can be just as damaging as spanking. Isolating children for long
periods of time, humiliating them, terrifying them by screaming
threats, and using other forms of verbal or psychological aggression
are all examples of disciplinary practices that wound children’s
minds even when their parents never physically touch them.
We therefore encourage parents to avoid any discipline approach
that is aggressive, inɻicts pain, or creates fear or terror. For one
thing, it’s counterproductive. The child’s attention shifts from her
own behavior and how to modify it, to the caregiver’s response to
the behavior, meaning that the child no longer considers her own
actions at all. Instead, she thinks only about how unfair and mean
her parent was to hurt her—or even how scary her parent was in
that moment. The parental response, then, undermines both of the
primary goals of discipline—changing behavior and building the brain—
because it sidesteps an opportunity for the child to think about her own
behavior and even feel some healthy guilt or remorse.
Another important problem with spanking is what happens to the
child physiologically and neurologically. The brain interprets pain
as a threat. So when a parent inɻicts physical pain on a child, that
child faces an unsolvable biological paradox. On one hand, we’re
all born with an instinct to go toward our caregivers for protection
when we’re hurt or afraid. But when our caregivers are also the
source of the pain and fear, when the parent has caused the state of
terror inside the child by what he or she has done, it can be very
confusing for the child’s brain. One circuit drives the child to try to
escape the parent who is inɻicting pain; another circuit drives the
child toward the attachment ɹgure for safety. So when the parent is
the source of fear or pain, the brain can become disorganized in its
functioning, as there is no solution. We call this at the extreme a
form of disorganized attachment. The stress hormone cortisol,
released with such a disorganized internal state and repeated
interpersonal experiences of rage and terror, can lead to longlasting negative impacts on the brain’s development, as cortisol is
toxic to the brain and inhibits healthy growth. Harsh and severe
punishment can actually lead to signiɹcant changes in the brain,
such as the death of brain connections and even brain cells.
Another problem with spanking is that it teaches the child that
the parent has no eʃective strategy short of inɻicting bodily pain.
That’s a direct lesson every parent should consider quite deeply: do
we want to teach our kids that the way to resolve a conɻict is to
inɻict physical pain, particularly on someone who is defenseless
and cannot fight back?
Looking through the lens of the brain and body, we know that
humans are instinctually wired to avoid pain. And it is also the
same part of the brain that mediates physical pain that processes
social rejection. Inɻicting physical pain is also creating social
rejection in the child’s brain. Since children can’t be perfect, we see
the importance of the ɹndings indicating that while spanking often
stops a behavior in a particular moment, it’s not as eʃective at
changing behavior in the long run. Instead, children will often just
get better at concealing what they’ve done. In other words, the
danger is that kids will do whatever it takes to avoid the pain of
physical punishment (and social rejection), which will often mean
more lying and hiding—not collaboratively communicating and
being open to learning.
One ɹnal point about spanking has to do with which part of the
brain we want to appeal to and develop with our discipline. As
we’ll explain in the next chapter, parents have the option of
engaging the higher, thinking part of the child’s wise brain, or the
lower, more reactive, reptilian part. If you threaten or physically
attack a reptile, what kind of a response do you think you’ll get?
Imagine a cornered cobra, spitting at you. There is nothing wise or
connecting about being reactive.
When we are threatened or physically attacked, our reptilian or
primitive brain takes over. We move into an adaptive survival
mode, often called “ɹght, ɻight, or freeze.” We can also faint, a
response that occurs in some when they feel totally helpless.
Likewise, when we cause our kids to experience fear, pain, and
anger, we activate an increase in the ɻow of energy and
information to the primitive, reactive brain, instead of directing
the ɻow to the receptive, thinking, more sophisticated and
potentially wise regions of the brain that allow kids to make
healthy and flexible choices and handle their emotions well.
Do you want to trigger reactivity in your child’s primitive brain,
or engage her thinking, rational brain in being receptive and openly
engaged with the world? When we activate the reactive states of
the brain, we miss the chance to develop the thinking part of the
brain. It’s a lost opportunity. What’s more, we have so many other,
more eʃective options for disciplining our kids—strategies that
give children practice using their “upstairs brain” so that it’s
stronger and further developed, meaning that they’re much better
able to be responsible people who do the right thing more often
than not. (Much more about that in Chapters 3–6.)
What About Time-outs? Aren’t They an Effective Discipline Tool?
These days, most parents who have decided they don’t want to
spank their kids assume that time-outs are the best available
option. But are they? Do they help us achieve our discipline goals?
In general terms, we don’t think so.
We know lots of loving parents who use time-outs as their
primary discipline technique. But after exploring the research,
talking to thousands of parents, and raising our own kids, we’ve
come up with several main reasons we do not think that time-outs
are the best discipline strategy. For one thing, when parents use
time-outs, they often use them a lot, and out of anger. But parents
can give children more positive and meaningful experiences that
better achieve our dual goals of encouraging cooperation and
building the brain. As we’ll explain in more detail in the next
chapter, brain connections are formed from repeated experiences.
And what experience does a time-out give a child? Isolation. Even
if you can oʃer a time-out in a loving manner, do you want your
child’s repeated experiences when she makes a mistake to be time
by herself, which is often experienced, particularly by young
children, as rejection?
Wouldn’t it be better to have her experience what it means to do
things the right way? So instead of a time-out, you might ask her to
practice handling a situation diʃerently. If she’s being disrespectful
in her tone or words, you can have her try it again and
communicate what she’s saying respectfully. If she’s been mean to
her brother, you might ask her to ɹnd three kind things to do for
him before bedtime. That way, the repeated experience of positive
behavior begins to get wired into her brain. (Again, we’ll cover this
in more depth in the following chapters.)
In short, time-outs often fail to accomplish their objective, which
is supposed to be for children to calm down and reɻect on their
behavior. In our experience, time-outs frequently just make
children angrier and more dysregulated, leaving them even less
able to control themselves or think about what they’ve done. Plus,
how often do you think kids use their time-out to reɻect on their
behavior? We’ve got news for you: the main thing kids reɻect on
while in time-out is how mean their parents are to have put them
there.
When children are reflecting on their horrible luck to have such a
mean, unfair mom or dad, they’re missing out on an opportunity to
build insight, empathy, and problem-solving skills. Putting them in
time-out deprives them of a chance to practice being active,
empathic decision makers who are empowered to ɹgure things out.
We want to give them opportunities to be problem solvers, to
make good choices, and to be comforted when they are falling
apart. You can do your kids a lot of good simply by asking,
“What
are some ideas you have to make it better and solve this problem?”
Given the chance once they’re calm, kids will usually do the right
thing, and learn in the process.
In addition, too often time-outs aren’t directly and logically
linked to a particular behavior, which is a key to eʃective learning.
Making a toilet-paper mountain means helping clean up. Riding a
bike without a helmet means that rather than simply jumping on
the bike and riding, for two weeks there will be a required safety
check anytime the bicycle comes out of the garage. Leaving a bat at
baseball practice means having to borrow a teammate’s bat until
the other one turns up. Those are connected parental responses that
are clearly linked to the behavior. They aren’t punitive or
retaliatory in any way. They are focused on teaching kids lessons
and helping them understand about making things right. Time-outs,
though, often don’t relate in any clear way to a child’s poor
decision or out-of-control reaction. As a result, they’re often not as
effective in terms of changing behavior.
Even when parents have good intentions, time-outs are often
used inappropriately. We might want time-outs to give kids a
chance to calm down and pull themselves together so they can
move out of their internal chaos into calm and cooperation. But
much of the time, parents use time-outs punitively, where the goal
isn’t to help the child return to his calm baseline or to learn an
important lesson, but to punish him for some misbehavior. The
calming, teaching aspect of the time-out gets totally lost.
But the biggest reason we question the value of time-outs has to
do with a child’s profound need for connection. Often, misbehavior
is a result of a child getting overtaxed emotionally, so the
expression of a need or a big feeling comes out in ways that are
aggressive, disrespectful, or uncooperative. She may be hungry or
tired, or maybe there’s some other reason she’s incapable in that
moment of self-control and making a good decision. Maybe the
explanation is simply that she’s three, and her brain isn’t
sophisticated enough to understand and calmly express her feelings.
So instead of doing her best to convey her crushing disappointment
and anger that there’s no grape juice left, she begins throwing toys
at you.

It’s during these times that a child most needs our comfort and
calm presence. Forcing her to go oʃ and sit by herself can feel like
abandonment to a child, especially if she’s feeling out of control
already. It may even send the subtle message that when she isn’t
“doing the right thing” you don’t want to be near her. You don’t
want to send the message that you’ll be in relationship with her when
she’s “good” or happy, but you’ll withhold your love and aʃection when
she’s not. Would you want to stay in that kind of a relationship?
Wouldn’t we suggest to our teenagers that they might think about
avoiding friends or partners who treat them like that when they’ve
made a mistake?
We’re not saying that short time-outs are the worst possible
discipline technique, that they cause trauma, or that there’s never
an instance to use them. If done appropriately with loving
connection, such as sitting with the child and talking or comforting
—what can be called a “time-in”—some time to calm down can be
helpful for children. In fact, teaching kids how to pause and take
some inner reɻection time, some time-in, is essential for building
executive functions that reduce impulsivity and harness the power
of focused attention. But such reɻection is created in relationship,
not in complete isolation, especially for younger children. As
children get older, they can beneɹt from inner reɻection, from
time-in, to focus their attention on their inner world. This is how
they learn to “see the sea inside” and develop the skill to calm the
storms inside. Such time-in is the basis of mindsight, of seeing one’s
own mind and the mind of others with insight and empathy. And
mindsight includes the process of integration that enables inner
states to be changed, to move from chaos or rigidity to an inner
state of harmony and ɻexibility. Mindsight—insight, empathy, and
integration—is the basis of social and emotional intelligence, so
using time-in to develop inner reɻective skills is how we help
children and adolescents build the circuitry of such important
abilities. No-Drama Discipline would use a time-in to stop behavior
(the ɹrst goal) and to invite inner reɻection that builds executive
skills (our second goal).
One proactive strategy that can be eʃective is to help the child
create a “calm zone” with toys, books, or a favorite stuʃed animal,
which she visits when she needs the time and place to calm down.
That’s internal self-regulation, a fundamental skill of executive
function. (This is a good idea for parents, too! Maybe some
chocolate, magazines, music, red wine …) It’s not about
punishment or making a child pay for her mistake. It’s about
oʃering a choice and a place that helps the child self-regulate and
down-regulate, which involves downshifting out of her emotional
overload.
As you’ll see in the coming pages, there are dozens of other,
more nurturing, relationship-building, and effective ways to respond
to kids than to automatically give them a time-out as a one-sizeɹts-all default consequence for any misbehavior. The same goes for
spanking, and even for giving consequences in general. Fortunately,
as we’ll soon explain, there are better alternatives than to spank,
give a time-out, or automatically take away a toy or a privilege.
Alternatives that are logically and naturally linked to the child’s
behavior, that build the brain, and that maintain a strong
connection between parent and child.
What Is Your Discipline Philosophy?
The main point we’ve communicated in this chapter is that parents
need to be intentional about how they respond when their kids
misbehave. Rather than dramatically or emotionally reacting, or
responding to every infraction with a one-size-ɹts-all strategy that
ignores the context of the situation or a child’s developmental
stage, parents can work from principles and strategies that both
match their belief system and respect their children as the
individuals they are. No-Drama Discipline focuses not only on
addressing immediate circumstances and short-term behavior, but
also on building skills and creating connections in the brain that, in
the long run, will help children make thoughtful choices and handle
their emotions well automatically, meaning that discipline will be
needed less and less.
How are you doing on this? How intentional are you when you
discipline your children?
Take a moment right now and think about your normal response
to your kids’ behavior. Do you automatically spank, give a timeout, or yell? Do you have some other immediate go- to for when
your kids act out? Maybe you simply do what your parents did—or
just the opposite. The real question is, how much of your
disciplinary strategy comes from an intentional and consistent
approach, as opposed to simply reacting or relying on old habits
and default mechanisms?
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you think about your
overall discipline philosophy:
1. Do I have a discipline philosophy? How purposeful and consistent
am I when I don’t like how my kids are behaving?
2. Is what I’m doing working? Does my approach allow me to teach
my kids the lessons I want to teach, in terms of both immediate
behavior and how they grow and develop as human beings? And
am I ɹnding that I need to address behaviors less and less, or am
I having to discipline about the same behaviors over and over?
3. Do I feel good about what I’m doing? Does my discipline approach
help me enjoy my relationship with my children more? Do I
usually reɻect on discipline moments and feel pleased with how
I handled myself? Do I frequently wonder if there’s a better
way?
4. Do my kids feel good about it? Discipline is rarely going to be
popular, but do my children understand my approach and feel
my love? Am I communicating and modeling respect in a way
that allows them to still feel good about themselves?
5 . Do I feel good about the messages I’m communicating to my
children? Are there times I teach lessons I don’t want them to
internalize—for example, that obeying what I say is more
important than learning to make good decisions about doing the
right thing? Or that power and control are the best ways to get
people to do what we want? Or that I only want to be around
them if they’re pleasant?
6 . How much does my approach resemble that of my own parents?
How did my parents discipline me? Can I remember a speciɹc
experience of discipline and how it made me feel? Am I just
repeating old patterns? Rebelling against them?
7 . Does my approach ever lead to my kids apologizing in a sincere
manner? Even though this might not happen on a regular basis,
does my approach at least leave the door open for it?
8. Does it allow for me to take responsibility and apologize for my own
actions? How open am I with my kids about the fact that I make
mistakes? Am I willing to model for them what it means to own
up to one’s errors?
How do you feel right now, having asked yourself these
questions? Many parents experience regret, guilt, shame, or even
hopelessness when they acknowledge what has not been working
and worry that they may not have been doing the best they can.
But the truth is, you have done the best you can. If you could have
done better, you would have. As you learn new principles and
strategies, the goal is not to berate yourself for missed
opportunities, but to try to create new opportunities. When we
know better, we do better. There are things we, as experts, have
learned over the years that we wish we’d known or thought about
when our children were babies. Our children’s brains are extremely
plastic—they change their structure in response to experience—and
our children can respond very quickly and very productively to
new experiences. The more compassion you can have for yourself,
the more compassion you can have for your child. Even the best
parents realize that there will always be times they can be more
intentional, eʃective, and respectful regarding how they discipline
their children.
In the remaining chapters, our goal is to help you think about
what you want for your kids when it comes to guiding and teaching
them. None of us will ever be perfect. But we can take steps
toward modeling calm and self-control when our kids mess up. We
can ask the why-what-how questions. We can steer clear of onesize-ɹts-all disciplinary techniques. We can oʃer the two goals of
shaping external behaviors and learning internal skills. And we can
work on reducing the number of times we simply react (or
overreact) to a situation, and increasing the times we respond out
of a clear and receptive sense of what we believe our kids need—in
each particular moment, and as they move through childhood
toward adolescence and adulthood.
L
CHAPTER 2
Your Brain on Discipline
iz’s morning was going along ɹne. Both of her kids had eaten
breakfast, everyone was dressed, and she and her husband, Tim,
were heading out the door to take their daughters to their
respective schools. Then all of a sudden, when Liz uttered the most
seemingly trivial statement as she closed the front door behind her
—“Nina, you get in Daddy’s car, and Vera, you get in the van”—
everything fell apart.
Tim and their seven-year-old, Vera, had already started toward
the driveway, and Liz was locking the front door when a feral
scream from just behind her made her heart stop. She quickly
turned around to see Nina, her four-year-old, standing on the
bottom step of the porch, screaming “No!” in an astonishingly
earsplitting register.
Liz looked at Tim, then at Vera, both of whom shrugged, eyes
wide with confusion. Nina’s long, sustained “No!” had been
replaced by a staccato “No! No! No!” repeated, again, at full
volume. Liz quickly knelt and pulled Nina to her, her daughter’s
shrieks mercifully petering out and turning into sobs.
“Honey, what is it?” Liz asked. She was dumbfounded at this
outburst. “What is it?”
Nina continued to cry but was able to utter,
“You took Vera
yesterday!”
Liz again looked at Tim, who had walked toward them and
oʃered a puzzled “I have no idea” shrug. Liz, her ears still ringing,
tried to explain: “I know, sweetheart. That’s because Vera’s school
is right by my work.”
Nina pulled back from her mother and screamed,
“But it’s my
turn!”
Now that she knew her daughter wasn’t in danger, Liz took a
deep breath and brieɻy wondered what decibel level a high-pitched
scream would have to reach to actually break glass.
Vera, typically unsympathetic when it came to her sister’s
distress, impatiently announced,
“Mom, I’m gonna be late.”
Before we describe how Liz handled this classic parenting
situation, we need to introduce a few simple facts about the human
brain and the way it can impact our disciplinary decisions when
our kids misbehave or, as in this case, just lose control of
themselves. Let’s begin with three foundational discoveries about
the brain—we’ll call them the three “Brain C’s”—that can be
immensely beneɹcial when it comes to helping you discipline
eʃectively and with less drama, all while teaching your children
important lessons about self-control and relationships.
“Brain C” #1: The Brain Is Changing
The ɹrst Brain C—that the brain is changing—sounds simple, but
its implications are enormous and should inform just about
everything we do with our kids, including discipline.
A child’s brain is like a house that’s under construction. The
downstairs brain is made up of the brainstem and the limbic
region, which together form the lower sections of the brain, often
called the “reptilian brain” and the “old mammalian brain.” These
lower regions exist inside your skull from about the level of the
bridge of your nose down to the top of your neck, and some of it,
the brainstem, is well-developed at birth. We consider this
downstairs brain to be much more primitive, because it’s
responsible for our most fundamental neural and mental
operations: strong emotions; instincts like protecting our young;
and basic functions like breathing, regulating sleep and wake
cycles, and digestion. The downstairs brain is what causes a toddler
to throw a toy or bite someone when he doesn’t get his way. It can
be the source of our reactivity, and its motto is a rushed “Fire!
Ready! Aim!”—and often it skips the “ready” and “aim” parts
altogether. It was Nina’s downstairs brain that took over when she
was told her mom wouldn’t be driving her to school.
As you well know if you’re a parent, the downstairs brain, with
all of its primitive functions, is alive and well in even the youngest
children. The upstairs brain, though, which is responsible for more
sophisticated and complex thinking, is undeveloped at birth and
begins to grow during infancy and childhood. The upstairs brain is
made up of the cerebral cortex, which is the outermost layer of the
brain, and it resides directly behind your forehead and continues to
the back of your head like a half dome covering the downstairs
brain below it. Sometimes people refer to the cortex as the “outer
bark of the brain.” Unlike the primitive downstairs brain, with all
of its rudimentary functions, the upstairs brain is responsible for a
laundry list of thinking, emotional, and relational skills that allow
us to live balanced, meaningful lives and enjoy healthy
relationships:
• Sound decision making and planning
• Regulation of emotions and body
• Personal insight
• Flexibility and adaptability
• Empathy
• Morality
These are the very qualities we want to help instill in our children,
and they all require a well-developed upstairs brain.
The problem is that the upstairs brain takes time to develop. A
long time. We’re sorry to report—especially if today happens to be
the third time this week that your twelve-year-old left his
homework binder in his locker—that the upstairs brain actually
won’t be fully formed until a person reaches his mid-twenties. That
doesn’t mean there’s nothing for it to do along the way—it simply
means that while the child’s brain is being constructed, the
adolescent brain is in a period of remodeling itself and will be
changing the basic upstairs brain structures that were created in the
ɹrst dozen years of life. Dan explores all of this in his book for and
about adolescents called Brainstorm. The great news is that knowing
about the brain—for you and your child or adolescent—can change
the way each of you approaches learning and behaving. When we
know about the brain, we can guide our minds—how we pay
attention, how we think, how we feel, how we interact with others
—in ways that support solid, healthy brain development across the
life span.
Still, what this all means is that as much as we’d like for our kids
to consistently behave as if they were fully developed,
conscientious adults, with reliably functioning logic, emotional
balance, and morality, they just can’t yet when they are young. At
least not all the time. As a result, we have to proceed accordingly
and adjust our expectations. We want to turn to our nine-year-old
and ask, as we comfort our five-year-old whose eye has been struck
by a Nerf bullet ɹred at infuriatingly close range,
“What were you
thinking?”
His answer, of course, will be “I don’t know” or “I wasn’t
thinking.” And most likely he’ll be right. His upstairs brain wasn’t
engaged when he aimed at his sister’s pupil, just as her upstairs
brain wasn’t engaged yesterday when she demanded that her
cousin’s beach party be moved inside because she got a cut on her
heel and didn’t want to get sand in it. The bottom line is that no
matter how smart, responsible, or conscientious your child is, it’s
unfair to expect her to always handle herself well, or to always
distinguish between a good choice and a bad one. That’s even
impossible for adults to do all the time.
A good example of this gradual development can be found in a
particular area of the upstairs brain called the right temporal
parietal junction (TPJ).
The right TPJ plays a special role when it comes to helping us
understand what’s going on in the mind of another. When we view
a situation or a problem as someone else would, the right TPJ
becomes active and works with areas in the prefrontal cortex, just
behind the forehead, essentially to allow us to empathize with
another. These and other areas are part of what is called a
“mentalizing circuit” because they are involved in mindsight—that
is, seeing the mind of others, and even of ourselves! We can build
mindsight in our children as we guide them toward insight,
empathy, and moral thinking. Empathy, of course, aʃects our
moral and relational lives in signiɹcant and foundational ways.
We’re willing to cut someone some slack if she meant well when
she messed up. We’re willing to give someone the beneɹt of the
doubt if we trust his motives.
A child, though, who is still developing and whose upstairs brain
—which includes his right TPJ and prefrontal regions—is still
under construction, will often be unable to consider motives and
intention when he looks at a situation or problem. Ethical decisions
will be much more black and white, and concerns about issues like
justice and fairness will be much more clear-cut. Nina, for example,
had no interest in discussing contextual information about how
close her sister’s school was to her mom’s job. That logical, factual
bit of data was irrelevant to her. She cared only that her sister had
ridden with her mother yesterday, and fairness would dictate that
Nina should get to ride with her today. So for Liz to understand her
daughter’s point of view, she needed to realize that Nina was
viewing events through the lens of her still-growing upstairs brain,
which wasn’t always able to consider situational and contextual
information.
As we’ll explain in subsequent chapters, when we use our own
mindsight circuits to sense the mind behind our children’s behavior,
we model for them how to sense the mind within themselves and
others. Mindsight is a teachable skill at the heart of being empathic
and insightful, moral and compassionate. Mindsight is the basis of
social and emotional intelligence, and we can model this for our
children as we help guide the development of their changing
brains.
The point is that when we parent, and especially when we
discipline, we need to work hard to understand our children’s
points of view, their developmental stage, and what they are
ultimately capable of. This is how we use our own mindsight skills
to see the mind behind our children’s behavior. We don’t simply
react to their external actions, we tune in to the mind behind the
behavior. We also must remember that what they’re capable of
isn’t always the same; their capacity changes when they are feeling
tired, hungry, or overwhelmed. Comprehending this particular
Brain C, that the brain is changing and still developing, can move
us to a place where we can listen to our kids with more
understanding and compassion, and more fully understand why it is
that they’re upset and having a hard time managing themselves. It
is simply unfair to assume that our children are making decisions
using fully formed, perfectly functioning brains and can view the
world as we do.
Think about the list of functions the upstairs brain is responsible
for. Is that a realistic description of any child’s character? Of course
we’d love to see our kids demonstrate these qualities each and
every moment of their lives. Who wouldn’t want a child who plans
ahead and consistently makes good decisions, controls his emotions
and body, displays ɻexibility and empathy and self-understanding,
and acts out of a well-developed sense of morality? But it’s just not
going to happen. At least not all the time. Depending on the child
and the age, maybe not even frequently.
So is this an excuse for bad behavior? Do we need to simply turn
a blind eye when our kids misbehave? Certainly not. In fact, a
child’s developing brain is simply another reason we need to set
clear boundaries and help her understand what’s acceptable. The
fact that she doesn’t have a consistently working upstairs brain,
which provides internal constraints that govern her behavior, means
that she needs to be provided with external constraints. And guess
where those external constraints need to come from: her parents
and other caregivers, and the guidelines and expectations they
communicate to her. We need to help develop our children’s upstairs
brain—along with all of the skills it makes possible—and while doing so,
we may need to act as an external upstairs brain along the way,
working with them and helping them make decisions they’re not quite
capable yet of making for themselves.
We’ll soon go into this idea in much greater depth, and oʃer
practical suggestions for making it happen. For now, though, just
keep this initial Brain C in mind: a child’s brain is changing and
developing, so we need to temper our expectations and understand
that emotional and behavioral challenges are simply par for the
course. Of course we should still teach and expect respectful
behavior. But in doing so, we need to always keep in mind the
changing, developing brain. Once we understand and accept this
fundamental reality, we’ll be much more capable of responding in a
way that honors the child and the relationship, while still attending
to any behaviors we need to address.
“Brain C” #2: The Brain Is Changeable
The second Brain C is immensely exciting and oʃers hope to
parents everywhere: the brain is not only changing—it develops
over time—but changeable—it can be molded intentionally by
experience. If you read much about the brain these days, you’ll
likely come across the concept of “neuroplasticity,
” which refers to
the way the brain physically changes based on experiences we
undergo. 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.
You may have heard about scientiɹc studies that demonstrate
evidence of neuroplasticity. In The Whole-Brain Child, we talk about
research showing enlarged auditory centers in the brains of animals
who depend on their hearing for hunting, and studies showing that
for violinists, the regions of the cortex that represent the left hand
—which ɹngers the instrument’s strings at amazing speeds—are
larger than normal.
Other recent studies demonstrate that children who are taught to
read music and play the keyboard undergo signiɹcant changes in
their brain and have an advanced capacity for what’s called “spatial
sensorimotor mapping.” In other words, when kids learn even the
fundamentals of playing piano, their brains develop diʃerently
from the brains of kids who don’t, so they can more fully
understand their own bodies in relationship to the objects around
them. We’ve seen similar results in studies on people who
meditate. Mindfulness exercises produce literal changes in the
brain’s connections, signiɹcantly aʃecting how well a person
interacts with other people and adapts to difficult situations.
Obviously, this isn’t to say that all children should take piano
lessons, or that everyone should meditate (although we wouldn’t
discourage either activity!). The point is that the experience of
taking the lessons, like the experience of participating in
mindfulness practices (or playing the violin or even practicing
karate), fundamentally and physically changes the plastic brain—
especially while it’s developing in childhood and adolescence, but
even throughout our lives. To take a more extreme example, early
childhood abuse can leave people vulnerable to mental illness later
in life. Recent studies have used functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI), or brain scans, to discover speciɹc changes in
certain areas of what’s called the hippocampus in the brains of
young adults who have experienced abuse. They experience higher
rates of depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD). Their brains have fundamentally changed in response to
the trauma they faced as children.
Neuroplasticity has enormous ramiɹcations for what we do as
parents. 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. Think about the
ways you interact with your kids. How do you communicate with
them? How do you help them reɻect on their actions and
behavior? What do you teach them about relationships—about
respect, trust, and eʃort? What opportunities do you expose them
to? What important people do you introduce into their lives?
Everything they see, hear, feel, touch, or even smell impacts their
brain and thus inɻuences the way they view and interact with their
world—including their family, neighbors, strangers, friends,
classmates, and even themselves.
All of this takes place at the cellular level, in our neurons and in
the connections among our brain cells called synapses. One way
neuroscientists have expressed the idea is that “neurons that ɹre
together wire together.”
This phrase, known as “Hebb’s axiom,
” named after the Canadian
neuropsychologist Donald Hebb, essentially explains that when
neurons ɹre 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. So when they
fire together, they wire together.
The famous physiologist Ivan Pavlov was coming to terms with
this idea when he found that his dogs would salivate not only when
actual food appeared before them, but also when he rang the
dinner bell for them to come eat. The dogs’ “salivation neurons”
became wired, or functionally linked, to their “dinner-bell
neurons.” A more recent example from the animal world appears
every time the San Francisco Giants play a night game at AT&T
Park. Near the end of each game swarms of seagulls appear, ready
for a feast of left-behind hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack once
the bayside stadium empties. Biologists are stumped as to how,
exactly, the birds time their arrival for the ninth inning. Is it the
increased noise of the crowd? The lure of the stadium lights? The
organ playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventhinning stretch? One thing seems clear, though: the birds have been
conditioned, or primed, to expect food once the game ends.
Neurons have fired together and subsequently been wired together.
Hebb’s axiom is what causes a toddler to raise his hands and say
“Hold you?” when he wants to be picked up. He hardly
understands the meaning of the exact words, and obviously hasn’t
quite ɹgured out his pronouns. But he knows that when he’s been
asked,
“Do you want me to hold you?” he’s been picked up. So
when he wants to be held, he asks,
“Hold you?” Firing and wiring.
Having neurons wire together can be a good thing. A positive
experience with a math teacher can lead to neural connections that
link math with pleasure, accomplishment, and feeling good about
yourself as a student. But the opposite is equally true. Negative
experiences with a harsh instructor or a timed test and the anxiety
that accompanies it can form connections in the brain that create a
serious obstacle to the enjoyment not only of math and numbers,
but exams and even school in general.
The point is simple but crucial to understand: experiences lead to
changes in the architecture of the brain. Practically, then, we want
to keep neuroplasticity in mind when we make decisions about
how we interact with kids and how they spend their time. We want
to consider what neural connections are being formed and how
they will play out in the future.
For example, what movies do you want your kids to see, and
what activities do you want them to spend hours of time enjoying?
Knowing that the plastic brain will be altered with experience, we
might be less comfortable with hours spent watching certain
television programs or playing violent video games. We might
instead encourage our kids to engage in activities that build their
capacity for relationships and for understanding other people—
whether that means hanging out with friends, playing games with
their family, or participating in sports and other group activities
that ask them to work with others as a team. We might even
purposely create time for boredom on a summer day, so they have
to go to the garage and see what interesting fun they can have with
a pulley, some rope, and a roll of duct tape. (If someone comes
back inside to Google the phrase “duct tape parachute for baby
brother,
” you might want to break out the Monopoly board.)
We cannot, nor would we want to, protect or rescue our kids
from all adversity and negative experiences. These challenging
experiences are an important part of growing up and developing
resilience, along with acquiring internal skills needed to cope with
stress and failure and to respond with flexibility. What we can do is
help our children make sense of their experiences so that those
challenges will more likely be encoded in the brain consciously as
“learning experiences,
” rather than unconscious associations or
even traumas that limit them in the future. When parents discuss
experiences and memories with their kids, the children tend to
have better access to memories of those experiences. Kids whose
parents talk to them about their feelings also develop a more
robust emotional intelligence and can therefore be better at
noticing and understanding their own and other people’s feelings.
Neurons that ɹre together wire together, changing the changeable
brain.
It all comes back to the point that the brain changes in response
to experience. What do you want your children to experience that
will aʃect their changeable brains? What brain connections do you
want to nurture? And more to the point in this book: knowing that
a child’s brain is changeable, how do you want to respond to
misbehavior? After all, your kids’ repeated experiences with
discipline will be wiring their brains as well.
“Brain C” #3: The Brain Is Complex
So the brain is changing and changeable. It’s also complex, which is
our third Brain C. The brain is multifaceted, with diʃerent parts
responsible for diʃerent tasks. Some parts are responsible for
memory, others for language, others for empathy, and so on.
This third Brain C is one of the most important realities to keep
in mind when it comes to discipline. The brain’s complexity means
that when our kids are upset, or when they’re acting in ways we
don’t like, we can appeal to diʃerent “parts” of their brains, to
diʃerent regions and ways the brain functions, with diʃerent
parental responses activating diʃerent circuitry. We can therefore
appeal to one part of the brain to get one result, another part to get
a different result.
For example, let’s go back to the upstairs and downstairs brains.
If your child is melting down and out of control, which part of the
brain would you rather appeal to? The one that’s primitive and
reactive? Or the one that’s sophisticated and capable of logic,
compassion, and self-understanding? Do we try to connect to the
one that responds as a reptile would—with defensiveness and
attacks—or to the one with the potential to calm down, problemsolve, and even apologize? The answer is obvious. We want to
engage the upstairs brain’s receptivity, rather than trigger the
downstairs brain’s reactivity. Then the higher parts of the brain can
communicate and help override the lower, more impulsive and
reactive parts.
When we discipline with threats—whether explicitly through our
words or implicitly through scary nonverbals like our tone,
posture, and facial expressions—we activate the defensive circuits
of our child’s reactive reptilian downstairs brain. We call this
“poking the lizard,
” and we don’t recommend it because it almost
always leads to escalating emotions, for both parent and child.
When your ɹve-year-old throws a ɹt at the grocery store, and you
tower over him and point your ɹnger and insist through clenched
teeth that he “calm down this instant,
” you’re poking the lizard.
You’re triggering a downstairs reaction, which is almost never
going to lead anywhere productive for anyone involved. Your
child’s sensory system takes in your body language and words and
detects threat, which biologically sets oʃ the neural circuitry that
allows him to survive a threat from his environment—to ɹght, to
ɻee, to freeze, or to faint. His downstairs brain springs into action,
preparing to react quickly rather than fully considering alternatives
in a more responsive, receptive state. His muscles might tense as
he prepares to defend himself and, if necessary, attack with freeze
and ɹght. Or he may run away in ɻight, or collapse in a fainting
response. Each of these is a pathway of reactivity of the downstairs
brain. And his thinking, rational self-control circuitry of the
upstairs brain goes oʃ-line, becoming unavailable in that moment.
That’s the key—we can’t be in both a reactive downstairs state and
a receptive upstairs state at the same time. The downstairs
reactivity holds sway.
In this situation, you can appeal to your child’s more
sophisticated upstairs brain, and allow it to help rein in the more
reactive downstairs brain. By demonstrating respect for your child,
nurturing him with lots of empathy, and remaining open to
collaborative and reɻective discussions, you communicate “no
threat,
” so the reptilian brain can relax its reactivity. In doing so,
you activate the upstairs circuits, including the extremely
important prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for calm decision
making and controlling emotions and impulses. That’s how we
move from reactivity to receptivity. And that’s what we want to
teach our children to do.
So instead of ɹercely demanding that your ɹve-year-old calm
down, you can help quiet and soothe the downstairs brain and
instead bring the upstairs brain online by gently inviting him to be
physically close to you and listening to whatever he’s upset about.
(If you’re in a public place and your child is disturbing everyone
around you, it may be necessary to take him outside while you
attempt to appeal to his upstairs brain.)
Research supports this strategy of engaging the upstairs brain
rather than enraging the downstairs. We’ve seen, for example, that
when a person is shown a photo of a face that’s angry or afraid,
activity increases in a region of the downstairs brain called the
amygdala (pronounced uh-MIG-duh-luh), which is responsible for
quickly processing and expressing strong emotions, especially anger
and fear. One of the amygdala’s primary jobs is to remain alert and
to sound an alarm anytime we are threatened, allowing us to act
quickly. Interestingly, simply seeing a photograph of a person with
an angry or frightened face causes the viewer’s amygdala to
activate. In fact, even if the viewer sees the photo so quickly that
he or she isn’t consciously aware of having seen the picture, a
subliminal, instinctual, emotional reaction causes the amygdala to
fire, or become active.
What’s even more fascinating about the study is that when
viewers were asked to label the emotion in the picture, and named
it as fear or anger, their amygdala immediately became less active.
Why? Because part of the upstairs brain—a part called the
ventrolateral prefrontal cortex—took charge with the labeling and
then processed the emotion, allowing the thinking, analytical part
of the brain to take over and soothe the irritated lower regions,
rather than letting the reactive, emotional downstairs brain
dominate and dictate the person’s feelings and responses. This is a
classic example of the “name it to tame it” strategy we discuss in
detail in The Whole-Brain Child. Simply by naming the emotion, a
person feels her levels of fear and anger decrease. That’s how the
upstairs brain can calm the downstairs brain. And that’s a skill that
can last a lifetime.

This is what we want to do for our kids when they become upset
and act out: help them engage their upstairs brain. The prefrontal
part of the upstairs brain actually has soothing ɹbers that can calm
the lower regions when they are reactive. The key is to grow them
well in our children, and to activate them in a moment of distress
by ɹrst connecting before redirecting. We want our kids to develop
the internal skill to calm the storm and reɻect on what’s happening
inside.
Think back about the functions of the upstairs brain: good
decision making, control over emotions and body, ɻexibility,
empathy, self-understanding, and morality. These are the aspects of
our kids’ character we want to develop, right? As we put it in The
Whole-Brain Child, we want to engage the upstairs brain, rather
than enraging the downstairs brain. Engage, don’t enrage. When we
enrage the downstairs brain, that’s usually because our amygdala is
ɹring as well. And guess what the amygdala wants to do. Win! So
when the amygdalae in both the parent and the child are ɹring at
top speed, both looking to win, it’s virtually always going to be a
dramatic battle that ends with both sides losing. No one will win,
and relational casualties will litter the battleɹeld. All because we
enraged the downstairs, rather than engaging the upstairs.
To use a diʃerent metaphor, it’s as if you have a remote control
for your child, and you have the power, at least to some extent, to
determine what kind of a response you’ll receive when you two
interact. Press the engage button—the “calm down and think”
button—and you’ll appeal to the upstairs brain, activating a
calming response. But push the enrage button—the “freak out and
escalate emotions” button—by using threats and demands, and
you’ll be practically begging for the ɹghting part of the brain to
click into action. You’ll poke the lizard and get a reptilian, reactive
response. It’s up to you which button to press.

Remember, none of this is to excuse parents from the
responsibility of setting boundaries and clearly communicating
expectations. We’ll give you lots of practical suggestions for doing
so in the coming pages. But as you set those boundaries and
communicate those expectations, you’ll make things much easier on
yourself, your child, and anyone else within shouting range if you
appeal to your child’s wiser and receptive self and her upstairs
brain, as opposed to her lizard reactiveness and her downstairs
brain.
What’s even more exciting is what happens after we appeal to the
upstairs brain. When it gets engaged repeatedly, it becomes strong.
Neurons that ɹre together wire together. So when a child is in an
upset state of mind and we invite the upstairs brain to become
active, we create a functional linkage between that dysregulated
state and an activation of the part of her brain that brings her back
into a well-regulated state. We can likely grow those soothing
ɹbers that extend from the prefrontal upstairs brain into the
downstairs brain.
That means the more we appeal to our child’s more integrated
nature—the more we ask her to think before she acts or to consider
someone else’s feelings, the more we ask her to act ethically or
empathically—then the more she’ll use her upstairs brain, and the
stronger it will become, because it is building connections and
becoming more integrated with the downstairs areas. Using her
upstairs brain will more and more become her accessible pathway,
her automatic default, even when emotions run high. As a result,
she’ll become better and better at making good decisions, handling
her emotions, and caring for others.
Applying the Brain C’s
Let’s talk now about what the three Brain C’s—changing,
changeable, and complex—look like in action. When Nina freaked
out on the porch step, Liz’s ɹrst instinct was to logically explain
how the transportation decisions had been made: “Your sister’s
school is right by my work.” She could have gone on to explain
that Tim had more time to drive Nina to her school, and that Nina
had just yesterday been asking for more time with her father. All
of these statements were true, and rational.
However, as we’ve said, when a child is in the throes of a
meltdown, logic will often be ineʃective, sometimes even
counterproductive. This is what Liz recognized as she looked at her
fury-ɹlled daughter. In eʃect, what she realized was the ɹrst of the
three Brain C’s: Nina’s brain was changing. It was developing. Not
developed, developing. Which meant that Liz needed to be patient
with her little girl and not expect her to consistently control herself
like an adult, or even like an older child. She took a deep breath
and worked to remain calm, despite the stress being produced by
the unreasonable four-year-old, the impatient seven-year-old, and
the ever-ticking clock.
Just as important in this situation was the second Brain C, that
the brain is changeable. Liz understood that the way she and her
husband handled each situation with their daughters wired the
girls’ developing brains, for good or for bad. So in this moment of
awareness, Liz resisted the urge she currently felt, which was to
hurriedly and even aggressively pick up her crying daughter, march
her to Tim’s car stomping all the way, strap her into her car seat,
and slam the door.
By the way, if you recognize yourself in the anger-ɹlled
depiction of how Liz wanted to handle the situation, you’re not
alone. We’ve all been there. (See “When a Parenting Expert Loses
It” at the back of the book.) Caring parents will often condemn
themselves over every little mistake they make, or for every time
they miss an opportunity to approach a diɽcult moment from a
Whole-Brain perspective. We urge you to listen to this internal
critic only long enough to gain some awareness so that you can do
better the next time, but then be generous and forgiving of
yourself. Of course you want to do your best with and for your
kids. But as we’ll explain in detail in the book’s conclusion, even
parental mistakes can be extremely valuable for our kids—we can
teach them we are all human, and we can take responsibility for
what happens and make a repair. That’s an essential teaching
experience for all children.
Liz was human and a parent, so of course she made her share of
mistakes, as we all do. But in this instance she disciplined from a
No-Drama, Whole-Brain frame of mind and made an intentional
decision to take a moment and be there emotionally for her young
daughter. By this point the family was less than one minute behind
schedule. And Liz realized that even though Nina’s feelings seemed
dramatic, they were real. She needed her mom right then. So Liz
denied the impulse to do what was easiest and quickest, and again
pulled her daughter close to her.
As for speciɹcally how she responded to the situation, that’s
where the third Brain C—complex—comes in. Liz understood her
daughter well enough to know better than to enrage the downstairs
brain. It was plenty active already. Instead, she needed to engage
Nina’s upstairs brain. The ɹrst step, though, had to be to connect.
Before redirecting, we always connect. That’s what Liz was doing
when she held her daughter. Yes, she was in a hurry, but nothing
positive could happen until Nina calmed down some, which didn’t
take long once she was in her mother’s arms. In just a few seconds
Liz felt Nina take a deep breath and her little body begin to soften.
If Nina were your child, you might have handled this situation in
one of a few ways, depending on your style and her temperament.
Like Liz, you would probably seek as your ɹrst goal to help your
daughter calm down, so that her upstairs brain would come back
online and she could listen to reason. You might promise to get up
early tomorrow morning so you’d have time to take her to school.
Or you might assure her that you’d ask your boss if you could leave
work early this afternoon so you could pick up your daughter and
then have some one-on-one special time with her. Or you might
oʃer to tell her a story on speakerphone from your car as her dad
drove her to school.
As it turned out, Liz tried several of these strategies, all to no
avail. No creative inspiration hit the mark. Nina was having none
of it.
Aren’t you glad we didn’t use an example in which that situation
worked out nicely and perfectly? You’re relieved, aren’t you,
because you know it doesn’t always go that way. No matter how
skillfully we handle a situation, and no matter how cognizant we
remain of important information like the three Brain C’s, at times
our kids still don’t do things the way we’d like. They don’t pick up
their toys. They don’t automatically apologize to their brother.
They don’t calm down. Which is exactly what happened here. Nina
would not cooperate. Listening to her feelings, holding her, coming
up with a plan … nothing did the trick.
But Liz still had to leave for work, and the kids had to get to
school. So, remaining calm and empathic—that’s our goal—she
explained that they had to go, and that Tim would drive her to
school this morning as planned: “I know you’re sad, and I
understand that you want to ride with me. I would like that, too.
But we can’t make that work today. Would you like to climb in or
would you like Daddy to help you get in the car now? Daddy will
be with you to comfort you on the way to school. I love you and
I’ll see you this afternoon.” And with that, the front-porch situation
ended, with Tim holding a crying Nina as he carried her to his car.
Notice what we’re acknowledging here. No-Drama Discipline
can’t ensure that your kids will act the way you’d like every time
you address their behavior. The Whole-Brain approach deɹnitely
gives you a much better chance of achieving the short-term goal of
encouraging cooperation from your children. It also helps remove
or at least reduce the most explosive emotions in the situation,
deescalating the drama and thus avoiding the harm and hurt that
result when a parent yells or personalizes the issue. But it won’t
always be eʃective at getting the exact behavior you hope for. Kids
are human beings, after all, who have their own emotions, desires,
and agendas; they’re not computers we program to do what we
want. But at the very least, as we’re sure you’ll agree after you
read the following chapters, No-Drama Discipline gives you a much
better chance of communicating with your children in ways that
feel better to both of you, build trust and respect between you, and
decrease the drama in most discipline situations.
What’s more, a Whole-Brain approach provides a way to show
our kids how much we love and respect them, even as we
discipline them. They know—and we reinforce it over and over
throughout their lives—that when they’re upset or acting
inappropriately, we’re going to be there for them. And with them.
We don’t turn our back or reject them when they’re distressed. We
don’t say, or even imply, that their happiness is a condition they
must meet to receive our love. No-Drama Discipline allows us to
communicate to our children,
“I’m with you. I’ve got your back. Even
when you’re at your worst and I don’t like the way you’re acting, I love
you, and I’m here for you. I understand you’re having a hard time, and
I am here.” No parent can communicate this message all the time in
every scenario. But we can send it consistently and repeatedly, so
there’s never any question in our children’s minds.
This kind of predictable, sensitive, loving, relational discipline
allows kids to feel safe. As a result, they have the freedom to
become independent individuals whose brains are wired in such a
way that they are better able to think through decisions,
comprehend what they actually feel about a situation, consider
others’ perspectives, and come to a sound conclusion on their own.
In other words, the experiences of emotional and physical safety
give them the capacity to act responsibly and make good choices.
In contrast, a parenting style focused on control and fear, stressing
that a child needs to toe the line all the time, undermines that
feeling of safety. If a child lives in constant worry that he might
mess up and make his parents unhappy or that he’ll be punished, he
won’t feel the freedom to do all the things that grow and
strengthen his upstairs brain: considering others’ feelings, exploring
alternative actions, understanding himself, and trying to make the
best decision in a given situation. We don’t want our discipline to
cause our children to focus all of their energy and neural resources
on making us happy or staying out of trouble. Instead, we want our
discipline to help grow our kids’ upstairs brains. And that’s just
what No-Drama Discipline does.
No-Drama Discipline Builds the Brain
The three Brain C’s lead to one crucial and undeniable conclusion,
which is the central notion of this chapter: No-Drama Discipline
actually helps build the brain. That’s right. It’s not only that a
Whole-Brain approach can defuse diɽcult and highly charged
situations with your kids. Or that it will help you build your
relationship with them as you more clearly communicate how
much you love them and that they are safe, even as you set
boundaries for their behavior. All that’s true; the discipline
principles and strategies we’ll show you in the coming pages really
do oʃer all of those beneɹts, making your day-to-day life easier
and less stressful while nurturing your relationship with your child.
But beyond all that, No-Drama Discipline actually builds a child’s
brain. It strengthens neural connections between the upstairs and
downstairs parts of the brain, and these connections lead to
personal insight, responsibility, ɻexible decision making, empathy,
and morality. The reason is that when we help strengthen the
connective ɹbers between the upstairs and downstairs, the higher
parts of the brain can communicate with and override a child’s
primitive impulses more and more often. And our disciplinary
decisions go a long way toward determining how strong those
connections are. The way we interact with our kids when they’re upset
signiɹcantly aʃects how their brains develop, and therefore what kind of
people they are, both today and in the years to come. This is how our
way of communicating with our children impacts their internal
skills, which are embedded in the connections in their changing,
changeable, and complex brains!
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Every time we
give a child the experience of exercising his upstairs brain, it gets
stronger and more fully developed. When we ask him questions
that develop insight into himself, he becomes more insightful.
When we encourage her to empathize with someone else, she
becomes more empathic.
When we give a child the opportunity to decide how he should
act, rather than simply telling him what he should do, he becomes
a better decision maker.
And that’s one of the ultimate goals of parenting, isn’t it? That
our kids become more insightful, empathic, and able to make good
decisions on their own? You know the old saying: “Give a man a
ɹsh, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to ɹsh, and he’ll eat for a
lifetime.” Our ultimate goal isn’t that our children do what we
want them to do because we’re watching them or telling them what
to do. (That would be fairly impractical, after all, unless we plan
on living and going to work with them for the rest of their lives.)
Rather, we want to help them learn to make positive and
productive choices on their own in whatever situation they face.
And that means we need to view the times they misbehave as
opportunities to give them practice building important skills and
having those experiences wired into the brain.
Building the Brain by Setting Limits
This perspective can completely change the way we look at the
opportunities we have to help our kids make better choices. When
we set limits, we help develop the parts of the upstairs brain that
allow children to control themselves and regulate their behaviors
and their body.
One way to think about it is that we’re helping our kids develop
the ability to shift between the diʃerent aspects of what’s called
the autonomic nervous system. One part of the autonomic nervous
system is the sympathetic branch, which you can think of as the
“accelerator” of the system. Like a gas pedal, it causes us to react
with gusto to impulses and situations, as it primes the body for
action. The other part is the parasympathetic branch, which serves
as the “brakes” of the system and allows us to stop and regulate
ourselves and our impulses. Keeping the accelerator and the brakes
in balance is key for emotional regulation, so when we help
children develop the capacity to control themselves even when
they’re upset, we’re helping them learn to balance these two
branches of the autonomic nervous system.
Purely in terms of brain functioning, sometimes an activated
accelerator (which might result in a child’s inappropriate and
impulsive action) followed by the sudden application of brakes (in
the form of parental limit setting) leads to a nervous system
response that may cause the child to stop and feel a sense of
shame. When this happens, the physiologic manifestation might
result in avoiding eye contact, feeling a heaviness in her chest, and
possibly experiencing a sinking feeling in her stomach. Parents
might describe this by saying she “feels bad about what she’s
done.”
This initial awareness of having crossed a line is extremely
healthy, and it’s evidence of a child’s developing upstairs brain.
Some scientists suggest that limit setting that creates a “healthy
sense of shame” leads to an internal compass to guide future
behavior. It means she’s beginning to acquire a conscience, or an
inner voice, along with an understanding of morality and selfcontrol. Over time, as her parents repeatedly help her recognize
the moments when she needs to put on the brakes, her behavior
begins to change. It’s more than simply learning that a particular
action is bad, or that her parents don’t like what she’s done, so
she’d better avoid that action or she’ll get in trouble. More occurs
within this child than just learning the rules of good vs. bad or
acceptable vs. unacceptable.
Rather, her brain actually changes, and her nervous system gets
wired to tell her what “feels right,
” which modiɹes her future
behavior. New experiences wire new connections among her
neurons, and the changes in the circuitry of her brain
fundamentally and positively alter the way she interacts with her
world. The way her parents help this process along is by lovingly
and empathically teaching her which behaviors are acceptable and
which aren’t. That’s why it’s essential that we set limits and that
our children internalize “no” when necessary, particularly in the
early years, when the regulatory circuits of the brain are wiring up.
By helping them understand the rules and limits in their respective
environments, we help build their conscience.
This is often diɽcult for a loving parent. We want our kids to be
happy, and we like it when they receive what they desire. Plus
we’re aware of how quickly a pleasant situation can devolve when
a child doesn’t get what he wants. However, if we truly love our
kids and want what’s best for them, we need to be able to tolerate
the tension and discomfort they (and we) may experience when we
set a limit. We want to say yes to our children as often as possible,
but sometimes saying no is the most loving thing we can do.
One caveat here: Many parents say no, or a form of it, far too
often. They say it automatically, often when it’s not necessary. Stop
touching that balloon. No running. Don’t spill. Our point here isn’t
that we want our kids to hear the word “no” a lot. In fact, much
more eʃective than an outright no is a yes with a condition: “Yes,
you can take a bath later” or “Yes, we’ll read another story, but
we’ll need to do it tomorrow.” The point, in other words, is not to
make a point of saying no, but to understand the importance of helping
kids recognize limits so that they become increasingly better at putting
on the brakes themselves when necessary.
A second caveat is important to note here, too. When limitsetting and “no” are accompanied by parental anger or negative
comments that assault a child, the “healthy, developmental shame”
of a child simply learning to curb his or her behavior now is
transformed into more complicated “toxic shame” and humiliation.
One view proposes that toxic shame involves not simply the sense
of having done something wrong, which can and needs to be
corrected, but the painful sense that one’s inner self is defective.
And this belief that the self is damaged is felt to be an
unchangeable condition of the child—not a behavior that can be
modiɹed. Some researchers consider this move from “behavior to
be changed in the future” to a “self that is fundamentally ɻawed”
as the outcome for children who experience repeated parental
hostility in response to their behavior. Toxic shame and
humiliation can continue through childhood and into adulthood,
even beneath the surface of awareness, leaving individuals with a
hidden “secret” that they are permanently and deeply defective. A
cascade of negative consequences—having trouble with close
relationships that might reveal this hidden secret, feeling
unworthy, being driven to succeed in life but never feeling satisɹed
—can then dominate the individual’s life. You as a parent can avoid
giving your child this negative cascade of toxic shame by learning
how to create needed structure without humiliating your child.
That’s an achievable goal, and we are committed to making that
path available to you if you choose it.
What it all comes down to is that No-Drama Discipline
encourages kids to look inside themselves, consider the feelings of
others, and make decisions that are often diɽcult, even when they
have the impulse or desire to do things another way. It allows
children to put into practice the emotional and social abilities we
want them to understand and master. It allows you to create
structure with respect. When we’re willing to lovingly set a
boundary—just like when we discipline with an awareness that our
children’s brains are changing, changeable, and complex—we help
create neural connections that improve our kids’ capacity for
relationships, self-control, empathy, personal insight, morality, and
much, much more. And they can feel good about who they are as
individuals while learning to modify their behavior.

All of this leads to an exciting conclusion for parents: every time
our children misbehave, they give us an opportunity to understand
them better, and get a better sense of what they need help
learning. Children often act out because they haven’t yet developed
skills in a particular area. So when your three-year-old pulls her
classmate’s hair because he got the ɹrst Dixie cup full of ɹsh
crackers, she’s actually telling you,
“I need to build skills in waiting
my turn.” Likewise, when your seven-year-old becomes deɹant and
calls you “Fart-face Jones” after you tell him it’s time to leave his
playdate, he’s actually saying,
“I need skill building when it comes
to handling myself well and communicating my disappointment
respectfully when I don’t get my way.” By misbehaving, kids
actually communicate to us what they need to be working on—
what has not yet been developed or what speciɹc skills they need
practice with.
The bad news is that it’s rarely much fun, either for the child or
for the parent. The good news is that we get information we might
not otherwise receive. The even better news is that we can then
take intentional steps to give our kids experiences that help them
improve on their ability to share, think of others, speak kindly, and
so on. We’re not saying that when your children don’t handle
things well, you should necessarily celebrate. (“Yay! An
opportunity to help a brain develop optimally with my intentional
response!”) You’re probably not going to enjoy discipline, or look
forward to future meltdowns. But when you realize that these
“misbehavior moments” aren’t just miserable experiences to
endure, but actually opportunities for knowledge and growth, you
can reframe the whole experience and recognize it as a chance to
build the brain and create something meaningful and signiɹcant in
your child’s life.
M
CHAPTER 3
From Tantrum to Tranquility: Connection Is the
Key
ichael heard voices rising in his sons’ room but was watching
the basketball game on TV and decided to wait for a
commercial before investigating. Big mistake.
His eight-year-old, Graham, and Graham’s friend James had
spent the last thirty minutes carefully organizing and categorizing
Graham’s hundreds of Lego pieces. Graham had used his allowance
to buy a ɹshing tackle box, and he had designated a diʃerent
compartment for every Lego head, torso, helmet, sword, light
saber, wand, axe, and anything else the creative geniuses from
Denmark could dream up. The boys were in organizational heaven.
The problem was that Michael’s ɹve-year-old, Matthias, had
been feeling increasingly left out by Graham and James. The three
boys had begun the project together, but the older boys eventually
felt that Matthias didn’t quite understand their complex categorical
system. As a result, they weren’t allowing him to participate in the
activity.
Cue the rising voices.
Michael never made it to the commercial. The shouting let him
know that he needed to intervene immediately, but he wasn’t quick
enough. When he was still three steps away from the boys’ room
—three short steps!—he heard the unmistakable sound of hundreds
of plastic Lego pieces exploding across a hardwood floor.
Three steps later he witnessed the mayhem and carnage. It was a
complete massacre. Decapitated heads littered the entire room,
lying next to armless bodies and weapons both medieval and
futuristic. A rainbow of chaos stretched from the doorway to the
closet on the other side of the room.
Next to the upended tackle box stood Michael’s huɽng, redfaced ɹve-year-old, looking at him with eyes that were somehow
both deɹant and terriɹed. Michael turned to his older son, who
yelled,
“He ruins everything!” and ran from the room in tears,
followed by a sheepish-looking and uncomfortable James.
Talk about a discipline moment. Both of his boys were now
bawling, a friend was caught in the crossɹre, and Michael himself
felt furious. Not only had Matthias destroyed all the work the older
boys had done, but now there was a huge mess to clean up in the
room. (If you’ve ever felt the pain of stepping on a Lego piece, you
know why it wasn’t an option to leave the bits spread out on the
floor.) And he was missing the game.
Michael decided he’d go check on the older boys in a minute and
address Matthias ɹrst. His initial inclination was to stand over his
young son, wag his ɹnger in his son’s face, and scold him for
dumping the tackle box. In his anger he wanted to oʃer immediate
consequences. He wanted to shout,
“Why did you do this?” He
wanted to say something about never again getting to participate in
Graham’s playdates, then add,
“Do you see why they didn’t want
you to play with their Legos?”
Luckily, though, the thinking part of Michael (his upstairs brain)
took over, and he addressed the situation from a Whole-Brain
perspective. What triggered the more mature and empathic
approach was his recognition of how much his little boy needed
him right then. Of course Michael would have to address Matthias’s
behavior. And yes, he’d obviously need to be a bit more proactive
next time in attending to the situation before it spun out of control.
He’d want to help Matthias think about how Graham felt, and
understand that our actions often impact other people in signiɹcant
ways. All of this teaching, all of this redirection, was absolutely
necessary.
But not right now.
Right now, he needed to connect.
Matthias was completely dysregulated emotionally, and he
needed his dad to soothe the hurt feelings, sadness, and anger that
came from being criticized for being too little to understand and
from being excluded. This was not the time to redirect, to teach, or
to talk about family rules and respect for others’ property. It was
time to connect.
So Michael knelt down and opened his arms, and Matthias fell
into them. Michael held him as he sobbed, rubbed his back, and
said nothing other than an occasional “I know, buddy. I know.”
A minute later Matthias looked up at him, his eyes shiny with
tears, and said,
“I spilt the Legos.”
In response, Michael laughed a little and said,
“I’d say you did
more than that, little man!”
Matthias cracked a small smile, and at that point Michael knew
he could now proceed to the redirecting part of the discipline and
help Matthias understand some important lessons about empathy
and appropriate expressions of big feelings. He was now capable of
hearing his father. Michael’s connection and comfort had allowed
his son to move out of a reactive state and into a receptive one,
where he could hear his dad and really learn.
Notice that connecting ɹrst is not only more relational and
loving. Yes, it allows parents to attune to their children, as Michael
did here, and be emotionally responsive when they’re upset and
dysregulated. That enables the child to “feel felt,
” which is the
inner sense of being seen and understood that transforms chaos
into calm, isolation into connection. Connecting ɹrst is a
fundamentally loving way to discipline. But notice how much more
effective a No-Drama disciplinary approach can be as well. It’s not
that a lecture would have been wrong as Michael’s initial response
to the situation. Our point here isn’t about the rightness or
wrongness of parenting approaches (although we’d deɹnitely argue
that a Whole-Brain approach is fundamentally more loving and
compassionate). The point is that Michael’s connect-ɹrst tactic
achieved the two goals of discipline—gaining cooperation and brain
building—extremely eʃectively. It allowed learning to occur,
teaching to be eʃective, and connection to be established and
maintained. His approach let Michael get his son’s attention, and to
do so quickly and without drama, so they could talk about
Matthias’s behavior in such a way that he could listen. Plus, it could
help build Matthias’s brain, because he could now hear Michael’s
points and understand the important lessons his father was teaching
him. In addition, Michael modeled for his son attuned connection
and showed him that there are calmer, more loving ways to
interact when you’re upset with someone. And all of this happened
because Michael connected first, before redirecting.
Proactive Parenting
We’ll talk in just a minute about why connection is such a powerful
tool when our kids are upset or having trouble making good
decisions. Michael obviously used it eʃectively. But by being just a
bit slow to respond to the situation—three short steps!—he missed
an opportunity to avoid the entire disciplinary process completely.
It really is true. At times we can avoid having to discipline at all,
simply by parenting proactively, rather than reactively. When we
parent proactively, we watch for times we can tell that
misbehavior and/or a meltdown is in our children’s near future—
it’s just over the horizon of where they are right now—and we step
in and try to guide them around that potential landmine. Michael
wanted to make it to the next commercial, so he didn’t respond
quickly enough to the signs that trouble was beginning to surface in
his sons’ room.
Parenting proactively can make all the diʃerence. When, for
example, your sweet and usually compliant eight-year-old is getting
ready to go to her swim lesson, you might notice that she
overreacts a bit when it’s time to apply sunscreen: “Why do I have
to use sunscreen every day?” Then while you’re getting her little
brother ready, she sits down at the piano for a minute to play one
of her songs. But she misses a couple of notes, then slams her ɹst
on the keyboard in frustration.
You could interpret these actions as isolated incidents and
overlook them. Or you could recognize them for the warning ɻags
they probably are. You might remember that this particular
daughter gets especially upset when she’s hungry, so you might
stop what you’re doing and set an apple in front of her. When she
looks up at you, you can oʃer her a knowing smile as a reminder
of this tendency of hers, and hopefully she’ll nod, eat the apple,
and move back into a place of self-control.
Granted, sometimes no obvious signs present themselves before
our kids make bad decisions and act in ways that aren’t ideal. But
other times we can read our children’s cues and take proactive
steps to stay ahead of the discipline curve. That might mean giving
a warning ɹve minutes before having to leave the park, or
enforcing a consistent bedtime so your kids don’t get too tired and
grumpy. It might mean starting to tell a preschooler a suspenseful
story and then pausing it, explaining that you’ll tell what happens
next once she’s in her car seat. Or maybe it means you step in to
begin a new game when you hear that your children are moving
toward signiɹcant conɻict with each other. It might mean telling a
toddler, with a voice full of intriguing energy,
“Hey, before you
throw that french fry across the restaurant, I want to show you
w
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a
t
I
h
a
v
e
i
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m
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p
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.

Another way to parent proactively is to HALT before responding
to your kids. When you see your child’s behavior trending in a
direction you don’t like, ask yourself,
“Is he hungry, angry, lonely,
o r tired?” It may be that all you need to do is to set out some
raisins, listen to his feelings, play a game with him, or help him get
more sleep. Sometimes, in other words, all you need is a bit of
forethought and planning ahead.
Parenting proactively isn’t easy, and it takes a fair amount of
awareness on your part. But the more you can watch for the
beginnings of negative behaviors and head them oʃ at the pass, the less
you’ll end up having to pick up the literal or ɹgurative pieces, meaning
you and your children will have more time simply to enjoy each other.
As we all know, though, sometimes misbehavior just happens.
Oh, does it happen. And no amount of proactivity can prevent it.
That’s when it’s time to connect. We have to ɹght the urge to
immediately punish, lecture, lay down the law, or even positively
redirect right away. Instead, we need to connect.
Why Connect First?
Let’s get more speciɹc and talk about why connection is so
powerful. We’ll look at three primary beneɹts—one short-term,
one long-term, and one relational—of making connection our ɹrst
response when our kids have trouble controlling themselves and
making good decisions.
Benefit #1: Connection Moves a Child from Reactivity to Receptivity
However we decide to speciɹcally respond when our children
misbehave, there’s one thing we have to do: we must remain
emotionally connected with them, even when—and perhaps
especially when—we discipline. After all, it’s when our kids are most
upset that they need us the most. Think about it: they don’t want to
feel frustrated, enraged, or out of control. That’s not only
unpleasant, it’s extremely stressful. Usually misbehavior is the
result of a child having a hard time dealing with what’s going on
around her—and inside her. She’s got all these big feelings she
doesn’t yet have the capacity to manage, and the misbehavior is
simply the result. Her actions—especially when she’s out of control
—are a message that she needs help. They are a bid for assistance,
and for connection.
So when children feel furious, dejected, ashamed, embarrassed,
overwhelmed, or out of control in any other way, that’s when we
need to be there for them. Through connection, we can soothe their
internal storm, help them calm down, and assist them in making
better decisions. When they feel our love and acceptance, when
they “feel felt” by us, even when they know we don’t like their
actions (or they don’t like ours), they can begin to regain control
and allow their upstairs brains to engage again. When that happens,
eʃective discipline can actually take place. Connection, in other
words, moves them out of a reactive state and into a state where
they can be more receptive to the lesson we want to teach and to
the healthy interactions we want to share with them.
So there’s a great question we can ask ourselves before we begin
redirecting and explicitly teaching: Is my child ready? Ready to hear
me, ready to learn, ready to understand? If a child isn’t ready, then
more connection is most likely in order.
As we saw with Michael and his ɹve-year-old, connection calms
the nervous system, soothing children’s reactivity in the moment
and moving them toward a place where they can hear us, learn,
and even make their own Whole-Brain decisions. When the
emotional gauge gets turned up, connection is the modulator that
keeps the feelings from getting too high. Without connection,
emotions can continue to spiral out of control.
Imagine the last time you felt really sad or angry or upset. How
would it have felt if someone you love told you,
“You need to calm
down,
” or “It’s not that big a deal”? Or what if you were told to
“go be by yourself until you’re calm and ready to be nice and
happy”? These responses would feel awful, wouldn’t they? Yet
these are the kinds of things we tell our kids all the time. When we
do, we actually increase their internal distress, leading to more
acting out, not less. These responses accomplish the opposite of
connection, effectively amplifying negative states.
Connection, on the other hand, calms, allowing children to begin
to regain control of their emotions and bodies. It allows them to
“feel felt,
” and this empathy soothes the sense of isolation or being
misunderstood that arises with the reactivity of their downstairs
brain and the whole nervous system: heart pounding, lungs rapidly
breathing, muscles tightening, and intestines churning. Those
reactive states are uncomfortable, and they can become intensiɹed
with further demands and disconnection. With connection,
however, kids can make more thoughtful choices and handle
themselves better.
What connection does, essentially, is to integrate the brain. Here’s
how it works. The brain, as we’ve said, is complex. (That’s the
third Brain C.) It’s made up of many parts, all of which have
diʃerent jobs to do. The upstairs brain, the downstairs brain. The
left side and the right side. There are memory centers and pain
regions. Along with all the systems and circuitry of the brain, these
parts of our brain have their own responsibilities, their own jobs to
do. When they work together as a coordinated whole, the brain
becomes integrated. Its many parts can perform as a team,
accomplishing more and being more eʃective than they could
working on their own.
As we explained in The Whole-Brain Child, a good image to help
understand integration is a river of well-being. Imagine you’re in a
canoe, ɻoating along in a peaceful, idyllic river. You feel calm,
relaxed, and ready to deal with whatever comes along. It’s not
necessarily that everything’s perfect or going your way. It’s more
that you’re in an integrated state of mind—you’re calm, receptive,
and balanced, and your body feels energetic and at ease. Even
when things don’t work out the way you’d like, you can ɻexibly
adapt. That’s the river of well-being.
Sometimes, though, you’re not able to stay in the ɻow of the
river. You veer too far to one bank or the other. One side of the
river represents chaos. Near this bank are dangerous rapids that
make life feel frenzied and unmanageable. When you’re near the
chaos bank, you’re easily upset, and even minor obstacles can leave
you spinning out of control. You might experience overwhelming
emotions such as high anxiety or intense anger, and you might
notice that your body feels chaotic, too, with tense muscles, a rapid
heartbeat, and a furrowed brow.
The other bank is no less unpleasant, because it represents
rigidity. Here you get stuck desiring or expecting the world to
operate in one particular way, and you’re unwilling or unable to
adapt when it doesn’t. In your eʃort to impose your own vision
and desires on the world around you, you ɹnd that you won’t, or
possibly even can’t, compromise or negotiate in any meaningful
way.
So chaos is on one bank, rigidity on the other. The two extremes
oʃer either a lack of control or so much control that there’s no
ɻexibility or adaptability. And both extremes keep you out of the
peaceful ɻow of the river of well-being. Whether you’re chaotic or
rigid, you’re missing out on the opportunity to enjoy mental and
emotional health, to feel at ease with the world.
Think about the river of well-being in relation to your kids.
Almost always, when children act up or feel upset, they will
display evidence of chaos, rigidity, or both. When a nine-year-old
freaks out about an oral presentation at school the next day and
ends up ripping up her notes as she sobs that she’ll never be able to
memorize her opening, she’s succumbed to chaos. She’s crashed
into the bank, far from the smooth-ɻowing river of well-being.
Similarly, when a ɹve-year-old stubbornly insists on another
bedtime story or refuses to get in the tub until he ɹnds his most
special wristband, he’s right up against the rigidity bank. And
remember Nina from the last chapter? When she fell apart because
her mom told her that her dad would be driving her to school that
morning, then refused to consider any alternative perspectives on
the situation, she was zigzagging back and forth between chaos and
rigidity, never getting to enjoy the peaceful ɻow in the center of
the river of well-being.
So that’s what connection does. It moves children away from the
banks and back into the ɻow, where they experience an internal
sense of balance and feel happier and more stable. Then they can
hear what we need to tell them, and they can make better
decisions. When we connect with a child who feels overwhelmed
and chaotic, we help move her away from that bank and into the
center of the river, where she can feel more balanced and in
control. When we connect with a child who’s stuck in a rigid frame
of mind, unable to consider alternative perspectives, we help him
integrate so that he can loosen his unyielding grip on a situation
and become more ɻexible and adaptive. In both cases, connection
creates an integrated state of mind, and the opportunity for
learning.
We’ll get much more speciɹc in the next chapter about practical
ways to connect with your children when they’re upset. The basic
approach, though, usually entails listening and providing lots of
verbal and nonverbal empathy. This is how we attune to our
children, tuning in to the inner life of their mind—to their feelings
and thoughts, to their perceptions and memories, to what has inner
subjective meaning in their lives. This is tuning in to the mind
beneath their behavior. For example, one of the most powerful ways
we connect with our children is simply by physically touching
them. A loving touch—as simple as a hand on an arm or a rub on
the back or a warm embrace—releases feel-good hormones (like
natural oxytocin and opioids) into our brain and body, and
decreases the level of our stress hormone (cortisol). When your
children are feeling upset, a loving touch can calm things down and
help you connect, even during moments of high stress. This is
connecting with their inner distress, not simply reacting to their
outwardly visible behavior.
Notice that this was the ɹrst thing Michael did when he looked
at his young son in the middle of the Lego carnage: he sat down
and held him.
In doing so, he began to pull Matthias’s tiny canoe away from
the bank of chaos and back into the peaceful ɻow of the river.
Then he listened. Matthias didn’t need to say much: “I spilt the
Legos.” With that he could begin to move on. Sometimes children
will need to talk much more, and to be listened to for much longer.
Or sometimes they don’t want to talk. And sometimes it can be as
quick as it was here. Nonverbal touch, an empathic statement—“I
know, buddy”—and a willingness to listen. That’s what Matthias
needed in order to return some equilibrium to his young brain and
impulsive body. Once that happened, his father could begin to
teach him by talking about the lessons at hand.
Even though Michael wasn’t thinking in these terms, what he
was doing was using his relationship, his connecting
communication, to help bring integration to Matthias’s brain, so
that his upstairs brain and his downstairs brain could work
together, and so that the right and left sides of his brain could work
together. When Matthias became furious with the older boys, his
downstairs brain completely took over, disabling his upstairs brain.
The instinctive, reactive lower parts of his brain became so active
that he lost access to the higher parts of the brain, the ones that
help him think about consequences and consider others’ feelings.
These two parts of his brain were not working together. In other
words, his brain in that moment was dis-integrated, and the result
was the Lego massacre. By oʃering a nonverbal gesture instead of
just a bunch of logical, left-brained words, Michael was able to
connect with Matthias’s right brain, the side more directly
connected to and also ɻooded by the downstairs brain. Right and
left, downstairs and upstairs, Matthias’s brain was ready to become
more coordinated and balanced in its movement toward
integration. Connection integrated his emotion-focused downstairs
brain and his thinking-oriented upstairs brain and allowed Michael
to achieve the short-term goal of gaining cooperation from his son.
Benefit #2: Connection Builds the Brain
As we explained in the previous chapter, No-Drama Discipline
builds the brain of a child by improving his capacity for
relationships, self-control, empathy, personal insight, and much
more. We discussed the importance of setting limits, creating
structure, and helping children build internal controls and impulse
inhibition by internalizing “no.” This is how we use our
relationship with our children to build their brains’ executive
functions. We also discussed other ways to develop a child’s
relational and decision-making abilities. Each interaction with our
kids oʃers the opportunity to build their brains and further their
capacity to be the kind of people we hope they’ll be.
And it all begins with connection. In addition to the short-term
beneɹt of moving them from reactivity to receptivity, connecting
during a disciplinary interaction also impacts children’s brains in
ways that will have long-term eʃects as they grow up. When we
oʃer comfort when our kids are upset, when we listen to their
feelings, when we communicate how much we love them even
when they’ve messed up: when we respond in these ways, we
signiɹcantly impact the way their brains develop and the kind of
people they’ll be, both now and as they move into adolescence and
adulthood.
In upcoming chapters we’ll talk more about redirection,
including the explicit lessons we teach and the behaviors we model
as we interact with our children. Obviously, a child’s brain will be
greatly impacted by what we communicate to him when we
respond to misbehavior. And it will also be changed by what we
model with our own actions in the moment. Whether consciously
or subconsciously, a child’s brain will assimilate all kinds of
information based on the parental response to any situation. The
more pertinent point here is about connection, and how parents
change and even build children’s brains based on what children
experience in that disciplinary moment.
To put it in more neurological terms, connection strengthens the
connective ɹbers between the upstairs and downstairs brain so that
the higher parts of the brain can more eʃectively communicate
with and override the lower, more primitive impulses. We
nickname these ɹbers connecting upper and lower brain areas the
“staircase of the brain.” The staircase integrates upstairs and
downstairs and beneɹts the region of the brain called the
prefrontal cortex. This key area of the brain helps create the
executive functions of self-regulation, including balancing our
emotions, focusing our attention, controlling our impulses, and
connecting us empathically with others. As the prefrontal cortex
develops, children will be better able to put into practice the social
and emotional skills we want them to develop and ultimately to
master as they move through our home and out into the larger
world.
To put it simply, integration in a relationship creates integration
in the brain. An integrated relationship develops when we honor
diʃerences between ourselves and others, and then connect
through compassionate communication. We empathize with
another person, feeling their feelings and understanding their point
of view. In this connection, we respect another person’s inner
mental life but do not become the other person. This is how we
remain diʃerentiated individuals but also connect. Such integration
creates harmony in a relationship. Amazingly, interpersonal
integration can also be seen at the heart of how parent-child
relationships cultivate integration in the child’s brain. This is how
diʃerentiated regions—like left and right, or up and down—remain
unique and specialized but also become linked. Regulation in the
brain depends upon the coordination and balance of various regions
that emerge from integration. And such neural integration is the
basis for executive functions, the capacity to regulate attention,
emotions, thoughts, and behavior. That’s the secret of the sauce!
Interpersonal integration cultivates internal neural integration!
So that’s the long-term beneɹt of connection: through
relationships, it creates neural linkages and grows integrative ɹbers
that literally change the brain and leave our kids more skilled at
making good decisions, participating in relationships, and
interacting successfully with their world.
Benefit #3: Connection Deepens the Relationship with Your Child
So connection oʃers the short-term beneɹt of moving kids from
reactivity to receptivity, and the long-term beneɹt of building the
brain. The third beneɹt we want to highlight is a relational one:
connection deepens the bond between you and your child.
Moments of conɻict can be the most diɽcult and precarious
times in any relationship. They can also be among the most
important. Of course our kids know we’re there for them when
we’re snuggling and reading a book together, or when we show up
and cheer at their performances. But what about when tension and
conɻict arise? When we have incompatible desires or opinions?
These moments are the real test. How we respond to our children
when we’re not happy with their choices—with loving guidance?
with irritation and criticism? with fury and a shaming outburst?—
will impact the development of our relationship with them, and
even their own sense of self.
It’s not always easy to even want to connect when our kids
misbehave, or when they’re acting their ugliest and most out of
control. Connecting might be the last thing in the world you want
to do when a ɹght breaks out between your kids on a quiet
airplane, or when they whine and complain about not getting a
better treat after you’ve just taken them to the movies.
But connection should be our ɹrst response in virtually any
disciplinary situation. Not only because it can help us deal with the
problem in the short term. Not only because it will make our
children better people in the long term. But also, and most
important, because it helps us communicate how much we value
the relationship. We know that our children have changing,
changeable, and complex brains, and that they need us when
they’re struggling. The more we respond with empathy, support,
and listening, the better it will be for our relationship with them.
Tina recently attended a birthday party with her six-year-old at
his friend Sabrina’s house. Her parents, Bassil and Kimberly,
walked the guests out at the end of the party. When they returned
to the living room of the house, they were met with a surprise.
Here’s how Kimberly put it in an email to Tina:
After the party, Sabrina went into the house and opened
all of her gifts unsupervised. So I couldn’t write down
who gave her what. It was pandemonium! I managed to
piece together most of the items because my daughter
Sierra had been there when she opened them. Before
Sabrina writes out the thank-you cards, I’d like to get
this clarified. Did JP get her the kaleidoscope chalk? I’m
sure Miss Manners would disapprove of my tactics, but
I’d rather get it right than be nonspecific!
In this situation, we could certainly empathize with a tired
parent for not handling herself well when she returned to the living
room to ɹnd recently opened toys everywhere and torn wrapping
paper littering the entire ɻoor. After all, Kimberly had just hosted
a fun but loud, entertaining but chaotic birthday party for ɹfteen
six-year-olds and their parents and siblings. The circumstances were
ripe for a parental meltdown, highlighted by lots of yelling about a
spoiled kid who couldn’t even wait until the party was over before
ripping into the presents like a wild animal tearing into meat.
By maintaining her own self-control, though, Kimberly was able
to address the situation from a No-Drama, Whole-Brain frame of
mind, which led her to begin with—you guessed it—connection.
Rather than launching into a lecture or a tirade, she connected with
her daughter. She ɹrst acknowledged how fun it was to have had
the party, and now to get to open all of the presents. She even sat
patiently as Sabrina showed her the set of fake moustaches she was
so excited about. (You’d have to know Sabrina.) And then, once
Kimberly had connected, she spoke with her daughter, teaching her
what she wanted her to know about presents and waiting and
thank-you notes. That’s how connection created an integrative
opportunity, building a stronger brain and strengthening a
relationship.
Will you be able to connect ɹrst every time your kids mess up or
lose control of themselves? Of course not. We certainly don’t with
our own kids. But the more frequently we can make connection our
ɹrst response, regardless of what our children have done, or
whether or not we ourselves are in the river of well-being, the
more we’ll show our kids that they can count on us to oʃer solace,
unconditional love, and support, even when they’ve acted in ways
we don’t like. Talk about fortifying and deepening a relationship!
What’s more, in strengthening your own relationship with your
children, you’ll be better equipping them to be good siblings,
friends, and partners as they move toward adulthood. You’ll be
teaching by role modeling, guiding by what you do and not only by
what you say. That’s the relational beneɹt of connection: it teaches
kids what it means to be in a relationship and to love, even when
we’re not happy with the choices made by the person we love.
What About Tantrums? Aren’t We Supposed to Ignore Them?
When we teach parents about connecting and redirecting, one of
the most common questions we hear is about tantrums. Usually
someone in the audience will ask something like,
“I thought we
were supposed to ignore tantrums. Doesn’t connecting with a kid
when he’s freaking out just give him attention? So doesn’t that just
reinforce the negative behavior?”
Our response to this question reveals another place where the
No-Drama, Whole-Brain philosophy deviates from conventional
approaches. Yes, there may be times when a child throws what we
might call a strategic tantrum, when he’s in control of himself and
is willfully acting distressed to achieve a desired end: to get a toy
he wants, to stay at the park longer, and so on. But with most
children, and almost always with young children, strategic
tantrums are much, much more the exception than the rule.
The vast majority of the time, a tantrum is evidence that a
child’s downstairs brain has hijacked his upstairs brain and left him
legitimately and honestly out of control. Or, even if the child isn’t
fully dysregulated, he’s enough out of sorts in his nervous system
that he whines or doesn’t have the capacity to be ɻexible and
manage his feelings in that moment. And if a child is unable to
regulate his emotions and actions, our response should be to oʃer
help and emphasize comfort. We should be nurturing and empathic,
and focus on connection. Whether he’s out of sorts and just
beginning to move down the road to distress or so upset that he’s
actually out of control, he needs us in this moment. We still need to
set limits—we can’t let a child, in his distress, yank down the
curtains at the restaurant—but our objective in that moment is to
comfort him and help him calm down so he can regain control of
himself. Recall that chaos and losing control are signs of blocked
integration, where the diʃerent parts of the brain are not working
as a coordinated whole. And since connection creates integrative
opportunities, connection becomes the way we comfort.
Integration creates the ability to regulate emotions—and that’s how
we soothe our kids, helping them move from the chaos or rigidity
of non-integrated states to the calmer and clearer harmony of
integration and well-being.
So when parents ask for our opinion on tantrums, our response is
that we need to completely reframe the way we think about the
times our kids are the most upset and out of control. We suggest
that parents view a tantrum not merely as an unpleasant
experience they have to learn to get through, manage for their own
beneɹt, or stop as soon as possible at all costs, but instead as a plea
for help—as another opportunity to make a child feel safe and
loved. It’s a chance to soothe distress, to be a haven when an
internal storm is raging, to practice moving from a state of dis-
integration into a state of integration, through connection. That’s
why we call these moments of connection “integrative
opportunities.” Remember that a child’s repeated experience of
having her caregiver be emotionally responsive and attuned to her
—connect with her—builds her brain’s ability to self-regulate and
self-soothe over time, leading to more independence and resilience.
So 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 disintegrated as their big emotions take over—then we’re going to
oʃer 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.
That’s why we’re not at all fans of the conventional approach
that calls for parents to completely ignore a tantrum. We agree
with the notion that a tantrum is not the time to explain to a child
that she’s acting inappropriately. A child in the midst of a tantrum
is not experiencing what is traditionally called a “teachable
moment.” But the moment can be transformed through connection
into an integrative opportunity. Parents tend to overtalk in general
when their kids are upset, and asking questions and trying to teach
a lesson mid-tantrum can further escalate their emotions. Their
nervous systems are already overloaded, and the more we talk, the
more we flood their systems with additional sensory input.
But that fact doesn’t at all logically lead to the conclusion that
we should ignore our children when they’re distraught. In fact,
we’re encouraging pretty much the opposite response. Ignoring a
child in the midst of a tantrum is one of the worst things we can
do, because when a child is that upset, he’s actually suʃering. He is
miserable. The stress hormone cortisol is pumping through his body
and washing over his brain, and he feels completely out of control
of his emotions and impulses, unable to calm himself or express
what he needs. That’s suʃering. And just like our kids need us to be
with them and provide reassurance and comfort when they’re physically
hurting, they need the same thing when they’re suʃering emotionally.
They need us to be calm and loving and nurturing. They need us to
connect.
We know how unpleasant a tantrum can be. Believe us, we
know. But here’s what it really comes down to. What message do
you want to send your children?
When you deliver this second message, you’re not giving in.
You’re not being permissive. It doesn’t mean you have to let a child
harm himself, destroy things, or put others at risk. You can, and
should, still set boundaries. You may even have to help him control
his body or stop an impulse during a tantrum. (We’ll oʃer speciɹc
suggestions for doing so in the coming chapters.) But you set these
limits while communicating your love and walking through the diɽcult
moment with your child, always communicating,
“I’m here.”
Of course we want the tantrum to resolve as quickly as possible,
just like we want to get out of the dentist chair as soon as we can.
It’s simply not pleasant. But if you’re working from a Whole-Brain
perspective, the quickest ending to the tantrum is really not your
primary goal. Rather, your ɹrst objective is to be emotionally
responsive and present for your child. Your primary goal is to
connect—which will oʃer all the short-term, long-term, and
relational beneɹts we’ve been discussing. In other words, even
though you want the tantrum to end as soon as possible, the larger
goal of connecting actually gets you there a lot more eɽciently in
the short run, and achieves a whole lot more in the long run. You’ll
make things easier and less dramatic for both your child and
yourself by providing empathy and your calm presence during a
tantrum, and you’ll build your child’s capacity to handle himself
better in the future, because emotional responsiveness strengthens
the integrative connections in his brain that allow him to make
better choices, control his body and emotions, and think about
others.
How Do You Connect Without Spoiling a Child?
We’ve said that connection defuses conɻict, builds a child’s brain,
and strengthens the parent-child relationship. One question parents
often raise, though, has to do with a potential drawback of
connecting before redirecting: “If I’m always connecting when my
kids do something wrong, won’t I spoil them? In other words,
won’t that reinforce the behavior that I’m trying to change?”
These reasonable questions are based on a misunderstanding, so
let’s take a few moments and discuss what spoiling is, and what it’s
not. Then we can be more clear on why connecting during
discipline is quite different from spoiling a child.
Let’s start with what spoiling is not. Spoiling is not about how
much love and time and attention you give your kids. You can’t spoil
your children by giving them too much of yourself. In the same way,
you can’t spoil a baby by holding her too much or responding to
her needs each time she expresses them. Parenting authorities at
one time told parents not to pick up their babies too much for fear
of spoiling them. We now know better. Responding to and soothing
a child does not spoil her—but not responding to or soothing her
creates a child who is insecurely attached and anxious. Nurturing
your relationship with your child and giving her the consistent
experiences that form the basis of her accurate belief that she’s
entitled to your love and aʃection is exactly what we should be
doing. In other words, we want to let our kids know that they can
count on getting their needs met.
Spoiling, on the other hand, occurs when parents (or other
caregivers) create their child’s world in such a way that the child
feels a sense of entitlement about getting her way, about getting
what she wants exactly when she wants it, and that everything
should come easily to her and be done for her. We want our kids to
expect that their needs can be understood and consistently met. But
we don’t want our kids to expect that their desires and whims will
always be met. (To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, we want our
kids to know they’ll get what they need, even if they can’t always
get what they want!) And connecting when a child is upset or out
of control is about meeting that child’s needs, not giving in to what
she wants.
The dictionary deɹnition of “spoil” is “to ruin or do harm to the
character or attitude by overindulgence or excessive praise.”
Spoiling can of course occur when we give our kids too much stuʃ,
spend too much money on them, or say yes all the time. But it also
occurs when we give children the sense that the world and people
around them will serve their whims.
Is the current generation of parents more likely to spoil their
kids than previous generations? Quite possibly. We see this most
commonly when parents shelter their children from having to
struggle at all. They overprotect them from disappointments or
diɽculties. Parents often confuse indulgence, on one hand, with
love and connection, on the other. If parents themselves were
raised by parents who weren’t emotionally responsive and
aʃectionate, they often experience a well-meaning desire to do
things diʃerently with their own kids. The problem appears when
they indulge their children by giving them more and more stuʃ, and
sheltering them from struggles and sadness, instead of lavishly oʃering
what their kids really need, and what really matters—their love and
connection and attention and time—as their children struggle and face
the frustrations that life inevitably brings.
There’s a reason we worry about spoiling our kids by giving
them too much stuʃ. When kids are given whatever they want all
the time, they lose opportunities to build resilience and learn
important life lessons: about delaying gratiɹcation, about having to
work for something, about dealing with disappointment. Having a
sense of entitlement, as opposed to an attitude of gratitude, can
aʃect relationships in the future, when the entitled mind-set comes
across to others.
We also want to give our children the gift of learning to work
through diɽcult experiences. We’re doing our child no favor when
we ɹnd his unɹnished homework on the kitchen table and
complete it ourselves before running it up to school to protect him
from facing the natural consequences of a late assignment. Or when
we call another parent to ask for an invitation to a birthday party
that our child caught wind of but was not invited to. These
responses create an expectation in children that they’ll experience a
pain-free existence, and as a result, they may be unable to handle
themselves when life doesn’t turn out as they anticipated.
Another problematic result of spoiling is that it chooses
immediate gratiɹcation—for both child and parent—over what’s
best for the child. Sometimes we overindulge or decide not to set a
limit because it’s easier in the moment. Saying yes to that second
or third treat of the day might be easier in the short term because
it avoids a meltdown. But what about tomorrow? Will treats be
expected then as well? Remember, the brain makes associations
from all of our experiences. Spoiling ultimately makes life harder
on us as parents because we’re constantly having to deal with the
demands or the meltdowns that result when our kids don’t get
what they’ve come to expect: that they’ll get their way all the time.
Spoiled children often grow up to be unhappy because people in
the real world don’t respond to their every whim. They have a
harder time appreciating the smaller joys and the triumph of
creating their own world if others have always done it for them.
True conɹdence and competence come not from succeeding at
getting what we want, but from our actual accomplishments and
achieving mastery of something on our own. Further, if a child
hasn’t had practice dealing with the emotions that come with not
getting what she wants and then adapting her attitude and
comforting herself, it’s going to be quite diɽcult to do so later
when disappointments get bigger. (In Chapter 6, by the way, we’ll
discuss some strategies for dialing back the eʃects of spoiling if
we’ve gotten into that unhelpful habit.)
What we’re saying is that parents are right to worry about spoiling
their kids. Overindulgence is unhelpful for children, unhelpful for
parents, and unhelpful for the relationship. But spoiling has nothing to
do with connecting with your child when he’s upset or making bad
choices. Remember, you can’t spoil a child by giving him too much
emotional connection, attention, physical aʃection, or love. When our
children need us, we need to be there for them.
Connection, in other words, isn’t about spoiling children,
coddling them, or inhibiting their independence. When we call for
connection, we’re not endorsing what’s become known as
helicopter parenting, where parents hover over their children’s
lives, shielding them from all struggle and sadness. Connection isn’t
about rescuing kids from adversity. Connection is about walking
through the hard times with our children and being there for them when
they’re emotionally suʃering, just like we would if they scraped their
knee and were physically suʃering. In doing so, we’re actually
building independence, because when our children feel safe and
connected, and when we’ve helped them build relational and
emotional skills by disciplining from a Whole-Brain perspective,
they’ll feel more and more ready to take on whatever life throws
their way.
You Can Connect While Also Setting Limits
So yes, as we discipline our children, we want to connect with
them emotionally and make sure they know we’re there for them
when they’re having a hard time. But no, this doesn’t at all mean
we should indulge their every whim. In fact, it would be not only
indulgent but irresponsible if your child were crying and
tantruming at the toy store because she didn’t want to leave, and
you allowed her to keep screaming and throwing anything she
could get her hands on.
You’re not doing a child any favors when you remove boundaries
from her life. It doesn’t feel good to her (or to you or the other
people in the toy store) to allow her emotional explosion to go
unfettered. When we talk about connecting with a child who’s
struggling to control herself, we don’t mean you allow her to
behave however she chooses. You wouldn’t simply say “You seem
upset” to a child as he hurls a Bart Simpson action ɹgure toward a
breakable Hello Kitty alarm clock. A more appropriate response
would be to say something like,
“I can see that you’re upset and
you’re having a hard time stopping your body. I will help you.”
You might need to gently pick him up or guide him outside as you
continue to connect—using empathy and physical touch,
remembering that he’s needing you—until he’s calm. Once he’s
more in control of himself and in a state of mind that’s receptive to
learning, then you can discuss what happened with him.
Notice the diʃerence in the two responses. One (“You seem
upset”) allows the child’s impulses to hold everyone captive,
leaving him unaware of what the limits are, and doesn’t give him
the experience of putting on the brakes when his desires are
pressing the gas pedal. The other gives him practice at learning that
there are limits on what he can and can’t do. Kids need to feel that
we care about what they’re going through, but they also need us to
provide rules and boundaries that allow them to know what’s
expected in a given environment.

When Dan’s children were small he took them to a neighborhood
park where he witnessed a four- or ɹve-year-old boy being bossy
and too rough with the children around him, some of them quite
little. The boy’s mother chose not to intervene, ostensibly because
she’d “rather not solve his problems for him.” Eventually another
mom let her know that the boy was being rough and preventing
children from using the slide, at which time his mother harshly
reprimanded him from across the way: “Brian! Let those kids slide
or we’re going home!” In response, he told her that she was stupid
and began throwing sand. She said,
“OK, we’re going,
” and began
gathering up their things, but he refused to leave. The mom kept
making threats but took no action. When Dan left with his kids ten
minutes later, the mom and her son were still there.
This situation raises a question about what we mean when we
talk about connecting. In this case, the issue at hand wasn’t that the
b o y was upset and crying. He was still having a hard time
regulating his impulses and handling the situation, but it was
expressed more in stubborn and oppositional behavior. Still,
connection was in order before his mother attempted to redirect
him. When a child isn’t overwhelmed by emotions but is simply
making less-than-optimal decisions, connection might mean
acknowledging how he’s feeling in that moment. She could walk
over and say,
“It looks like you’re having fun deciding who gets to
use the slide. Tell me more about what you and your friends are
doing here.”
A simple statement like this, said in a tone that communicates
interest and curiosity instead of judgment and anger, establishes an
emotional connection between the two of them. The boy’s mother
can then more credibly follow up with her redirection, which might
express the same sentiment she used earlier, but do so in a very
diʃerent tone. Depending on her own personality and her son’s
temperament, she could say something like,
“Hmmm. I just heard
from another mom that some of the kids are wanting to use the
slide, and that they’re not liking how you’re blocking it. The slide
is for all the kids at the park. Do you have any ideas for how we
can all share it?”
In a good moment, he might say something like,
“I know! I’ll go
down and then run around and they can go down while I’m
climbing back up.” In a not-so-generous moment, he might refuse,
at which time the mother might need to say,
“If it’s too hard to use
the slide in a way that works for you and your friends, then we’ll
need to do something different, like throwing the Frisbee.”
With these types of statements, the mother would be attuning to
his emotional state, while still enforcing boundaries that teach that
we need to be considerate of others. She could even give him a
second chance if need be. But if he then refused to comply and
began hurling more insults and more sand, she would have to
follow through on the redirection she promised: “I can see you’re
really angry and disappointed about leaving the park. But we can’t
stay because you’re having a hard time making good choices right
now. Would you like to walk to the car? Or I can carry you there.
It’s your choice.” Then she’d need to make it happen.
So yes, we want to always connect with our children
emotionally.
But along with connecting, we must help kids make good choices
and respect boundaries, as we clearly communicate and hold the
limits. It’s what children need, and even what they want,
ultimately. Again, they don’t feel good when their emotional states
hold them and everyone else hostage. It leaves them on the chaos
bank of the river, feeling out of control. We can help move their
brains back toward a state of integration and move them back into
the ɻow of the river by teaching them the rules that help them
understand how the world and relationships work. Giving parental
structure to our children’s emotional lives actually gives them a
sense of security and the freedom to feel.
We want our kids to learn that relationships ɻourish with
respect, nurturing, warmth, consideration, cooperation, and
compromise. So we want to interact with them from a perspective
that emphasizes both connections and boundary setting. In other
words, when we consistently pay attention to their internal world
while also holding to standards about their behavior, these are the
lessons they’ll learn. From parental sensitivity and structure
emerge a child’s resourcefulness, resilience, and relational ability.
Ultimately, then, kids need us to set boundaries and communicate
our expectations. But the key here is that all discipline should begin by
nurturing our children and attuning to their internal world, allowing
them to know that they are seen, heard, and loved by their parents—
even when they’ve done something wrong. When children feel seen,
safe, and soothed, they feel secure and they thrive. This is how we
can value our children’s minds while helping to shape and structure
their behavior. We can help guide a behavioral change, teach a new
skill, and impart an important way of approaching a problem, all
while valuing a child’s mind beneath the behavior. This is how we
discipline, how we teach, while nurturing a child’s sense of self and
sense of connection to us. Then they’ll interact with the world
around them based on these beliefs and with these social and
emotional skills, because their brains will be wired to expect that
their needs will be met and that they are unconditionally loved.

So the next time one of your children loses control or does
something that drives you completely crazy, remind yourself that a
child’s need to connect is greatest in times of high emotion. Yes,
you’ll need to address the behavior, to redirect and teach the
lessons. But ɹrst, reframe those big feelings and recognize them for
what they are: a bid for connection. When your child is at his worst,
that’s when he needs you the most. To connect is to share in your
child’s experience, to be present with him, to walk through this
diɽcult time with him. In doing so you help integrate his brain and
oʃer him the emotional regulation he’s unable to access on his
own. Then he can move back into the ɻow of the river of wellbeing. You will have helped him move from reactivity to
receptivity, helped build his brain, and deepened and strengthened
the relationship you two share.
T
CHAPTER 4
No-Drama Connection in Action
ina and her family were eating dinner at home one night when
she and her husband noticed that their six-year-old hadn’t
returned from the bathroom for several minutes. They found him
playing on Tina’s iPad in the living room. Here’s how Tina tells the
story:
At ɹrst I was frustrated because my six-year-old had
broken several of our rules. He had snuck away from
the table, and he had played on the iPad without asking.
He had also taken the iPad out of its protective case,
which he knew he wasn’t supposed to do. None of the
infractions was signiɹcant. The problem was that he
was disregarding the rules we had all agreed to.
First, I thought about my son, and his temperament
and developmental stage. As Dan and I have said
several times now, context always has to be taken into
consideration when deciding how to discipline. I knew
that because my son is a sensitive and conscientious
little guy, I probably wouldn’t need to say much to
discipline him.
Scott and I sat on the couch next to him, and I simply
said, in a curious tone,
“What happened here?”
Immediately, my son’s lower lip began to quiver, and
tears pooled in his eyes. “I just wanted to try
Minecraft!”
The nonverbal communication was a reɻection of his
inner conscience and his own discomfort, and the words
were an admission of guilt. Implicit in his statement
was the message,
“I know I wasn’t supposed to leave
the table and get the iPad, but I just wanted to play so
bad! My impulse was too strong.” By this moment, in
other words, I already knew that the redirection part of
our conversation wasn’t going to be too challenging. At
other times it is, but not now, when there was already
an awareness on his part.
Before redirecting, though, I wanted to meet him
where he was, and to connect with him emotionally. I
said,
“You really are interested in that game, aren’t
you? You’re curious about what the bigger boys are
playing?”
Scott followed my lead and said something about how
cool it is that the game allows you to create a whole
world full of buildings and tunnels and animals.
Our son sheepishly looked up at us, moving his eyes
from me to Scott, questioning whether things were
really OK among us all. Then he nodded and gave us a
soft smile.
With these few sentences and glances, connection had
been established. Scott and I could then redirect. And
again, knowing our son and recognizing where he was
at this moment, the situation didn’t require much from
us. Scott simply asked,
“But what about our rules?”
Here our son began to cry in earnest. Not much more
needed to be said because the lesson had already been
internalized.
I put my arm around him to comfort him. I said,
“I
know your choices tonight didn’t follow our rules. Is
there anything you’d do differently next time?”
He nodded as he cried, then promised to ask to be
excused before leaving the table next time. We hugged,
and then Scott asked him a Minecraft question, which
led him to explain to his dad something about a
trapdoor and a dungeon. As he became more animated,
he moved past his guilt and his tears, and we all
rejoined the rest of the family at the table. Connection
had led to redirection, meaning not only that teaching
could occur, but also that our son felt understood and
loved.
Setting the Stage for Connection: Response Flexibility
In the previous chapter we discussed connection as the ɹrst step of
the discipline process. Now we’ll focus on what that actually looks
like in action, recommending principles and strategies you can rely
on when your child is upset or misbehaving. Sometimes connection
is fairly simple, as it was here for Tina. Often, it’s much more
challenging.
As we discuss recommendations for connection, avoid the
temptation to look for the formulaic one-size-ɹts-all technique that
is supposed to apply in every situation. The following principles
and strategies are extremely eʃective most of the time. But you
should apply these approaches based on your own parenting style,
the situation at hand, and your individual child’s temperament. In
other words, maintain response flexibility.
Response ɻexibility means just what it sounds like—being
ɻexible about our response to a situation. It means pausing to think
and to choose the best course of action. It lets us separate stimulus
from response, so that our reaction doesn’t immediately (and
unintentionally) follow from a child’s behavior or our own internal
chaos. So when A happens, we don’t just automatically do B;
instead we consider B, C, or even a combo of D and E. Response
ɻexibility creates a space in time and in our minds that enables a
wide range of possibilities to be considered. As a result, we can just
“be” with an experience, if only for a few seconds, and reɻect
before engaging the “do” circuitry of action.
Response ɻexibility helps you choose to be your wisest self
possible in a diɽcult moment with your child, so that connection
can occur. It’s pretty much the opposite of autopilot discipline,
where you apply a robotic one-size-ɹts-all approach to every
scenario that arises. When we’re ɻexible in our responses to our
children’s state of mind and their misbehavior, we allow ourselves
to intentionally respond to a situation in the best way possible and
provide our kids with what they need in the moment.
Depending on your child’s infraction, this might require taking a
moment to calm down. It’s a good rule of thumb not to respond the
nanosecond after you witness a misbehavior. We know you may
feel, in the heat of the moment, like laying down the law, yelling
that since your daughter pushed her brother into the pool, she’s
done swimming for the rest of the summer. (Aren’t we ridiculous
sometimes?) But if you can take a few seconds and allow yourself
to calm down, rather than making a scene at the public pool and
overshooting the discipline mark, you’ll have a better chance at
intentionally responding out of a calmer and more thoughtful part
of yourself to what your child actually needs right then. (As a
bonus, you can avoid being the subject of dinner conversations all
around town that begin,
“You should’ve seen this crazy lady at the
pool today.”)
At other times, response ɻexibility may lead you to decide to
take a firmer stand on an issue than you normally might. If you
notice signs that your eleven-year-old is taking less initiative with
his responsibilities and his schoolwork, you might decide not to
drive him back to school so he can retrieve the book he (again!)
“has no idea how” he left in his locker. You would sincerely
empathize with him and make sure to connect—“It’s such a
bummer that you forgot your book and won’t have your
assignment ready tomorrow”—but you’d allow him to experience
the natural and logical fallout of his forgetfulness. Or maybe you
would take him to get his book, because his personality or the
context of the situation leads you to believe that approach would
be best. That’s the whole point. Response ɻexibility means you’re
making a point to decide how you want to respond to each
situation that arises, rather than simply reacting without thinking
about it.
Like so many aspects of parenting, response ɻexibility is
fundamentally about parenting intentionally. We’re talking about
remaining mindful of meeting the needs of your child—this
particular child—in this particular moment. When that goal is
central in your mind, connection will necessarily follow.
Now let’s look at some speciɹc ways you can use response
ɻexibility to connect with your kids when they’re having a hard
time handling themselves well or when they’re making unwise
decisions. We’ll start by focusing on three No-Drama connection
principles that set the stage and allow for connection between
parent and child. Then we’ll move to some more immediate in-themoment connection strategies.
Connection Principle #1: Turn Down the Shark Music
If you’ve heard Dan speak, you may have seen him introduce the
concept of shark music. Here’s how he explains the idea:
First, I ask the audience to monitor the response of their
bodies and minds as I show them a thirty-second
video.* On the screen, the audience sees what appears
to be a beautiful forest. From the point of view of the
person holding the camera, the audience sees a rustic
trail and moves down that path toward a beautiful
ocean. All the while, calm, classical-sounding piano
music plays, communicating a sense of peace and
serenity in an idyllic environment.
I then stop the video and ask the audience to watch it
again, explaining that I’m going to show them the exact
same video, but this time diʃerent music will play in
the background. The audience then sees the same
images—the forest, the rustic trail, the ocean. But the
soundtrack this time is dark and menacing. It’s like the
famous theme music from the movie Jaws, and it
completely colors the way the scene is perceived. The
peaceful scene now looks threatening—who knows
what might jump out?—and the path leads somewhere
we’re pretty sure we don’t want to go. There’s no telling
what we’ll ɹnd in the water at the end of the trail;
based on the music, it’s likely a shark. But despite our
fear, the camera continues to approach the water.
The exact same images, but as the audience discovers,
the experience drastically changes with diʃerent
background music. One soundtrack leads to peace and
serenity, the other to fear and dread.
It’s the same when we interact with our children. We have to
pay attention to our background music. “Shark music” takes us out
of the present moment, causing us to practice fear-based parenting.
Our attention is on whatever we are feeling reactive about. We
worry about what’s coming in the future, or we respond to
something from the past. When we do so, we miss what’s actually
happening in the moment—what our children really need, and
what they’re actually communicating. As a result, we don’t give
them our best. Shark music, in other words, keeps us from
parenting this individual child in this individual moment.
For instance, imagine that your fifth grader comes home with her
ɹrst progress report, which shows that, since she was sick and
missed a couple of days of class, her math average is lower than
you’d expect. Without shark music playing in the background, you
might just chalk this up to the absences, or to the more diɽcult
subject matter in ɹfth grade. You’d take steps to make sure she
understands the material now, and you might or might not decide
to visit with her teacher. In other words, you’d approach the
situation from a calm and rational perspective.
If, however, your daughter’s older brother is a ninth grader who
has shown himself to be less than responsible with his homework,
and who is struggling with the basics of algebra, this prior
experience might become shark music that plays in your mind as
your daughter shows you her progress report. “Here we go again”
might be the refrain that takes over your thoughts. So instead of
responding to the situation as you normally would, asking your
daughter how she feels about it and trying to ɹgure out what’s best
for her, you think about your son’s problems with algebra, and you
overreact to your daughter’s situation. You begin talking to her
about consequences, and cutting back on after-school activities. If
the shark music really gets to you, maybe you start lecturing about
getting into good colleges, and the chain of events that leads from a
couple of bad grades in ɹfth-grade math to problems in middle
school and high school and ɹnally to a slew of rejection letters
from universities all across the country. Before you know it, your
adorable ten-year-old has become a homeless woman pushing a
shopping cart toward the cardboard box she lives in under the
bridge down by the river—all because she got mixed up about
which way the “greater than” symbol points!
The key to a No-Drama response, as is so often the case, is
awareness. Once you recognize that shark music is blaring in your
mind, you can shift your state of mind and stop parenting based on
fear and on past experiences that don’t apply to the current
scenario you face. Instead, you can connect with your child, who
might be feeling discouraged. You can give her what she needs in
this moment: a parent who is fully present, parenting only her
based only on the actual facts of this particular situation—not on past
expectations or future fears. See illustrations on next page.
This isn’t to say that we don’t pay attention to patterns of
behavior over time. We can also get trapped in states of denial
where we overcontextualize behavior or explain away our kids’
repeated struggles with all kinds of excuses that keep us from
seeking intervention or from helping our children build the skills
they need. You’ve met the parent who has a child who is never at
fault and whom the parents never hold accountable. See
illustrations on next page.
When the “excuse ɻavor of the week” becomes a pattern of
parental response, then the parents are probably working from a
diʃerent kind of shark music. It’s similar to the parents whose
children were medically vulnerable as babies, whose shark music
now leads them to overdo for their kids, treating them as if they
are still more fragile than they actually are.

 

The point is that shark music can prevent us from parenting
intentionally and from being who our children need us to be at any
given moment. It makes us reactive instead of receptive.
Sometimes we’re called to adjust our expectations and realize that
our children just need more time for development to unfold; at
other times we need to adjust our expectations and realize that our
children are capable of more than we’re asking of them, so we can
challenge them to take more responsibility for their choices. At still
other times we need to pay attention to our own needs, desires,
and past experiences, any of which can override our ability to
make good moment-by-moment decisions. The problem is that
when we are reactive, we can’t receive input from others, or
demonstrate any response ɻexibility to consider the various
options in our own mind. (If you’d like to go deeper with this
concept, Dan covers it extensively in Parenting from the Inside Out,
co-authored with Mary Hartzell.)
Ultimately, our job is to give unconditional love and calm
presence to our kids even when they’re at their worst. Especially
when they’re at their worst. That’s how we stay receptive instead
of going reactive. And the perspective we take on their behavior
will necessarily aʃect how we respond to them. If we recognize
them for the still-developing young people they are, with changing,
changeable, complex young brains, then when they struggle or do
something we don’t like, we’ll be better able to be receptive and
hear the calming piano music. We’ll therefore interact with them in
a way that’s more likely to lead to peace and serenity.
Shark music, on the other hand, will take us out of the present
moment, and out of our right minds, as we become reactive. It will
fuel our internal chaos and lead us to make all kinds of
assumptions, to worry about all kinds of possibilities that simply
shouldn’t be considered in this particular situation. It might even
lead us to automatically assume that our kids are “acting out”
because they are selɹsh, lazy, spoiled, or whatever other label we
choose. Then we’ll respond not out of love and intentionality, but
out of reactivity, anger, anxiety, drama, and fear.
So the next time you need to discipline, pause for just a second
and listen for the soundtrack in your head. If you hear calm piano
music and feel capable of oʃering a loving, objective, clearheaded
response to the situation, then go ahead and oʃer just that kind of
response. But if you notice the shark music, be very careful about
what you do and say. Give yourself a minute—longer, if necessary
—before responding. Then, when you feel yourself letting go of the
fears, expectations, and bigger-than-necessary reactivity that keep
you from looking at the situation for what it really is, you can
respond. Simply by paying attention to whatever music is playing
in the background of a disciplinary moment, you’ll be much more
capable of responding flexibly instead of reacting rigidly or chaotically,
and oʃering your children what they need right then. Responding
rather than reacting is the key.
Connection Principle #2: Chase the Why
One of the worst by-products of shark music is the parental
tendency to make assumptions about what we perceive to be
obvious. If a scary or emotionally charged soundtrack is clouding
your mind when you interact with your children, you’re not likely
to be very objective about the reasons they’re behaving the way
they are. Instead, you’re probably going to simply react based on
information that might not be accurate at all. You’ll assume there’s
a shark swimming in the water or a monster hiding behind the tree,
even if there’s not one.
When your kids are playing in the next room and you hear your
younger child begin to cry, it may seem perfectly justiɹable to
march into the room, look at your older child, and demand,
“What
did you do this time?!” But when your younger child says,
“No,
Dad, I just fell and hurt my knee,
” you realize that what seemed
obvious wasn’t accurate at all, and that shark music has (once
again) led you astray. Because your older child has played too
rough in the past, you assumed that was the case this time.
Few parental actions will hinder connection faster than assuming
the worst and reacting accordingly. So instead of making
assumptions and operating on information that may be faulty,
question what seems obvious. Become a detective. Put on your
Sherlock Holmes hat. You know, Sherlock Holmes: the Arthur
Conan Doyle character who declared,
“It is a capital mistake to
theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to
suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
When dealing with our children, it’s dangerous to theorize before
we have data. Instead, we need to be curious. We need to “chase
the why.”
Curiosity is the cornerstone of eʃective discipline. Before you
ever respond to your child’s behavior—especially when you don’t
like it—ask yourself a question: “I wonder why my child did that.”
Let this lead you to other questions: “What is she wanting here? Is
she asking for something? Trying to discover something? What is
she communicating?”
When a child acts in a way we don’t like, the temptation will be
to ask,
“How could she do this?” Instead, chase the why. When you
walk into the bathroom and see that your four-year-old has
“decorated” the sink and mirror with wet toilet paper and a lipstick
she found in a drawer, be curious. It’s ɹne to be frustrated. But as
quickly as possible, chase the why. Let your curiosity replace the
frustration you feel. Talk to your daughter, and ask her what
happened. Most likely you’ll hear something that’s totally
plausible, at least from her perspective, and probably hilarious.
The bad news is that you’ll still have to clean up the mess
(preferably with the help of your daughter). The good news is that
you will have allowed your curiosity to lead you to a much more
accurate—and fun, interesting, and honest—answer about your
child’s behavior.
The same would apply when your second grader’s teacher calls
to discuss certain “impulse control” problems your son is
displaying. She tells you he’s not respecting authority because he
has begun making noises and inappropriate comments during class
reading time. Your ɹrst reaction might be to initiate a “That’s not
the way we behave, mister” conversation with your son. But if you
chase the why and ask him about his motivation, you might
discover that “Truman thinks I’m funny when I do that, and now he
lets me stand by him in the lunch line.” You’ll still need to do some
redirecting, and work with your son on appropriate ways to
navigate the diɽcult world of playground politics, but this way
you’ll be able to do so with much more accurate information about
your son’s emotional needs and what’s actually driving his actions.
Chasing the why doesn’t mean that we should necessarily ask our
children “Why did you do that?” every time a disciplinary situation
arises. In fact, that question may imply immediate judgment or
disapproval, rather than curiosity. Further, sometimes children,
especially young ones, may not know why they are upset or why
they did what they did. Their personal insight and awareness of
their own goals and motivations may not be very skilled yet. That’s
why we’re not advising you to ask the why. We’re recommending
that you chase the why. That’s more about asking the why question
in your own mind, allowing yourself to be curious, and wondering
where your child is coming from in this moment.

Sometimes the behavior we want to address won’t be as benign
as lipstick decorations and potty humor. Sometimes our child will
make decisions that lead to broken objects, bruised bodies, and
damaged relationships. In these cases it’s all the more important
that we chase the why. We need to be curious about what drove
our child to throw the screwdriver in anger, to strike another child,
to spit out venomous words. It’s not enough simply to address the
behavior. Human behavior is purpose-driven most of the time. We
need to know what’s behind it, what’s causing it. If we focus only
on our child’s behavior (her external world) and neglect the
reasons behind that behavior (her internal world), then we’ll
concentrate only on the symptoms, not the cause that’s producing
them. And if we consider only the symptoms, we’ll have to keep
treating those symptoms over and over again.
But if we put on our Sherlock Holmes hat and chase the why,
curiously looking for the root cause behind the behavior, we can
more fully discover what’s really going on with our child. We
might ɹnd real reasons for concern that need to be addressed.
Maybe we’ll learn that our assumptions were false. Or maybe we’ll
discover that this “bad behavior” is an adaptive response to
something that’s too challenging for the child. Perhaps, for
example, your child is faking an illness each day before PE class
not because he’s lazy or unmotivated or oppositional, but because
that’s his best strategy for dealing with the intense selfconsciousness he feels when doing something athletic in front of his
peers.
By wondering what our kids are trying to accomplish and by
allowing them to explain a situation before we rush to judgment,
we’re able to gather actual data from their internal world, as
opposed to simply reacting based on assumptions, faulty theories,
or shark music. Plus, when we chase the why and connect ɹrst, we
let our children know that we’re on their side, that we’re interested
in their internal experience. We say to them, by the way we
respond to each situation, that when we don’t know what actually
happened, we’re going to give them the beneɹt of the doubt.
Again, that doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to misbehavior. It just
means that we’re looking to connect ɹrst, by asking questions and
by being curious about what’s behind the external behavior and
what’s happening inside our child.
Connection Principle #3: Think About the How
Listening for shark music and chasing the why are both principles
that ask us to consider our own and our child’s inner landscapes
during a discipline moment. The third connection principle focuses
on the way we actually interact with our kids. It challenges us to
consider the way we talk to our children when they’re having
trouble managing themselves or making good decisions. What we
say to our kids is of course important. But you know that just as
important, if not more important, is how we say it.
Imagine that your three-year-old isn’t getting into her car seat.
Here are a few different hows for saying the exact same what:
• With eyes wide, big gestures, and a loud, angry tone of voice:
“Get in your car seat!”
• With clenched teeth, squinted eyes, and a seething tone of
voice: “Get in your car seat.”
• With a relaxed face and a warm tone of voice: “Get in your car
seat.”
• With a wacky facial expression and a goofy voice: “Get in your
car seat.”
You get the idea. The how matters. At bedtime you might use a
threat: “Get in bed now or you won’t get any stories.” Or you could
say,
“If you get in bed now, we’ll have time to read. But if you
don’t get in bed right away, we’ll run out of time and have to skip
reading.” The message is the same, but how it’s communicated is
very diʃerent. It has an entirely diʃerent feel. Both hows model
ways of talking to others. Both set a boundary. Both deliver the
same request. But they feel completely different.
It’s the how that determines what our children feel about us and
themselves, and what they learn about treating others. Plus, the
how goes a long way toward determining their response in the
moment, and how successful we’ll be at helping produce an
eʃective outcome that makes everyone happier. Children usually
cooperate much more quickly if they feel connected to us, and
when we engage them in a pleasant and playful exchange. It’s the
how that determines that. We can be much more eʃective
disciplinarians if our how is respectful, playful, and calm.
So those are the three connection principles. By checking for shark
music, chasing the why, and thinking about the how, we set the
stage for connection. As a result, when our kids behave in ways we
don’t like, we have the opportunity to connect ɹrst, prioritizing the
relationship and improving the odds of a successful disciplinary
outcome. Now let’s look at some specific connection strategies.
The No-Drama Connection Cycle
What does connection actually look like? What can we do to help
our kids feel felt and know that we’re with them, right in the
middle of whatever they’re going through, as we engage in the
discipline process?
As always, the answer will change based on your individual child
and your personal parenting style, but most often, connection
comes down to a four-part, cyclical process. We call it the NoDrama connection cycle.
It won’t always follow the exact same order, but for the most
part, connecting with our children when they’re upset or
misbehaving involves these four strategies. The ɹrst: communicate
comfort.
Connection Strategy #1: Communicate Comfort
Remember that sometimes your kids need your help calming down
and making good choices. It’s when their emotions get the best of
them that we have the most discipline issues. And just as you’d
hold and rock or pat a baby to calm her nervous system, you want
to help your children calm down when they need it. Words are
useful, especially when you’re validating feelings. But most
nurturing takes place nonverbally. We can communicate so much
without ever talking.
The most powerful nonverbal response of all is one that you
probably do automatically: you touch your child. You put your
hand on her arm. You pull her close to you. You rub her back. You
hold her hand. A loving touch—whether subtle, like the squeeze of
a hand, or more demonstrative, like a full, warm embrace—has the
power to quickly defuse a heated situation.
The reason is that when we feel someone touch us in a way
that’s nurturing and loving, feel-good hormones (like oxytocin) are
released into our brain and body, and our levels of cortisol, a stress
hormone, decrease. In other words, giving your kids loving physical
aʃection literally and beneɹcially alters their brain chemistry. When
your child (or your partner!) is feeling upset, a loving touch can
calm things down and help you two connect, even during moments
of high stress.
Touch is only one way we communicate with our children
nonverbally. We’re actually sending messages all the time, even
when we never utter a word. Think about your typical body
posture when you discipline your kids. Do you ever ɹnd yourself
leaning over your child with an angry look on your face? Maybe
you’re saying, in a scary tone of voice,
“Knock it oʃ!” or “Stop that
this instant!” This approach is essentially the opposite of
connection, and it’s not going to be very eʃective at calming your
child. Your escalated response will intensify her emotions even
further. Even if your intimidation results in your child appearing
calm, she’ll actually be feeling anything other than calm. Her heart
will pound in response to the stress because she is afraid enough to
shut down her emotions and hide her feelings in an attempt to keep
you from becoming more angry.
Would you approach an upset animal in a similar fashion? 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
oʃ and calm down”? That wouldn’t be very smart, nor would it be
eʃective. 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 ɹghting. 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.
The same process occurs with people. When we feel threatened,
our social engagement circuitry can’t turn on. We have trouble
engaging our upstairs brain, the part that is thoughtful, makes
sound decisions, and has the capacity for empathy and regulating
our emotions and body. Instead of calming down and making good
decisions, we simply react. This reaction make sense,
evolutionarily speaking. When the brain detects threat, the
downstairs area immediately goes on alert and becomes highly
activated. Functioning in this more primitive mode allows us to
keep ourselves safe by being hypervigilant, by acting quickly
without thinking, or by going into ɹght, ɻight, freeze, or faint
mode.
It’s the same with our kids. When emotions escalate and we
respond by communicating threat—through the frustrated or angry
look on our face, our mad tone of voice, our intimidating posture
(hands on hips, ɹnger wagging, leaning forward)—their innate
biological response will be to activate their downstairs brain.
However, when their caregivers communicate “I’m not a threat,

then the reactive, ɹghting, act-before-thinking downstairs part of
the brain quiets, and they can move into a mode of processing that
allows them to handle themselves well.
So, how do we communicate “I’m not a threat” to our kids, even
in the midst of escalating emotions? By connecting. One of the
most eʃective and powerful ways to do this is to put your body in
a posture that’s the opposite of imposing and threatening. Lots of
people talk about getting at a child’s eye level, but one of the
quickest ways to communicate safety and the absence of threat is
to get below the child’s eye level and put your body into a very
relaxed position that communicates calm. You see other mammals
doing this to send the message “I am not a threat to you. You don’t
need to fight me.”
We recommend that you try this “below eye level” technique the
next time your child is upset or out of control emotionally. Put
your body in a chair, on a bed, or on the ɻoor so that you are
below your child’s eye level. Whether you lean back or cross your
legs or open your arms, just make sure that your body
communicates comfort and safety. Your words and your body
language combine to convey empathy and connection, telling your
child,
“I’m right here. I’ll comfort you and help you.” You’ll
comfort her nervous system and calm her down, just as you did by
holding and rocking her when she was a baby and needed you.
We’ve been thrilled by how many of the parents to whom we’ve
taught this technique report that this approach is “magic.” They
can’t believe how quickly their children calm down. What amazes
the parents just as much is that putting their bodies into this
relaxed, nonthreatening posture actually calms down the parents
themselves as well. They report that this approach works better than
anything else they’ve tried to keep themselves calm, and it leads to
the best outcomes in how well they handle the high-stress situation.
Obviously you can’t get down on the ground if you’re in the car or
walking across the street, but you can use your tone of voice and
posture, as well as your empathic words, to communicate the
absence of threat, so you can connect with your child and produce
a calm in both of you.
Nonverbal communication is so powerful. Your child’s whole day
can turn on something you’re not even cognizant of, something
that’s not even said. Something as simple as your smile can soothe
a disappointment and strengthen your bond. You know that
moment: when your child does something she’s excited about, like
kicking a soccer goal or reciting a line in a play, and she looks for
you in the crowd. Your eyes meet and you smile, and she knows
that you’re saying,
“I saw that and I share your joy.” That’s what
your nonverbal connection can do.
Or it can do just the opposite. Look at the pictures below, and
notice what message these parents are sending. Without ever
opening their mouths, each parent is saying plenty.

The fact is that we send all kinds of messages, whether we intend
to or not. And if we’re not careful, our nonverbals can undermine
the connection we’re aiming for in a high-emotion disciplinary
environment. Crossing the arms, shaking the head, rubbing the
temples, rolling the eyes, a sarcastic wink at another adult in the
room—even if our words are expressing interest in what our child
is saying, there are plenty of ways our nonverbals betray us. And if
our verbal and nonverbal messages contradict each other, our child
will believe the nonverbal. That’s why it’s so important that we
pay attention to what we’re communicating without saying
anything at all.
When we do, we’ll be more likely to communicate the messages
we want to communicate to our kids.

We’re not saying there won’t be high-emotion disciplinary
moments where you get completely exasperated with your kids. Or
that they won’t misread something you’re communicating and get
upset. Mistakes will be made on both sides of the relationship, of
course. Likewise, sometimes you may decide it’s appropriate to use
nonverbal communication to help your kids monitor themselves
and rein in their impulses when necessary. But the bottom line is
that we can be intentional about the verbal and nonverbal
messages we’re sending, especially when we’re trying to connect
with our children in a diɽcult moment. Simply nodding, and being
physically present, communicates care.
Connection Strategy #2: Validate, Validate, Validate
The key to connection when children are reactive or making bad
choices is validation. In addition to communicating comfort, we
need to let our kids know that we hear them. That we understand.
That we get it. Whether or not we like the behavior that results
from their feelings, we want them to feel acknowledged and sense
that we’re with them in the middle of all those big feelings.
Put diʃerently, we want to attune to our children’s inner
subjective experiences, focusing our attention on how they are
experiencing things from their point of view. Just as in a duet both
instruments need to be tuned to each other to make good music,
we need to tune our own emotional response to what’s going on
with our kids. We need to see their mind and recognize their
internal state, then join with them in what we see and how we
respond. In doing so, we join them in their emotional space. We
deliver the 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.” When kids receive this type of message from
their parents, they “feel felt.” They feel understood. They feel
loved. And as a huge bonus, they can then begin to calm down and
make better decisions, and hear the lessons you want to teach
them.
Practically speaking, validation means resisting the temptation to
deny or minimize what our kids are going through. When we
validate their feelings we avoid saying things like,
“Why are you
throwing a fit about not having a playdate? You were at Carrie’s all
day yesterday!” We avoid pronouncing,
“I know your brother tore
your picture, but that’s no reason to hit him! You can just make
another one.” We avoid declaring,
“Stop worrying about it.”
Think about it: how does it make you feel when you’re upset,
and maybe not handling yourself well, and someone tells you that
you’re “just tired,
” or that whatever’s bothering you “isn’t that big
a deal” and you should “just calm down”? When we tell our kids
how to feel—and how not to feel—we invalidate their experiences.
Most of us know better than to directly tell our kids they
shouldn’t be upset. But when one of your children reacts intensely
to something that doesn’t go his way, do you ever immediately
shut down that reaction? We don’t mean to, but parents can often
send the message that we think the way they feel about and
experience a situation is ridiculous or not worthy of our
acknowledgment. Or we inadvertently communicate that we don’t
want to interact with our kids or be with them when they have
negative emotions. It’s like saying,
“I will not accept that you feel
how you feel. I’m not interested in how you experience the world.”
It’s a way of making a child feel invisible, unseen, and
disconnected.
Instead, we want to communicate that we’ll always be there for
them, even at their absolute worst. We are willing to see them for
whoever they are, whatever they may feel. We want to join with
them where they are, and acknowledge what they’re going
through. To a young child we might say,
“You really wanted to go
to Mia’s house today, didn’t you? It’s so disappointing that her
mom had to cancel.” Especially with older children, we might
identify with what they’re going through, letting them know that
even though we’re saying no to their behavior, we’re saying yes to
their feelings: “That made you so mad that Keith tore your picture,
didn’t it? I hate it when my stuʃ gets messed with, too. I don’t
blame you for being furious.” Remember, the ɹrst response is to
connect. Redirection will come, and you’ll deɹnitely want to
address the behavioral response, but ɹrst we connect, which
communicates comfort and almost always involves validation.
Usually validation is pretty simple. The main thing you need to
do is simply identify the feeling at hand: “That really made you
sad, didn’t it?” or “I can see you feel left out,
” or even a more
general “You’re having a hard time.” Identifying the emotion is an
extremely powerful response when a child is upset because it oʃers
two huge beneɹts. First, helping her feel understood calms her
autonomic nervous system and helps soothe her big feelings, so she
can begin to put the brakes on her desire to react and lash out.
Second, it gives the child an emotional vocabulary and emotional
intelligence, so she herself can recognize and name what she’s
feeling, which helps her understand her emotions and begin to
regain control of herself so that redirection can occur. As we put it
in the previous chapter, connection—in this case, through
validation—helps move a child from reactivity to receptivity.
After acknowledging the feeling, the second part of validation is
identifying with that emotion. 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. It
relaxes our rigidity. It soothes our chaos. Even if an emotion seems
ridiculous to you, don’t forget that it’s very real to your child, so
you don’t want to dismiss something that’s important to her.
Tina recently received an email that reminded her that it’s not
only young children who need to be validated when they’re upset.
She heard from a mother in Australia who had listened to a radio
program where Tina talked about the power of connection. Part of
the mother’s email went like this:
Right in the middle of listening I received a call from
my nineteen-year-old daughter, who was having a
meltdown. She was in pain from a physical therapy
session, her bank account was in the negative, she didn’t
understand a lot of today’s Business Law lecture, she
was stressed about her exam tomorrow, and work
wanted her to come in two hours early.
My ɹrst reaction was to say,
“First-world problems.
Suck it up, princess.” But after hearing your interview, I
realised that while indeed they were ɹrst-world
problems, they were her ɹrst-world problems. So I said
that I was sorry for her bad day, and did she need a
mummy hug?
It made so much diʃerence. I could hear her take a
breath and relax. I told her I loved her, that her dad and
I would fund her textbooks (which was why her bank
account was in the negative), and that after her exam
tomorrow I’d treat her to her favourite noodle soup at
Bamboo Basket.
She was much more relaxed after the call, thanks to
how I responded. So often we react harshly without
realising the impact it may have. Even when our kids
are mostly past the tantrum stage and we have a calm
life with them, there’s so many times throughout the
day to put these ideas into practice.
Notice this mother’s well-executed validation of her daughter’s
experience. She didn’t invalidate her daughter’s feelings by denying
them, minimizing them, or blaming her. Instead, she acknowledged
the bad day and asked whether she needed a hug. Her daughter’s
response was to take a deep breath and relax—not because her
parents were going to help her ɹnancially, but because her feelings
were acknowledged and identiɹed. Because they were validated.
Then the actual problems could be addressed.
So when your child is crying, raging, attacking a sibling,
throwing a ɹt because his stuʃed dog is too ɻoppy and won’t sit up
properly, or demonstrating in any other way that he’s incapable of
making good decisions at that moment, validate the emotions
behind the actions. Again, it might ɹrst be necessary to remove
him from the situation. Validation doesn’t mean allowing someone
to get hurt or property to be destroyed. You’re not endorsing bad
behavior when you identify with your child’s emotions. You’re
attuning to him. You’re tuning your instrument to his, so that you
two can create something beautiful together. You’re meeting him
where he is, looking for the meaning, the emotional undercurrent,
behind his actions. You acknowledge and identify what he’s feeling,
and in doing so, you validate his experience.
Connection Strategy #3: Stop Talking and Listen
If you’re like most of us, you talk way too much when you
discipline. This response is actually funny if you think about it. Our
child has gotten upset and made a bad decision, so we think,
“I
know. I’ll lecture him. He’ll calm down and make a better choice
next time if I make him sit still and listen to me drone on and on
about what he’s done wrong.” Want to turn your kids oʃ,
especially as they get older? Explain something, then keep making
the same point over and over.
What’s more, talking and talking to an emotionally activated
child is not the least bit eʃective. When her emotions are
exploding all over the place, one of the least eʃective things we
can do is to talk at her, trying to get her to understand the logic of
our position. It’s just not helpful to say,
“He didn’t mean to hit you
when he threw the ball; it was just an accident, so you don’t have
to get mad.” It doesn’t do any good to explain,
“She can’t invite
everyone in your whole school to her party.”
The problem with this logical appeal is that it assumes the child
is capable of hearing and responding to reason at this moment. But
remember, a child’s brain is changing, developing. When she’s hurt,
angry, or disappointed, the logical part of her upstairs brain isn’t
fully functioning. That means a linguistic appeal to reason isn’t
usually going to be your best bet for helping her gain control over
her emotions and calm herself.
In fact, talking often compounds the problem. We know, because
we hear it from the kids we see in our oɽces. Sometimes they
want to scream at their parents,
“Please stop talking!” Especially
when they’re in trouble and already understand what they’ve done
wrong. An upset child is already on sensory overload. And what
does talking to him do? It further ɻoods his senses, leaving him
even more dysregulated, feeling even more overwhelmed, and
much less able to learn or even hear you.
So we recommend that parents follow the kids’ advice and stop
talking so much. Communicate comfort and validate your child’s
feelings—“It really hurt that you didn’t get invited, didn’t it? I’d
feel left out, too”—then close your mouth and listen. Really listen
to what she’s saying. Don’t interpret what you hear too literally. If
she says she’s never going to get invited to another party, this isn’t
an invitation for you to disagree, or to challenge this absolute
statement. Your job is to hear the feelings within the words.
Recognize that she’s saying,
“I’ve really been thrown for a loop by
this. I didn’t get invited, and now I’m afraid about what this says
about my social standing with all of my friends.”
Clue in and chase the why as to what’s really going on inside
your child. Focus on her emotions, letting go of the shark music
that prevents you from being fully present with her in the moment.
No matter how strong your desire, avoid the temptation to argue
with your child, lecture her, defend yourself, or tell her to stop
feeling that way. Now’s not the time to teach or explain. Now is
the time to listen, just sitting with your child and giving her time to
express herself.
Connection Strategy #4: Reflect What You Hear
With the ɹrst three strategies of the No-Drama connection cycle,
we communicate comfort, we validate feelings, and we listen. The
fourth step is to reɻect back to our children what they’ve said,
letting them know we’ve heard them. Reɻecting their feelings
returns us to the ɹrst strategy, since we’re again communicating
comfort, which can lead us through the cycle once more.
Reɻecting what we hear is similar to the second step, but it
diʃers from validation in that now we focus speciɹcally on what
our children have actually told us. The validation stage is all about
recognizing emotions and empathizing with our kids. We say
something like,
“I can tell how mad you are.” But when we reɻect
our children’s feelings, we essentially communicate back to them
what they have told us. Handled sensitively, this allows a child to
feel heard and understood. As we said, it’s extraordinarily calming,
even healing, to feel understood. When you let your child know
that you really grasp what he’s telling you—by telling her,
“I hear
what you’re saying; you really hated it when I told you we had to
leave the party,
” or “No wonder that made you mad; I’d feel angry,
too”—you take a huge step toward defusing the high emotions at
play.
Be careful, though, with how you reflect feelings. You don’t want
to take one of your child’s short-term, temporary emotions and
turn it into something bigger and more permanent than it really is.
Let’s say, for example, your six-year-old becomes so upset about
her big brother’s constant teasing that she begins yelling, over and
over again,
“You’re so stupid and I hate you!” Right there in your
backyard, with the neighbors hearing it all (thank goodness Mr.
Patel is mowing his lawn!), she repeats the refrain nonstop,
seemingly dozens of times, until she ɹnally falls into your arms,
crying uncontrollably.
So you initiate the connection cycle. You communicate comfort,
conveying your compassion by getting below her eye level, holding
her, rubbing her back, and making empathic facial expressions. You
validate her experience: “I know, honey, I know. You’re really
upset.” You listen to her feelings, then you reɻect back to her what
you’re hearing: “You’re just so angry, aren’t you?” Her response
might be a return to yelling: “Yes, and I hate Jimmy!” (with her
brother’s name drawn out into another scream).
Now comes the tricky part. You want to reɻect for her what
she’s feeling, but you don’t want to reinforce this narrative in her
mind that she actually hates her brother. A situation like this calls
for some careful tiptoeing, so that you can be honest with your
daughter and help her better understand her feelings but keep her
from solidifying her momentary emotions into longer-lasting
perceptions. So you might say something like,
“I don’t blame you
for being so mad. I hate it when people tease me like that, too. I
know you love Jimmy, and that you two were having so much fun
together just a few minutes ago, when you were playing with the
wagon. But you’re pretty mad at him right now, aren’t you?” The
goal with this type of reɻecting is to make sure your child
comprehends that you understand her experience, and in doing so
to soothe her big emotions and help calm her inner chaos, so that
she can move back into the center of her river of well-being. But
you don’t want to allow a feeling that’s simply a momentary state—
her anger with her brother—to be perceived in her mind as a
permanent trait that’s an inherent part of their relationship. That’s
why you give her perspective and remind her of the fun she and
her brother were having with the wagon.
One other advantage that comes with reɻecting our children’s
feelings is that it communicates that they have not only our love,
but our attention. Parents sometimes assume that it’s bad when a
child seeks our attention. They’ll say,
“He’s just trying to get my
attention.” The problem with this perspective is that it presumes
it’s somehow not okay for a child to want his parents to notice him
and pay attention to what he’s doing. In reality, though, attentionseeking behavior is not only completely developmentally appropriate, it’s
actually relational. Attention is a need of all children everywhere. In
fact, brain imaging studies show that the experience of physical
pain and the experience of relational pain, like rejection, look very
similar in terms of location of brain activity. So when we give our
kids attention and focus on what they’re doing and feeling, we
meet an important relational and emotional need, and they deeply
feel connected and comforted. Remember, there are plenty of ways
to spoil children—by giving them too many things, by rescuing
them from every challenge, by never allowing them to deal with
defeat and disappointment—but we can never spoil them by giving
them too much of our love and attention.
That’s what the connection cycle does: it lets us communicate to
our kids that we love them, that we see them, and that we are with
them no matter how they behave. When we turn down the shark
music, chase the why, and think about the how, we can
communicate comfort, validate, listen to and reɻect feelings, and
support our kids in ways that create the kind of connection that
clearly communicates our love and prepares them for redirection.
*This video was originally produced by the Circle of Security Intervention Program. See
their great work in the book The Circle of Security Intervention by Bert Powell et al. (New
York: Guilford Press, 2013).
R
CHAPTER 5
1-2-3 Discipline: Redirecting for Today, and for
Tomorrow
oger was working in his garage when his six-year-old, Katie,
stormed outside, angrily calling out,
“Dad! Can you do
something about Allie?” Roger soon learned that Katie was upset
because her friend Gina, who had come over for a playdate, had
become completely enamored with Katie’s nine-year-old sister,
Allie. For her part, Allie was apparently happy to monopolize the
playdate, leaving her younger sister feeling left out.
In addressing the situation with his older daughter, Roger saw
various alternatives. One would be simply to tell Allie she needed
to give Katie and Gina some time by themselves, since that was the
plan for the playdate, after all. There would be nothing wrong with
this approach, but by making the call and imposing his own agenda
on the situation, Roger would bypass the important process that
would allow Allie to use her upstairs brain.
So instead, he went into the house, called his older daughter
aside, and simply initiated a brief conversation. They sat on the
couch, and he put his arm around her. Considering Allie’s
personality and temperament, he decided to begin with a simple
question:
ROGER: Gina’s having fun playing with you, and you’re really
good with younger kids. But I’m wondering if you noticed
that Katie’s not too happy about Gina giving you all of her
attention.
ALLIE: [Defensively, sitting up and turning toward her father]
Dad, I’m not even doing anything mean. We’re just listening
to music.
ROGER: I didn’t say you’re doing anything wrong. I’m asking
whether you’ve noticed how Katie is feeling right now.
ALLIE: Yeah, but that’s not my fault!
ROGER: Sweetheart, I totally agree that it’s not your fault. Listen
to my question: do you see that Katie isn’t happy? I’m asking
whether you’ve noticed.
ALLIE: I guess.
In that one admission, we see evidence that Allie’s upstairs brain
had become engaged in the conversation, if only a little. She was
actually beginning to listen and think about what her father was
saying. At this point Roger could target which part of the upstairs
brain he wanted to appeal to and exercise. Not by telling Allie what
she should think or feel, but by asking her to consider the situation
for herself, and to pay attention to what someone else was
experiencing.
ROGER: Why do you think she might be upset?
ALLIE: I guess because she wants Gina all to herself. But that girl
came into my room! I didn’t even ask her to.
ROGER: I know. And you may be right that Katie wants Gina all
to herself. But do you think that’s it, exactly? If she were
standing here and told us how she felt, what would she say?
ALLIE: That it’s her playdate, not mine.
ROGER: That’s probably pretty close. Would she have a point?
ALLIE: I just don’t see why we can’t all listen to music together.
Seriously, Dad.
ROGER: I get it. I might even agree with you. But what would
Katie say to that?
ALLIE: That when we’re all together Gina just wants to play with
me?
And with that question the empathy broke through. It was only
an emerging awareness; we can’t expect a huge Lifetime movie
moment where a nine-year-old girl is moved to tears out of her
compassion for her little sister’s emotional pain. But it was a start.
Allie was, at the very least, consciously beginning to consider the
feelings of her sister (which, if you have young children, you know
is no small parental victory). From there, Roger could direct the
conversation so that Allie would think more explicitly about Katie’s
feelings. Then he could ask for Allie’s help in coming up with a
plan for handling the situation—“Maybe we listen to one more
song, then I get ready for my slumber party?”—and in so doing he
would further engage her upstairs brain by having her plan and
problem-solve.
Initiating a redirection conversation like this won’t always be
successful. There will be times when a child will be unwilling (or
even unable) to see a diʃerent perspective, to listen and consider
the feelings of others. Roger might end up simply telling Allie she
needs to ɹnd something else to do, just as Liz had to make the call
when her daughter wouldn’t give in about who was going to drive
her to school. Or maybe he could play a game with all three girls,
making sure everyone feels included.

But notice that when he needed to redirect, Roger didn’t
immediately impose his own sense of justice on the situation. By
facilitating empathy and problem solving, he gave his daughter a
chance to exercise her upstairs brain. The more we give kids the
opportunity to consider not only their own desires, but also the
desires of others, and practice making good choices that positively
impact the people around them, the better they’ll be at doing so.
Does a conversation like this one between Roger and Allie take
longer than simply separating the girls? Of course. Is it harder to
do? Yes, probably. But is collaborative and respectful redirection
worth the eʃort and extra time? No question about it. And as it
becomes your default, it actually makes things easier on you and
your entire family, since there will be fewer battles, and you’ll be
building your child’s brain in such a way that less and less often
will you even have to address misbehavior.
1-2-3 Discipline
In this chapter we want to take a closer look at the concept of
redirection, which is actually what most people mean when they
think of discipline. Redirection is how we respond when our kids
do something we don’t like, such as throwing something in anger,
or when they’re not doing something we want them to do, like
brush their teeth and get ready for bed. After we’ve connected,
how do we address uncooperative or reactive kids, redirecting
them toward using their upstairs brain so they can make more
appropriate decisions that become second nature over time?
As we’ve said, No-Drama Discipline is about connecting and
being emotionally responsive to our children, while aiming for the
short-term goal of gaining cooperation now, as well as the longterm goal of building our child’s brain. A simple way to think about
redirection is to take a 1-2-3 approach that focuses on one
deɹnition, two principles, and three desired outcomes. You don’t
need to memorize every detail of the approach (especially since
we’ve given you a handy Refrigerator Sheet at the back of the
book). Just use it as an organizing framework to help you focus on
what’s important when it comes time to redirect your kids.
One Definition
The place to begin when thinking about redirecting our kids toward
better behavior is with the deɹnition of discipline. When our
children make unwise decisions or can’t manage their emotions, we
need to remember that discipline is about teaching. If we forget this
simple truth, we’ll go oʃ course. If discipline becomes about
punishment, for example, we can miss the opportunity to teach. By
focusing on the consequences of misbehavior, we limit the
opportunity for children to experience the physiological and
emotional workings of their inner compass.
One mom told us the story of ɹnding a small box of crayons
when she and her six-year-old were cleaning her daughter’s room.
They had been shopping for school supplies a few days before, and
her daughter had fallen in love with these particular crayons. The
mother had not bought the crayons, but her daughter had slipped
them into her pocket anyway.
The mother said that when she found the crayons she decided to
ask her daughter about them directly. When the little girl saw the
crayons in her mom’s cupped hand and the mother’s look of
confusion, her eyes got wide and full of fear and guilt. In a moment
like this, the parental response is going to largely determine what a
child takes away from the experience. As we explained in Chapter
1, if the parent’s focus is on consequences or punishment, and she
immediately yells, spanks, sends the child to her room, or takes
away an upcoming opportunity she’s excited about, then the child’s
focus will immediately shift. Instead of having her attention on
that “uh-oh” feeling bubbling up inside of her, or instead of
thinking about the decision she made when she took the crayons
from the store, all of her attention will focus on how mean or scary
her parent is for punishing her in this way. She may even feel like
a victim, who is somehow retroactively justiɹed in swiping the
crayons.
Instead, this mom oʃered a disciplinary approach focused on
teaching rather than immediate consequences. She gave her
daughter time to sit with and be aware of that uncomfortable,
valuable, natural guilt she was feeling as a result of having taken
something that wasn’t hers. Yes, guilt can even be healthy. It is
evidence of a healthy conscience! And it can shape future behavior.
When the mother talked to her daughter, she knelt down (getting
below eye level, as we discussed a few pages ago), and an
endearing conversation ensued during which the six-year-old at
ɹrst denied taking the crayons, then said she didn’t remember, and
then, with the mom patiently waiting, eventually explained that
her mother had nothing to worry about, because “I waited till the
saleslady with the big hair wasn’t looking” to put the crayons in the
pocket of her shorts. At this point the mother asked lots of
questions that encouraged her daughter to think through concepts
she hadn’t yet considered: “Do you know what taking something
that doesn’t belong to you is called?” “Is stealing against the law?”
“Did you know that the woman with the big hair in the store spent
her money to buy those crayons so she could put them in her
store?”
In response, the daughter dropped her head further; her bottom
lip started to come forward, and big tears began to fall. She
obviously felt bad about what she had done. As she quietly cried,
the mom pulled her close, not distracting her or stopping the
process of what was already happening naturally, but joining with
her as she said,
“You’re feeling bad about it.” The daughter nodded,
and the tears continued. The mom could comfort and be with her
daughter in this beautiful moment where the discipline process
continued naturally without the mom even doing or saying
anything. The mother held her and allowed her to cry and to feel,
and after a couple of minutes she helped wipe away the tears and
encouraged her daughter to take a deep breath. Then they
continued their conversation brieɻy, talking about honesty, about
respecting others’ property, and about doing the right thing, even
when it’s hard.
By initiating this collaborative, reɻective dialogue and allowing
discipline to naturally arise simply by orienting her daughter’s
attention to the internal guilt she was already feeling, rather than
just laying out instant consequences, the mother allowed her
daughter to give her upstairs brain some exercise by considering
her actions and how they aʃected others, and by learning some
basic lessons about ethics and morality. Then they made plans for
how best to return the crayons to “the saleslady with the big hair.”
No-Drama Discipline is all about teaching, and that’s what this
mother focused on. She allowed her daughter to thoughtfully
experience the feelings and thoughts associated with her decision to
take the crayons. By allowing the child’s own internal experience
to remain at the forefront of her mind—rather than shifting the
emotions into anger over a punishment handed out—she allowed
her daughter’s brain not only to become aware of that inner
discomfort, but also to link it to the experience of making poor
choices, in this case, stealing. Again, being punitive or doling out
consequences, especially when we’re angry and reactive, can be
counterproductive because it distracts our children from the
physiological and emotional messages of their own conscience,
which is a powerful force in developing self-discipline.
Remember, neurons that wire together ɹre together. And we
want our kids to experience the natural linkage between making a
bad decision in one moment, then feeling guilty and ill at ease the
next. Because the brain is driven to avoid experiences that produce
negative sensations, the aversive feelings that naturally arise
within a child when she does something that violates her inner
conscience can be very ɻeeting in her conscious mind. But when
we help her become aware of these sensations and emotions, they
can become the important basis for ethics and self-control. This selfregulation or executive function that develops can then engage even
when her parent isn’t there, or when no one is looking. This is how she
internalizes the lesson on a synaptic level. Our own nervous
systems can become our very best guides!
Diʃerent disciplinary situations will obviously call for diʃerent
parental responses. This mother responded based on what lesson
her daughter needed in that particular moment. In other
circumstances she might respond diʃerently. The point is simply
that once we’ve connected with our kids in a disciplinary moment
and it’s time to redirect, we’ve got to keep in mind the importance
of awareness and helping the brain learn. Reɻection with a child
helps him become aware of what’s happening internally, and that
optimizes learning. When we keep in mind the deɹnition of
discipline, we realize that sharing awareness helps learning occur.
Discipline is all about teaching to optimize learning.
Two Principles
We also want to follow two main principles when redirecting our
children, allowing those two principles to guide whatever we do.
These principles, along with the speciɹc strategies that follow from
them, encourage cooperation from kids and make life easier for
adults and kids alike.
Principle #1: Wait Until Your Child Is Ready
Remember what we said in Chapter 3: connection moves a child
from reactivity to receptivity. So once you’ve connected and
allowed your child to come to a place where he’s ready to listen
and use his upstairs brain, then it’s time to redirect. Not before.
One of the most self-defeating parenting recommendations we hear
from time to time goes something like this: “When a child
misbehaves, it’s important that you address the behavior right
away. Otherwise, they won’t understand why they are being
disciplined.”
We actually don’t think this is bad advice if you are running a
behavioral conditioning lab with animals. For mice, or even dogs,
it’s good advice. For human beings, not so much. The fact is that
there are times when it does make sense to address misbehavior
right away. However, it’s frequently the case that the absolute
worst time to address a misbehavior is immediately after it’s
occurred.
The reason is simple. Misbehavior often happens because a child
isn’t able to regulate his big feelings. And when his emotions are
dysregulated, his upstairs brain has gone oʃ-line. It’s temporarily
out of order, meaning he’s not able to accomplish the tasks his
upstairs brain is responsible for: making good decisions, thinking
about others, considering consequences, balancing his emotions and
body, and being a receptive learner. So yes, we do recommend that
you address a behavioral issue fairly soon when possible, but only
when your child is in a calm and receptive state of mind—even if
you need to wait. Even children as young as three can remember
what happened in recent history, including the day before. You can
begin that conversation by saying,
“I’d like to talk about what
happened yesterday at bedtime. That didn’t go so well, did it?”
Waiting for the right time is essential when it comes to teaching
effectively.
So let’s go back to the suggestion we made in Chapter 4. Once
you’ve connected, and you’re wondering whether it’s time to move
into the redirection phase, ask yourself one simple question: “Is my
child ready? Ready to hear, ready to learn, ready to understand?”
If the answer is no, then there’s no reason to try to redirect in that
moment. Most likely, more connection is called for. Or, especially
for older kids, you may just need to give them some time and
space before they’ll be ready to hear you.
When we talk to educators, we often explain that there’s an
optimal window, or sweet spot, for teaching. If students’ nervous
systems are what we call underaroused—because they are sleepy,
bored, or checked out for some other reason—then they are in an
unreceptive state, meaning the students won’t be able to learn
eʃectively. And the opposite is just as bad. If students’ nervous
systems are overaroused—meaning they feel anxious or stressedout, or their bodies are hyperactive with lots of motor activity and
movement—that also produces an unreceptive state when it’s
diɽcult for them to learn. Instead, we need to create an
environment that helps them move into a state of mind that’s calm,
alert, and receptive. That’s the sweet spot where learning really
takes place. That’s the moment they’re ready to learn.
It’s the same with our kids. When their nervous systems are
under- or overaroused, they won’t be nearly as receptive to what
we want to teach them. So when we discipline, we want to wait
until they are calm, alert, and receptive. Ask yourself: “Is my child
ready?” Even after you’ve connected and soothed your child’s
negative state, it still might be best to wait for a time later in the
day or even the next day to ɹnd a better moment for the explicit
teaching and redirection. You can even say,
“I’d like to wait until
we’re really able to talk and listen to each other. We’ll come back
and talk about it in a while.”
As a side note, just as it’s important to ask,
“Is my child ready?”
it’s also important to ask yourself,
“Am I ready?” If you are in a
reactive state of mind, it’s best to wait to have the conversation.
You can’t be an eʃective teacher if you’re not in a calm and
collected state. If you’re too upset to remain in control, you’re
likely to approach the whole interaction in a way that’s
counterproductive to your goals of teaching and building
connection. In that case, it’s often better to say something like,
“I’m too angry to have a helpful conversation right now, so I’m
going to take some time to calm down, and then we’ll talk in a
bit.” Then, once you are both ready, discipline will be more
effective and feel better to both of you.
Principle #2: Be Consistent, but Not Rigid
There’s no question about it: consistency is crucial when it comes
to raising and disciplining our children. Many parents we see in our
oɽces realize that they need to work on being more consistent
with their kids—whether it’s with bedtimes, limiting junk food or
media, or just in general. But there are other parents who place
such a high priority on consistency that it becomes a rigidity that’s
not good for their kids, themselves, or the parent-child
relationship.
Let’s get clear on the diʃerence between the two terms.
Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy
so that our kids know what we expect of them and what they
should expect from us. Rigidity, on the other hand, means
maintaining an unswerving devotion to rules we’ve set up,
sometimes without having even thought them through, or without
changing them as our kids develop. As parents, we want to be
consistent, but not rigid.
Kids obviously need consistency. They need to know what our
expectations are, and how we will respond if they break (or even
bend) agreed-upon rules. Your reliability teaches them about what
to expect in their world. More than that, it helps them feel safe;
they know they can count on you to be constant and steady, even
when their internal or external world is chaotic. This kind of
predictable, sensitive, attuned care is actually what builds secure
attachment. It lets us provide our kids with what’s called “safe
containment,
” since they have a secure base and clear boundaries
to help guide them when their emotions are exploding. Limits you
set are like the guardrails on the Golden Gate Bridge. For a child,
living without clear boundaries is as anxiety-provoking as driving
over that bridge without guardrails to stop you from plummeting
into San Francisco Bay.
But rigidity is not about safety or reliability; it’s about
stubbornness. It keeps parents from compromising when necessary,
or looking at context and the intention behind a behavior, or
recognizing the moments when it’s reasonable to make an
exception.
One of the main reasons parents become rigid with their children
is because they are practicing a form of fear-based parenting. They
worry that if they ever give in and allow a soft drink at one meal,
they’ll create a slippery slope and their kids will be drinking
Mountain Dew for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of their
lives. So they stick to their guns and deny the soft drink.
Or their six-year-old has a nightmare and wants to climb into bed
with them because he’s scared, but they worry that they’ll be
setting a dangerous precedent. They say,
“We don’t want him to
develop bad sleep habits. If we don’t nip it in the bud right now,
he’ll be a bad sleeper his whole childhood.” So they stick to their
guns and dutifully send him back to his bed.
We understand the fear. We’ve felt it ourselves in regard to our
own kids. And we agree that parents should deɹnitely remain
aware of whatever patterns they are setting up for their children.
That’s why consistency is so important.
But when fear-based parenting leads us to believe that we can
never make an exception about a treat—or that we can’t comfort or
nurture our frightened child in the middle of the night without
damning him to a life of sleeplessness—then we’ve moved into
rigidity. That’s parenting based on fear, not on what our child
needs in that particular moment. That’s parenting with a goal of
reducing our own anxiety and fears, rather than what will best teach
our child’s emerging mind and mold the developing brain.
So how do we maintain consistency without crossing over to
fear-based rigidity? Well, let’s start by acknowledging that there
are some non-negotiables. For instance, under no circumstances can
you let your toddler run through a busy parking lot, or your schoolage child swim without supervision, or your teenager get into a car
with a driver who’s been drinking. Physical safety is nonnegotiable.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever make exceptions, or
even turn a blind eye from time to time when your child
misbehaves. For instance, if you have a rule about no technology at
the dinner table, but your four-year-old has just received a new
electronic puzzle game that he’ll play with quietly while you have
dinner with another couple, that might be a good time to make an
exception to your rule. Or if your daughter has promised that she’ll
ɹnish her homework before dinner but her grandparents show up
to take her on an outing, you might negotiate a new deal with her.

The goal, in other words, is to maintain a consistent but ɻexible
approach with your kids, so that they know what to expect from
you, but they also know that at times you will thoughtfully
consider all the factors involved. It goes back to what we talked
about in the previous chapter: response ɻexibility. We want to
intentionally respond to a situation in a way that considers what
works best for our child and for our family, even if that means
making an exception to our normal rules and expectations.
The question when it comes to consistent versus rigid discipline
is what we’re hoping to accomplish. Again, what do we want to
teach? Under normal circumstances we want to consistently
maintain our rules and expectations. But we want to avoid being
rigid, ignoring context and thus missing out on the chance to teach
the lessons we want to teach. Sometimes when we discipline, we
need to look for other ways to accomplish our goals, so we can
more effectively teach what we want our kids to learn.
At times, for example, you might try a “do-over.” Instead of
immediately oʃering a punishment for speaking disrespectfully,
you can say something like,
“I bet if you tried again, you could
come up with a more respectful way to say that.” Do-overs allow a
child a second chance to handle a situation well. It gives them
practice doing the right thing. You’re still consistently maintaining
your expectations, but you’re doing so in a way that’s often much
more beneficial than a rigidly imposed, unrelated consequence.
After all, skill development is a huge part of what discipline is all
about. And that requires repeated guidance and coaching. If you
were coaching your child’s soccer team and she was having trouble
kicking the ball straight, you wouldn’t give her consequences for
every time she shanked it. Instead, you’d give her more practice, so
that she gets better and better at kicking it where she wants it to
go. You’d want her to have a clear, familiar feeling of what it’s like
to hit the ball square and watch it sail into the goal. In the same
way, when our kids behave in ways that don’t meet the
expectations we’ve set up, sometimes the best thing we can do is to
have them practice behaving in ways that do meet our
expectations.
Another way to encourage skill building is to have your child
come up with a creative response. As much as we wish it did,
saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t actually ɹx the broken fairy wand that
was thrown in anger. An apology note and using allowance money
to buy a new wand might teach more and help develop skills
related to decision making and empathy.
The point is that in your eʃorts to build skills, you can still be
consistent while remaining ɻexible and open to other alternatives.
As kids learn about right and wrong, they also need to learn that
life is not just about external reward and punishment. Flexibility,
problem solving, considering context, and ɹxing our mistakes are
also important. Most important is for children to understand the
lesson at hand with as much personal insight as they are
developmentally capable of, and to empathize with anybody
they’ve hurt, then ɹgure out how to respond to the situation and
prevent it in the future.
In other words, there’s a lot about morality that we want to teach our
kids in addition to knowing right from wrong. We don’t want to be
their traɽc cop, following them around telling them when to stop
and when to go, and giving them tickets when they break the law.
Wouldn’t it be much better to teach them how to drive responsibly,
and give them the skills, tools, and practice to make good decisions
on their own? To do this successfully, sometimes we need to be
open to seeing the gray areas, not just the black and white. We
need to make decisions based not on an arbitrary rule we’ve
previously set down, but on what’s best for our kids and our family
right now, in this particular situation. Consistent, yes, but not rigid.
Three Mindsight Outcomes
So 1-2-3 discipline focuses on one deɹnition (teaching) and two
principles (wait until your child is ready, and be consistent but not
rigid). Now let’s look at the three outcomes we’re looking to
achieve when we redirect.
If you’ve read The Whole-Brain Child, you’re already familiar
with the term “mindsight,
” which Dan coined and discusses at
length in his books Mindsight and Brainstorm. 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.
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.
Mindsight also involves the process of integration, which we
discussed earlier. You’ll remember that integration occurs when
separate things become linked—like the right and left sides of the
brain, or two people in a relationship. When integration does not
occur, chaos or rigidity results. So when a relationship experiences
an inevitable rupture in how we honor each other’s diʃerences, or
when we don’t link compassionately to each other, that’s a break in
integration. One example of creating integration is when we repair
such a rupture. If you ɹnd that chaos or rigidity is popping up in
your connection with your kids, repair is in order. We can take
steps to repair the situation and make things right when we’ve
made a bad decision or hurt someone with our words or actions.
Let’s discuss each of these outcomes (insight, empathy, and
integration/repair) individually.
Outcome #1: Insight
One of the best outcomes of redirection as part of a No-Drama
Discipline strategy is that it helps develop personal insight in our
children. The reason is that instead of simply commanding and
demanding that our kids meet our expectations, we ask them to
notice and reɻect on their own feelings and their responses to
diɽcult situations. This can be diɽcult, as you know, since a
child’s upstairs brain is not only the last to develop, but it is often
oʃ-line in disciplinary moments. But with practice and insightbuilding conversations—like the ones we’ve been discussing and
will explain at greater length in the next chapter—children can
become more aware and understand themselves more fully. They
can develop personal mindsight that allows them to better
understand what they’re feeling, and have more control over how
they respond in difficult situations.
For young children we might facilitate this process simply by
naming the emotions we observe: “When she took away the doll, it
looked like you felt really mad. Is that right?” For older kids, openended questions are better, even if we have to “lead the witness”
toward self-understanding: “I was watching you just before you
blew up at your brother, and it looked like you were getting more
and more annoyed that he was badgering you. Is that what you
were feeling?” The hope is that his response is something like,
“Yeah! And it makes me so mad when he …” Every time a child
gets speciɹc and discusses his own emotional experience, he gains
more insight into himself and deepens his own self-understanding.
That’s a reɻective conversation that cultivates mindsight. And such
a focus on his insight can help him move toward the second desired
outcome of redirection.
Outcome #2: Empathy
Along with developing insight into themselves, we want our kids to
develop the other aspect of mindsight, empathy. The science of
neuroplasticity teaches us that repeated practice of this reɻection,
as in our reɻective dialogues with others, activates our mindsight
circuitry. And with repeated focus of attention on our inner mental
life, it also changes the wiring in the brain and builds and
strengthens the empathic, other-centered part of the upstairs brain
—what scientists call the social engagement circuitry of the
prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that makes mindsight
maps not only of ourselves for insight and of others for empathy,
but also of “we” for morality and mutual understanding. That’s
what mindsight circuits create. So we want to give kids lots of
practice reɻecting on how their actions impact others, seeing things
from another’s point of view, and developing awareness of others’
feelings.
Simply asking questions and helping our children make
observations like these will be much more eʃective than preaching
sermons, delivering lectures, or giving consequences. The human
brain is capable of extending itself in a way that allows us to
comprehend the experiences of the people around us and even
sense our connections as part of a “we” that develops with them.
That’s how we experience not only empathy, but the important
sense of our interconnectedness, the integrated state that is the
basis of moral imagination, thinking, and action.
So the more we give our kids practice at considering how
someone else feels or experiences a situation, the more empathic
and caring they will become. And as these circuits of insight and
empathy develop, they naturally set the foundation for morality,
our inner sense of being not only diʃerentiated, but linked into a
larger whole. That’s integration.
Outcome #3: Integration and the Repair of Ruptures
After helping our kids to consider their own feelings and then
reɻect on how their actions impacted others, we want to ask them
what they can do to create integration as they repair the situation
and make things right. Which part of the brain do we appeal to
now? You guessed it: the upstairs brain, with its responsibility for
empathy, morality, considering the consequences of our decisions,
and controlling emotions.
We appeal to the upstairs brain by asking questions, in this case
about repairing a situation. “What can you do to make it right?
What positive step can you take to help ɹx this? What do you think
needs to happen now?” Repair builds on insight and empathy to
then move to the mindsight map of “we” as a connection is
reestablished with the other person. Once we’ve led our children
toward empathy and insight, we want to aim for the outcome of
taking action to address not only the situation their behavior has
impacted, but also the other person and, ultimately, the
relationship itself.
Taking action after hurting someone or making a bad decision
isn’t easy for any of us, including our kids. Especially when
children are little, or if they have a particularly shy temperament,
parents may need to support them and help them with their
apology. Sometimes it’s ɹne for the parent to actually deliver the
apology for the child. You two can agree on the message
beforehand. After all, not much good comes from forcing a child to
oʃer an inauthentic apology when he’s not yet ready, or forcing
him to apologize when doing so is going to ɻood his nervous
system with anxiety. It comes back to asking whether your child is
ready. Sometimes we have to wait for a child to be in the right
frame of mind.
It’s never easy to go back and try to make up for a mistake. But
No-Drama Discipline allows us to help kids learn to do so. It aims
at achieving these three outcomes: focusing on giving our children
practice at better understanding themselves with insight, seeing
things from the perspective of others with empathy, then taking
steps to improve a particular situation where they’ve done
something wrong. When children deepen their ability to know
themselves, consider the feelings of others, and take action toward
repairing a situation, they build and strengthen connections within
the frontal lobe, which allows them to better know themselves and
get along with others as they move into adolescence and
adulthood. Basically, you are teaching your child’s brain how to
make mindsight maps of “me,
” “you,
” and “we.”
1-2-3 Discipline in Action
Life gives us opportunity after opportunity to build the brain.
That’s what we saw when Roger talked to his daughter about
monopolizing her sister’s playdate. He could’ve easily called out to
his daughter something like,
“Allie, why don’t you give Katie and
Gina some time to themselves?” In doing so, though, he would
have missed an opportunity to teach Allie and help build her brain.
His response, instead, oʃered a 1-2-3 approach. By initiating a
conversation with his daughter (“Do you see that Katie isn’t
happy?”) rather than laying down the law, he focused on the one
deɹnition of discipline: teaching. He also worked from the two key
principles. First, he made sure his daughter was ready by making
her feel listened to without judgment (“I totally agree that it’s not
your fault”). And second, he avoided being overly rigid and even
asked Allie for help in coming up with a good response to the
situation. And he achieved the three outcomes, helping his
daughter think about her own actions (“Why do you think she
might be upset?”), her sister’s feelings (“If she were standing here
and told us how she felt, what would she say?”), and what
response she could take to best respond as an integrative repair to
the situation (“Let’s come up with a plan”).
The approach works with older children as well. Let’s look at an
example of how one couple applied it with their middle schooler.
At every major gift-giving occasion over the past year, Nila had
consistently written the phrase “cell phone” at the top of her wish
list. She repeatedly told her parents, Steve and Bela, that “all” the
other kids had phones. Her mom and dad held out longer than
many of their friends, but when she turned twelve, they relented.
After all, Nila was reasonably responsible, she was spending more
time independently from her parents, and a phone would make
things more convenient for everyone. They took all the measures
they knew were important—disabling the phone’s Internet
capabilities, downloading apps that would ɹlter out dangerous
content, talking with her about issues like privacy and security—
then moved on to this next phase in their parenting lives.
During the first few months, Nila made her parents’ decision look
good. She kept track of the phone and used it appropriately, and
they learned that they hadn’t overestimated the convenience
factor.
But one night Bela heard Nila coughing an hour after lights-out,
so she opened the door to her room to check on her. The blue glow
hovering over Nila’s bed instantly disappeared, but it was
obviously too late. She was busted.
Bela ɻipped on the overhead light, and before she could say
anything, Nila hurried to explain: “Mom, I was worried about the
test and couldn’t sleep, so I was just trying to get my mind on
something else.”
Bela knew better than to overreact, especially when her primary
goal in that moment was to get her daughter back to sleep, so she
ɹrst connected: “I can understand needing to get your mind on
something else. I hate it when I can’t sleep.” Then she simply said,
“But let’s talk about it tomorrow. Hand me the phone, and I want
you to go right to sleep.”
When Bela told Steve, she learned that he had had a similar
interaction with Nila just the previous week when Bela was gone,
and he’d forgotten to mention it. So now they had two cases of
their daughter blatantly disregarding rules about cell phone usage
and sleep.
Taking a 1-2-3 approach, Steve and Bela focused on the one
deɹnition of discipline. What lesson did they want to teach here?
They wanted to emphasize the importance of honesty,
responsibility, trust, and following the rules the family members
have all agreed to. As they considered how to respond to Nila’s
infractions, they kept this deɹnition front and center in their
minds.
Then they focused on the two principles. Bela demonstrated the
ɹrst one—making sure her daughter was ready—when she simply
took Nila’s phone and asked her to go to sleep. Late at night, when
everyone is tired and a child is up later than she should be, is
rarely the best time to teach a lesson. Lecturing Nila right then
would have likely turned into all kinds of drama, leaving both
mother and daughter frustrated and angry. Not exactly a recipe for
going right to sleep, or teaching a lesson, either. The better
strategy was to wait for the next day, when Bela and Steve could
ɹnd the right moment to address the issue. Not during the morning
rush to eat breakfast and make lunches, but after dinner when
everyone could discuss the issue calmly and from a fresh
perspective.
As for their speciɹc response, this is where the second principle
came in: be consistent, but not rigid. Consistency is of course
crucial. Steve and Bela had taken a clear stance about the
importance of Nila being honest and responsible with her phone,
and at least in this instance, she hadn’t lived up to their agreement.
So they needed to address that lapse with a consistent response.
But in doing so, they didn’t want to make a rigid, snap decision
that overshot the mark. Their ɹrst reaction was to take the phone
away altogether. But once they talked, and calmer heads prevailed,
they recognized that in this case, that response would be too
drastic. Outside of this one problem, Nila had acted responsibly
with her phone. So rather than taking it away, they decided to
discuss the issue with Nila, asking for her help coming up with
policies to address the situation. In fact, she was the one who came
up with a ɹx that was easy for everyone: she would leave her
phone outside her room when she goes to bed. Then she wouldn’t
be tempted to check it every time it lit up—and Mom and Dad
could be assured that Nila was recharging while her phone was as
well.
This response made sense given Nila’s general good decision
making. They all agreed that if more problems arose, or if she
demonstrated more extreme misuse of the phone, Steve and Bela
would hold on to the phone except for certain prescribed times of
the day.
With this response, which respected Nila enough to work with
her and collaborate while still enforcing boundaries, Steve and Bela
presented a consistent, united front that adhered to their rules and
expectations, without becoming rigid and disciplining in ways that
wouldn’t beneɹt their daughter, the situation, or their relationship
with her.
As a result, they gave themselves a much better chance at
achieving their three desired outcomes: insight, empathy, and
integrated repair. They helped encourage insight in their daughter
by the collaborative approach they took in asking questions and
engaging in dialogue. The questions focused on helping Nila pause
and think about her decision to power up her phone when she
wasn’t supposed to: “How do you feel inside when you’re doing
something you know you shouldn’t? Or when we walk in and see
you on your phone? What do you think we feel about it?” Other
questions led to insight into better options in the future: “The next
time you’re having trouble sleeping, what could you do instead of being
on your phone?” With questions like these, Nila’s parents helped
increase her personal insight and build her upstairs brain, allowing
her to develop an internal compass and become more insightful in
the future. Plus, by approaching the issue in a way that respected
her and her desires, they increased the chances that Nila will come
and talk with them about even bigger issues later, as she enters her
teen years.
The empathy outcome in this situation is diʃerent from certain
other discipline moments. Often when we encourage empathy in
our children when they’ve made a bad decision, we try to lead
them to think about the feelings of someone else who was hurt
because of their behavior. In this case, no one was really harmed
except for Nila herself, who lost some sleep. But Steve and Bela
tried to lead her to understand that their trust in her had been
dented, at least a bit. They knew better than to overdramatize the
issue, or stoop to using guilt trips or self-pity, and they explicitly
communicated to her that they weren’t going to resort to these
tactics. But they talked with her about how much their relationship
with her means, and explained that it doesn’t feel good when
broken trust harms that relationship in any way.
This part of the discussion about the relationship is a focus on
integration, the connection of diʃerent parts. Integration is what
makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s what
creates love in a relationship. Focusing on insight and empathy and
then on their relationship thus led naturally to the third desired
integrative outcome, repair. Once a breach in a relationship has
been created, no matter how small, we want to repair it as soon as
possible. Nila’s parents needed to give her that chance. In their
discussion about what policies to put in place about late-night cell
phone use, they asked questions that helped her think about the
relational eʃects of not following through on commitments. Again,
they avoided manipulating her emotionally by making her feel
guilty, and instead asked good-faith questions like “What’s
something you could do to help us feel good about the trust we
have in you?” They had to “lead the witness” a bit, helping Nila
think about trust-building actions she could take—like using her
phone to just call and check in with her parents from time to time,
or leaving it outside her room at night without having to be asked.
In doing so she thought about ways she could be intentional in
rebuilding her parents’ trust in her.
Notice that this issue with Nila falls into the category of typical
behaviors that parents have to deal with on a daily basis. At times,
there are behavioral challenges where it can be helpful to involve
professionals. More extreme behaviors that are diɽcult to handle
and that last for longer periods of time can sometimes be a sign
that something else is going on. If your child frequently
experiences intense emotional reactivity that does not respond to
repair eʃorts, it can be helpful to talk with a pediatric
psychotherapist or child development specialist who can
supportively explore the situation with you to see whether you and
your child could beneɹt from some intervention. In our experience,
children who display frequent and intense reactivity may be
struggling with more innate challenges related to sensory
integration, attention and/or impulsivity, or mood disorders.
Additionally, a history of trauma, a really diɽcult experience from
the past, or relational mismatches between parent and child can
play a role in behavioral struggles, as they reveal an underlying
challenge with self-regulation that may at times be a source of
repeated ruptures in a relationship. We would encourage you to
seek the help of someone who can help you walk through these
questions and guide you and your child on the path toward optimal
development.
In most discipline situations with your child, though, simply
taking a Whole-Brain approach will lead to more cooperation from
your child and more peace and serenity in your household. 1-2-3
discipline isn’t a formula or a set of rules to be strictly followed.
You don’t have to memorize it and inɻexibly follow it. We’re
simply giving you guidelines to keep in mind when it comes time
for redirection. By reminding yourself about the deɹnition and
purpose of discipline, the principles that should guide it, and your
desired outcomes, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of
disciplining your kids, of teaching them, in a way that leads to
more cooperation from them and better relationships among all
members of the family.
A
CHAPTER 6
Addressing Behavior: As Simple as R-E-D-I-R-EC-T
nna’s eleven-year-old, Paolo, called her from school and asked
whether he could go home with his friend Harrison that
afternoon. The plan, Paolo explained, was to walk to Harrison’s,
where the boys would do homework, then play until dinner. When
Anna asked whether Harrison’s parents were aware of the plan,
Paolo assured her they were, so Anna told him she’d pick him up
before dinner.
However, when Anna texted Harrison’s mother later that
afternoon, telling her she’d be picking up Paolo in a few minutes,
Harrison’s mother revealed that she was at work. Anna then
learned that Harrison’s father hadn’t been home, either, and that
neither of them knew of the boys’ plan for Paolo to come over.
Anna was mad. She knew there might have been some sort of
miscommunication, but it really looked to her like Paolo had been
dishonest. At best he had misunderstood the plan, in which case he
should have let her know when he realized that Harrison’s parents
wouldn’t be home and hadn’t been contacted. At worst he had
outright lied to her.
Once she and Paolo were in the car on the way home from
Harrison’s, she felt like launching into him, leveling consequences
and angrily lecturing him about trust and responsibility.
But that’s not what she did.
Instead, she took a Whole-Brain approach. Since her son was
older and he wasn’t in a reactive state of mind, the “connect” part
of her approach simply entailed hugging him and asking whether
he’d had a good time. Then she showed him the respect of
communicating with him directly. She told him about her text with
Harrison’s mother, then said simply,
“I’m glad you and Harrison
have so much fun together. But I have a question. I know you
know how important trust is in our family, so I’m wondering what
happened here.” She spoke in a calm tone, one that didn’t
communicate harshness and instead expressed her lack of
understanding and her curiosity about the situation.
This curiosity-based approach, where she began by giving her son
the beneɹt of the doubt, helped Anna decrease the drama from the
discipline situation. Even though she was angry, she avoided
immediately jumping to the conclusion that the boys had purposely
deceived their parents. As a result, Paolo could hear his mother’s
question without feeling directly accused. Plus, her curiosity put
the responsibility of accounting for himself squarely on Paolo’s
own shoulders, so he had to think about his decision making, which
gave his upstairs brain a little bit of exercise. Anna’s approach
showed Paolo that she worked from the assumption that he would
make good decisions most of the time, and that she was confused
and surprised when it appeared that he hadn’t.
In this case, by the way, he hadn’t made good decisions. He
explained to his mother that Harrison had thought his father would
be home, but when the boys arrived, Harrison’s father wasn’t
there. He acknowledged that he should have let her know right
away, but he just hadn’t. “I know, Mom. I should’ve told you
nobody else was home. Sorry.”
Then Anna could respond and move from connection to
redirection, saying something like,
“Yes, I’m glad you’re clear that
you should have told me. Tell me more about why that didn’t
happen.” But she knew she wanted her redirection to be about
more than just addressing this one behavior. She rightly recognized
this moment as another opportunity to build important personal
and relational skills in her son, and to help him understand that his
actions had made a little dent in her trust and deviated from their
family agreement to always check in if plans change. That’s why,
before she turned to redirection, she checked herself.
Before You Redirect: Keep Calm and Connect
Have you seen that British poster from World War II that’s become
so popular? The one that says,
“Keep Calm and Carry On”? That’s
not a bad mantra to have at the ready when your child goes
ballistic—or before you do. Anna recognized the importance of
keeping calm when she addressed her problem with Paolo’s
behavior. Blowing up and yelling at her son wouldn’t have done
anyone any good. In fact, it would have alienated Paolo and
become a distraction from what was important here: using this
disciplinary moment to address his behavior, and to teach.
We’ll discuss many redirection strategies below, looking at
diʃerent ways to redirect children when they’ve made bad
decisions or completely lost control of themselves. But before you
decide on which redirection strategies to use as you redirect your
kids toward using their upstairs brains, you should ɹrst do one
thing: check yourself. Remember, just as it’s important to ask,
“Is
my child ready?” it’s also essential that you ask,
“Am I ready?”
Imagine that you walk into your recently cleaned kitchen and
ɹnd your four-year-old perched on the counter, an empty egg
carton and a dozen broken shells by her side, stirring a sand bucket
full of eggs. With her sand shovel! Or your twelve-year-old informs
you, at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, that his 3-D model of a cell is due the
following morning. This despite the fact that he assured you that
all his homework was done, then spent the afternoon playing
basketball and video games with a friend.
In the middle of frustrating moments like these, the best thing
you can do is to pause. Otherwise your reactive state of mind
might lead you to begin yelling, or at least lecturing about the fact
that a four-year-old (or twelve-year-old) ought to know better.
Instead, pause. Just pause. Allow yourself to take a breath.
Avoid reacting, issuing consequences, or even lecturing in the heat
of the moment.
We know it’s not easy, but remember: when your kids have
messed up in some way, you want to redirect them back toward
their upstairs brain. So it’s important to be in yours, too. When
your three-year-old is throwing a tantrum, remember that she’s
only a small child with a limited capacity to control her own
emotions and body. Your job is to be the adult in the relationship
and carry on as the parent, as a safe, calm haven in the emotional
storm. How you respond to your child’s behavior will greatly impact
how the whole scene unfolds. So before you redirect, check yourself
and do your best to keep calm. That’s a pause that comes from the
upstairs brain but also reinforces the strength of your upstairs
brain. Plus, when you show abilities like this to your children,
they’re more likely to learn such skills themselves.
Staying clear and calm during a pause is your first step.
Then remember to connect. It really is possible to be calm,
loving, and nurturing while disciplining your child. And it’s so
effective. Don’t underestimate how powerful a kind tone of voice
can be as you initiate a conversation about the behavior you’re
wanting to change. Remember that, ultimately, you’re trying to
remain ɹrm and consistent in your discipline while still interacting
with your child in a way that communicates warmth, love, respect,
and compassion. These two aspects of parenting can and should
coexist. That was the balance Anna tried to strike as she spoke with
Paolo.
As you’ve heard us aɽrm throughout the book, kids need
boundaries, even when they’re upset. But we can hold the line
while providing lots of empathy and validation of the desires and
feelings behind our child’s behavior. You might say,
“I know you
really want another ice pop, but I’m not going to change my mind.
It’s OK to cry and be sad and disappointed, though. And I’ll be right
here to comfort you while you’re sad.”
And remember not to dismiss a child’s feelings. Instead,
acknowledge the internal, subjective experience. When a child
reacts strongly to a situation, especially when the reaction seems
unwarranted and even ridiculous, the temptation for the parent is
to say something like “You’re just tired” or “It’s not that big of a
deal” or “Why are you so upset about this?” But statements like
these minimize the child’s experience—her thoughts, feelings, and
desires. It’s much more emotionally responsive and eʃective to
listen, empathize, and really understand your child’s experience
before you respond. Your child’s desire might seem absurd to you,
but don’t forget that it’s very real to him, and you don’t want to
disregard something that’s important to him.
So when it’s time to discipline, keep calm and connect. Then you
can turn to your redirection strategies.
Strategies to Help You R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T
For the remainder of this chapter we’ll focus on what you may
have been waiting for: speciɹc, No-Drama redirection strategies
you can take once you’ve connected with your children and want
to redirect them back to their upstairs brain. To help organize the
strategies, we’ve listed them as an acronym:
Reduce words
Embrace emotions
Describe, don’t preach
Involve your child in the discipline
Reframe a no into a conditional yes
Emphasize the positive
Creatively approach the situation
Teach mindsight tools
Before we get into speciɹcs, let us be clear: this isn’t a list you
need to memorize. These are simply categorized recommendations
that the parents we’ve worked with over the years have found to
be the most helpful. (We’ve included the list, by the way, in the
Refrigerator Sheet at the back of the book.) As always, you should
keep all of these various strategies as diʃerent approaches in your
parental tool kit, picking and choosing the ones that make sense in
various circumstances according to the temperament, age, and
stage of your child, as well as your own parenting philosophy.
Redirection Strategy #1: Reduce Words
In disciplinary interactions, parents often feel the need to point out
what their kids did wrong and highlight what needs to change next
time. The kids, on the other hand, usually already know what
they’ve done wrong, especially as they get older. The last thing
they want (or, usually, need) is a long lecture about their mistakes.

We strongly suggest that when you redirect, you resist the urge
to overtalk. Of course it’s important to address the issue and teach
the lesson. But in doing so, keep it succinct. Regardless of the age
of your children, long lectures aren’t likely to make them want to
listen to you more. Instead, you’ll just be ɻooding them with more
information and sensory input. As a result, they’ll often simply
tune you out.
With younger children, who may not have learned yet what’s OK
and what’s not, it’s even more important that we reduce our words.
They often just don’t have the capacity to take in a long lecture. So
instead, we need to reduce our words.
If your toddler, for instance, hits you because she’s angry that
she doesn’t have your attention while you’re attending to your
other child, there’s simply no reason to go oʃ on a long, drawn-out
oration about why hitting is a bad response to negative emotions.
Instead, try this four-step approach that addresses the issue and
then moves on, all without using more than a few words:

By addressing the child’s actions and then immediately moving
on, we avoid giving too much attention to the negative behavior
and instead quickly get back on the right track.
For younger and older kids both, avoid the temptation to talk
too much when you discipline. If you do need to cover an issue
more fully, try to do so by asking questions and then listening. As
we’ll explain below, a collaborative discussion can lead to all kinds
of important teaching and learning, and parents can accomplish
their disciplinary goals without talking nearly as much as they
typically do.
The basic idea here is akin to the concept of “saving your voice.”
Politicians, businesspeople, community leaders, and anyone else
who depends on eʃective communication to achieve their goals
will tell you that often there are times when they strategically save
their voice, holding back on how much they say. They don’t mean
their literal voice, as if they’ll make their throats hoarse by talking
so much. They mean they try to resist addressing the small points
in a discussion or a voting meeting, so that their words will matter
more when they want to address the really important issues.
It’s the same with our kids. If they hear us incessantly telling
them what to do and what not to do, and then once we’ve made
our point we keep making it over and over again, they will sooner
or later (and probably sooner) stop listening. If, on the other hand,
we save our voice and address what we really care about, then stop
talking, the words we use will carry much greater weight.
Want your kids to listen to you better? Be brief. Once you
address the behavior and the feelings behind the behavior, move
on.
Redirection Strategy #2: Embrace Emotions
One of the best ways to address misbehavior is to help kids
distinguish between their feelings and their actions. This strategy is
related to the concept of connection, but we’re actually making a
completely different point here.
When we say to embrace emotions, we mean that during
redirection, parents need to help their kids understand that their
feelings are neither good nor bad, neither valid nor invalid. They
simply are. There’s nothing wrong with getting angry, being sad, or
feeling so frustrated that you want to destroy something. But
saying it’s OK to feel like destroying something doesn’t mean it’s
OK to actually do it. In other words, it’s what we do as a result of
our emotions that determines whether our behavior is OK or not
OK.
So our message to our children should be,
“You can feel
whatever you feel, but you can’t always do whatever you want to
do.” Another way to think about it is that we want to say yes to our
kids’ desires, even when we need to say no to their behavior and
redirect them toward appropriate action.
So we might say,
“I know you want to take the shopping cart
home. That would be really fun to play with. But it needs to stay
here at the store so other shoppers can use it when they come.” Or
we might say,
“I totally get it that you feel like you hate your
brother right now. I used to feel that way about my sister when I
was a kid and was really mad at her. But yelling ‘I’m going to kill
you!’ isn’t how we talk to each other. It’s perfectly ɹne to be mad,
and you have every right to tell your brother about it. But let’s talk
about other ways to express it.” Say yes to the feelings, even as
you say no to the behavior.
When we don’t acknowledge and validate our kids’ feelings, or
when we imply that their emotions should be turned oʃ or are “no
big deal” or “silly,
” we communicate the message,
“I’m not
interested in your feelings, and you should not share them with
me. You just stuʃ those feelings right on down.” Imagine how that
impacts the relationship. Over time, our children will stop sharing
their internal experiences with us! As a result, their overall
emotional life will begin to constrict, leaving them less able to
fully participate in meaningful relationships and interactions.
Even more problematic is that a child whose parents minimize or
deny her feelings can begin to develop what can be called an
“incoherent core self.” When she experiences intense sadness and
frustration, but her mother responds with statements like “Relax”
or “You’re ɹne,
” the child will realize, if only at an unconscious
level, that her internal response to a situation doesn’t match the
external response from the person she trusts most. As parents, we
want to oʃer what’s called a “contingent response,
” which means
that we attune our response to what our child is actually feeling, in
a way that validates what’s happening in her mind. If a child
experiences an event and the response from her caregiver is
consistent with it—if it’s a match—then her internal experience
will make sense to her, and she can understand herself, conɹdently
name the internal experience, and communicate it to others. She’ll
be developing and working from a “coherent core self.”

But what happens if that match isn’t there and her mother’s
response is inconsistent with the daughter’s experience of the
moment? One mismatch isn’t going to have long-lasting eʃects. But
if over and over again when she gets upset she is told something
like “Stop crying” or “Why are you so upset? Everyone else is
having fun,
” she’s going to begin to doubt her ability to accurately
observe and comprehend what’s going on inside her. Her core self
will be much more incoherent, leaving her confused, full of selfdoubt, and disconnected from her emotions. As she grows into an
adult, she may often feel that her very emotions are unjustiɹed.
She might doubt her subjective experience, and even have a hard
time knowing what she wants or feels at times. So it really is
crucial that we embrace our children’s emotions and oʃer a
contingent response when they are upset or out of control.
One bonus to acknowledging our children’s feelings during
redirection is that doing so can help kids more easily learn
whatever lesson we’re wanting to teach. When we validate their
emotions and acknowledge the way they are experiencing
something—really seeing it through their eyes—that validation
begins to calm and regulate their nervous system’s reactivity. And
when they are in a regulated place, they have the capacity to
handle themselves well, listen to us, and make good decisions. On
the other hand, when we deny our kids’ feelings, minimize them,
or try to distract our kids from them, we prime them to be easily
dysregulated again, and to feel disconnected from us, which means
they’ll operate in a heightened state of agitation and be much more
likely to fall apart, or shut down emotionally, when things don’t go
their way.
What’s more, if we’re saying no to their emotions, kids aren’t
going to feel heard and respected. We want them to know that
we’re here for them, that we’ll always listen to how they feel, and
that they can come to us to discuss anything they’re worried about
or dealing with. We don’t want to communicate that we’re here for
them only when they’re happy or feeling positive emotions.
So in a disciplinary interaction, we embrace our kids’ emotions,
and we teach them to do the same. We want them to believe at a
deep level that even as we teach them about right and wrong behavior,
their feelings and experiences will always be validated and honored.
When kids feel this from their parents even during redirection, they’ll be
much more apt to learn the lessons the parents are teaching, meaning
that over time, the overall number of disciplinary moments will
decrease.
Redirection Strategy #3: Describe, Don’t Preach
The natural tendency for many parents is to criticize and preach
when our kids do something we don’t like. In most disciplinary
situations, though, those responses simply aren’t necessary.
Instead, we can simply describe what we’re seeing, and our kids
will get what we’re saying just as clearly as they do when we yell
and disparage and nitpick. And they’ll receive that message with
much less defensiveness and drama.
With a toddler we might say something like,
“Uh-oh, you’re
throwing the cards. That makes it hard to play the game.” To an
older child we can say,
“I still see dishes on the table,
” or “Those
sound like some pretty mean words you’re using with your
brother.” Simply by stating what we observe, we initiate a dialogue
with our children that opens the door to cooperation and teaching
much better than an immediate reprimand like “Stop talking to
your brother that way.”
The reason is that even young children know wrong from right in
most situations. You’ve already taught them what’s acceptable
behavior and what’s not. Often, then, all you need to do is call
attention to the behavior you’ve observed. This is essentially what
Anna did when she said to Paolo,
“I know you know how
important trust is in our family, so I’m wondering what happened
here.” Kids don’t need their parents to tell them not to make bad
decisions. What they 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.
For all kids, and especially younger children and toddlers, you
are of course teaching them good from bad, right from wrong. But
again, a short, clear, direct message is going to be much more
eʃective than a longer, overexplained one. And even with young
children, a simple statement of observation will typically get your
point across—and invite a response from them, either verbally or
behaviorally.
The idea here isn’t that a description of what you see will be
some sort of magical phrase that stops bad behavior in its tracks.
We’re simply saying that parents should, as we put it in Chapter 5,
“think about the how” and be intentional about how they say what
needs to be said.
It’s not that the phrase “Looks like Johnny wants a turn on the
swing” is communicating something fundamentally diʃerent from
the phrase “You need to share.” But the former oʃers several
distinct advantages over the latter. First, it avoids putting a child
on the defensive. She might still feel the need to defend herself,
but not to the same degree as if we were to reprimand her or tell
her what she’s doing wrong.
Second, describing what we see puts the onus for deciding how
to respond to the observation on the child, thus exercising his
upstairs brain. That’s how we help him develop an internal
compass, a skill that can last a lifetime. When we say,
“Jake is
feeling left out; you need to include him,
” we are deɹnitely getting
our message across. But we’re doing all the work for our child, not
allowing him to increase his inner skills of problem solving and
empathy. If instead we simply say,
“Look at Jake sitting over there
while you and Leo play,
” we give our child the opportunity to
consider the situation for himself, and determine what needs to
happen.
Third, describing what we see initiates a conversation, thereby
implying that when our child does something we don’t like, our
default response will be to visit with her about it, allow her to
explain, and gain some insight. Then we can give her a chance to
defend herself or apologize if necessary, and to come up with a
solution to whatever problem her behavior might have caused.

 

“What’s going on?” “Can you help me understand?” “I can’t
ɹgure this out.” These can be powerful phrases when we’re
teaching our kids. When we point out what we see, then ask our
kids to help us understand, it opens up the opportunity for
cooperation, dialogue, and growth.
Do you see how the two responses, even though their content
isn’t all that diʃerent, would be apt to garner very diʃerent
responses from the children, simply because of how the parents
communicated their message? Once the parents describe what
they’ve observed and ask for help in understanding, they can pause
and allow the child’s brain to do its work. Then they can take an
active role in their response.
This redirection strategy leads directly into the next one, which
is all about making discipline a collaborative, mutual process,
rather than a top-down imposition of parental will.
Redirection Strategy #4: Involve Your Child in the Discipline
When it comes to communicating in a disciplinary moment, parents
have traditionally done the talking (read: lecturing), and children
have done the listening (read: ignoring). Parents have typically
worked from an unexamined assumption that this one-directional,
monologue-based approach is the best—and only viable—option to
consider.
Many parents these days, however, are learning that discipline
will be much more respectful—and, yes, eʃective—if they initiate
a collaborative, reciprocal, bidirectional dialogue, rather than
delivering a monologue.
We’re not saying that parents should forgo their roles as
authority ɹgures in the relationship. If you’ve read this far in the
book, you know that we deɹnitely don’t advocate that. But we do
know that when children are involved in the process of discipline, 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 ɹrst
place. As a result, parents and children work as a team to ɹgure out
how best to address disciplinary situations.
Remember our discussion of mindsight, and the importance of
helping kids develop insight into their own actions and empathy for
others? Once you’ve connected and your child is ready and
receptive, you can simply initiate a dialogue that leads ɹrst toward
insight (“I know you know the rule, so I’m wondering what was
going on for you that led you to this”) and then toward empathy
and integrative repair (“What do you think that was like for her,
and how could you make things right?”).
For example, let’s say your eight-year-old becomes out-of-control
furious because his sister is going on another playdate, and he feels
like he “never gets to do anything!” In his anger, he throws your
favorite sunglasses across the room and breaks them.
Once you’ve calmed down and connected with your son, how do
you want to talk with him about his actions? The traditional
approach is to oʃer a monologue where you say something like,
“It’s OK to get mad—everyone does—but when you’re angry you
still need to control your body. We don’t break other people’s
things. The next time you’re that mad, you need to ɹnd an
appropriate way to express your big feelings.”
Is there anything wrong with this communication style? No, not
at all. In fact, it’s full of compassion and a healthy respect for your
child and his emotions. But do you see how it’s based on top-down,
one-directional communication? You are imparting the important
information, and your child is receiving it.
What if, instead, you involved him in a collaborative dialogue
that asked him to consider how best to address the situation?
Maybe you would begin with the D from R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T and
merely describe what you saw, then ask him to respond: “You got
so mad a while ago. You grabbed my glasses and threw them. What
was going on?”
Since you will have already connected, listened, and responded
to his feelings about his sister’s playdate, he can now focus on your
question. Most likely he’ll come back to his anger and say
something like,
“I was just so mad!”
Then you can simply describe, being intentional with your tone
(since the how matters), what you saw: “Then you threw my
glasses.” Here’s where you’re likely to get some sort of “Sorry,
Mom.”
At this point you can move to the next phase of the conversation
and focus explicitly on teaching: “We all get mad. There’s nothing
wrong with getting angry. But what could you do the next time
you’re that mad?” Maybe you could even smile and throw in some
subtle humor he’d appreciate: “You know, besides destroying
something?” And the conversation could go on from there, with
you asking questions that help your young son think about issues
like empathy, mutual respect, ethics, and handling big emotions.
Notice that the overall message remains the same, whether you
oʃer a monologue or initiate a dialogue. But when you involve
your child in the discipline, you give him the opportunity to think
about his own actions, and whatever resulted from them, at a much
deeper level.
You help him recruit more complex neural pathways that build
mindsight capacities, and the result is deeper and longer-lasting
learning.
Involving your kids in the discipline discussion is also a great
way to dial back any patterns or behaviors that may have
unintentionally been set up in your home. A one-directional, topdown discipline approach might lead you to storm into the living
room and declare,
“You’re spending way too much time on video
games these days! From now on, no more than ɹfteen minutes a
day.” You can imagine the response you might receive.
What if, instead, you waited until dinnertime, and once everyone
was at the table, you said,
“I know you’ve been getting to play
video games a lot lately, but that’s not really working very well. It
puts oʃ homework, and I also want to make sure you’re spending
time on other activities as well. So we need to come up with a new
plan. Any ideas?”
You will probably still experience resistance when you broach
the possibility of curtailing screen time. But you will have initiated
a discussion about the issue, and when your kids know that you’re
talking about cutting back, they’ll deɹnitely be invested in being a
part of the conversation to determine what limits will be set. You
can remind them that you will be making the ɹnal decision, but let
them see that you’re inviting their input because you respect them,
want to consider their feelings and desires, and believe they are
helpful problem solvers. Then, even if they don’t love the ɹnal call
you make, they’ll know they were at least considered.
The same would go for any number of other issues: “I know
we’ve been doing homework after dinner, but that’s not been
working well, so we need a new plan. Any ideas?” Or “I’ve noticed
that you’re not too happy about having to practice piano before
school in the mornings. Is there a diʃerent time when you’d feel
better about practicing? What would work for you?” Often they’ll
come up with the same solution you would have imposed on the
situation anyway. But they will have exercised their upstairs brain
to do so and felt your respect along the way.
One of the best results from involving kids in the discipline
process is that frequently they’ll come up with great new ideas for
solving a problem, ideas you hadn’t even considered. Plus, you
might be shocked to ɹnd out how much they are willing to bend to
bring about a peaceful resolution to a standoff.

Tina tells the story of a time when her four-year-old absolutely
had to have a treat—speciɹcally, a bag of fruit snacks—at ninethirty in the morning. She told him,
“Those fruit snacks are
delicious, aren’t they? You can have them after you have a good
lunch in a little while.”
He didn’t like Tina’s plan and began to cry and complain and
argue. She responded by saying,
“It’s really hard to wait, isn’t it?
You want the fruit snacks, and I want you to have a healthy lunch
first. Hmmm. Do you have any ideas?”
She saw his little cognitive wheels turn for a few seconds, then
his eyes got big with excitement. He called out,
“I know! I can
have one now and save the rest for after lunch!”
He felt empowered, the power struggle was averted, and Tina
was able to give him an opportunity to solve a problem. And all it
cost her was allowing him to have one fruit snack. Not such a big
deal.
Again, there are of course times that you can’t give any wiggle
room, and there may be times to allow your child to deal with a no
or give him the opportunity to learn about waiting or handling
disappointment. But usually when we involve the child in the
discipline, it results in a win-win solution.
Even with very young children, we want to involve them as
much as possible, asking them to reɻect on their actions and
consider how to avoid problems in the future: “Remember
yesterday, when you got angry? You’re not usually someone who
hits and kicks. What happened?” With questions like these, you
give your child the opportunity to practice reɻecting on her
behavior and developing self-insight. Granted, you may not get
great answers from a young child, but you’re laying the
groundwork. The point is to let her think about her own actions.
Then you can ask her what she can do diʃerently the next time
she gets so mad. Discuss what she would like you to do to help her
calm down. This type of conversation will deepen her
understanding of the importance of regulating emotions, honoring
relationships, planning ahead, expressing herself appropriately, and
on and on. It will also communicate how important her input and
ideas are to you. She’ll understand more and more that she’s an
individual, separate from you, and that you are interested in her
thoughts and feelings. Every time you involve your children in the
process of discipline, you strengthen the parent-child bond, while
also increasing the odds that they’ll handle themselves better in the
future.
Redirection Strategy #5: Reframe a No into a Conditional Yes
When you have to decline a request, it matters, once again, how
you say no. An out-and-out no can be much harder to accept than a
yes with conditions. No, especially if said in a harsh and dismissive
tone, can automatically activate a reactive state in a child (or
anyone). In the brain, reactivity can involve the impulse to ɹght,
ɻee, freeze, or, in extreme cases, faint. In contrast, a supportive
yes statement, even when not permitting a behavior, turns on the
social engagement circuitry, making the brain receptive to what’s
happening, making learning more likely, and promoting
connections with others.
This strategy will diʃer according to the age of your children. To
a toddler who is asking for more time at her grandmother’s when
it’s time to leave, you can say,
“Of course you can have more time
with Nana. We need to go now, but Nana, would it be OK if we
came back to your house this weekend?” The child may still have
trouble accepting no, but you’re helping her see that even though
she’s not getting exactly what she wants right now, she’ll be told
yes again before too long. The key is that you’ve identiɹed and
empathized with a feeling (the desire to be with Nana) while
creating structure and skill (acknowledging the need to leave now
and delaying the gratification of the desire).
Or if your son can’t get enough of the Thomas the Tank Engine
hands-on display at the local toy store and is unwilling to set down
Percy the Engine so you can exit the store, you can oʃer him a
conditional yes. Try something like,
“I know! Let’s take Percy up to
the saleswoman over there, and explain to her that you want her to
hold him for you and keep him safe until we come back for story
time on Tuesday.” The saleswoman will likely play along, and the
whole potential ɹasco can be avoided. What’s more, you’ll be
teaching your child to develop a prospective mind, to sense the
possibilities for the future and to imagine how to create future
actions to meet present needs. These are executive functions that,
when learned, can be skills that last a lifetime. You are oʃering
guidance to literally grow the important prefrontal circuits of
emotional and social intelligence.
Notice that this isn’t at all about protecting kids from being
frustrated or providing them with everything they want. On the
contrary, it’s about giving them practice at tolerating their
disappointment when things inevitably don’t go their way. They
aren’t attaining their desires in that moment, and you’re assisting
them as they manage their disappointment. You’re helping them
develop the resilience that will aid them every time they are told
no throughout their lives. You’re expanding their window of
tolerance for not getting their way and giving them practice at
delaying gratiɹcation. These are all prefrontal functions that
develop in your child as you parent with the brain in mind. Instead
of discipline simply leading to a feeling of being shut down, now
your child will know, from actual experiences with you, that the
limits you set often lead toward learning skills and imagining
future possibilities, not imprisonment and dismissal.
The strategy is eʃective for older children (and even adults) as
well. None of us like to be simply told no when we want
something, and depending on what else has been happening, a no
may even push us over the edge. So instead of oʃering an outright
refusal, we can say something like,
“There’s a lot happening today
and tomorrow, so yes, let’s invite your friend over, but let’s do it
on Friday, when you’ll have more time with him.” That’s a lot
easier to accept, and it gives a child practice in handling the
disappointment, as well as in delaying gratification.
Say, for instance, a group of your nine-year-old’s friends are
going to a concert to see the latest pop sensation, who, in your
opinion, represents all the things you want your daughter not to
emulate. Regardless of how you deliver the news, she’s not going
to be happy to hear that she’s not going to the concert. But you can
at least mitigate some of the drama by being proactive and getting
ahead of the curve on the issue.
You might, for example, ask her about upcoming concerts she’d
like to attend, and oʃer to take her and a friend to the movies in
the meantime. If you want to go the extra mile, you could even get
online and look for a diʃerent concert she’d be interested in
attending in the near future. Pay close attention to your tone of
voice. Particularly if you’re having to deny a child something she
really wants, it’s important that you avoid coming across as
patronizing or overly dogmatic in your opinion. Again, we’re not
saying this strategy will make everything easy and keep your child
from feeling angry, hurt, and misunderstood. But by coming up
with some sort of conditional yes, rather than a simple “No, you’re
not going,
” you at least decrease the reactivity and show your child
that you’re paying attention to her desires.
Granted, there are times we simply have to deliver the dreaded
outright no. But it’s more often the case that we can ɹnd ways to
avoid having to turn our kids down without at least ɹnding some
measure of a yes that we can also deliver. After all, the things kids
want are often the things we want for them, too—just at a
diʃerent time. They may want to read more stories, or play with
their friends, or eat ice cream, or play on the computer. These are
all activities we want them to enjoy at some point as well, so
usually we can easily find an alternative time to make it happen.
In fact, there’s an important place for negotiation in parent-child
interactions. This becomes more and more important as kids get
older. When your ten-year-old wants to stay up a little later and
you’ve said no, but then he points out that tomorrow is Saturday
and he promises to sleep an hour later than usual, that’s a good
time to at least rethink your position. Obviously, there are some
non-negotiables: “Sorry, but you can’t put your baby sister in the
dryer, even if you do line it with pillows.” But compromise isn’t a
sign of weakness; it’s evidence of respect for your child and his
desires. In addition, it gives him an opportunity for some pretty
complex thinking, equipping him with important skills about
considering not only what he wants, but also what others want,
and then making good arguments based on that information. And
it’s a lot more eʃective in the long run than just saying no without
considering other alternatives.
Redirection Strategy #6: Emphasize the Positive
Parents often forget that discipline doesn’t always have to be
negative. Yes, it’s usually the case that we’re disciplining because
something less than optimal has occurred; there’s a lesson that
needs to be learned or a skill that needs to be developed. But one
of the best ways to deal with misbehavior is to focus on the
positive aspects of what your kids are doing.
For example, think about that bane of parental existence,
whining. Who doesn’t get tired of hearing our kids shift to that
droning, complaining, singsong tone of voice that makes us grit our
teeth and want to cover our ears? Parents often respond by saying
something like,
“Stop whining!” Or maybe they’ll get creative and
say,
“Turn down the whine,
” or “What’s that? I don’t speak whine.
You’ll have to tell me in another language.”
We’re not saying these are the worst possible approaches. It’s a
problem, though, when we resort to negative responses, because it
gives all of our attention to the behavior we don’t want to see
repeated.
Instead, what if we emphasized the positive? Instead of “No
whining,
” we could say something like,
“I like it when you talk in
your normal voice. Can you say that again?” Or be even more
direct in teaching about eʃective communication: “Ask me again in
your powerful, big-boy voice.”
The same idea goes for other disciplinary situations. Instead of
focusing on what you don’t want (“Stop messing around and get
ready, you’re going to be late for school!”), emphasize what you do
want (“I need you to brush your teeth and ɹnd your backpack”).
Rather than highlighting the negative behavior (“No bike ride until
you try your green beans”), focus on the positive (“Have a few
bites of the green beans, and we’ll hop on the bikes”).

There are plenty of other ways to emphasize the positive when
you discipline. You may have heard the old suggestion to “catch”
your kids behaving well and making good decisions. Anytime you
see your older child, who’s usually so critical of her younger sister,
giving her a compliment, point it out: “I love it when you’re
encouraging like that.” Or if your sixth grader has had a hard time
getting his homework in on time, and you notice that he’s making a
special eʃort to work ahead on the report that’s due next week,
aɽrm him: “You’re really working hard, aren’t you? Thanks for
thinking ahead.” Or when your kids are laughing together rather
than ɹghting, make a point of it: “You two are really having fun. I
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In emphasizing the positive, you give your focus and attention to
the behaviors you want to see repeated. It’s a gentle way to also
encourage those behaviors in the future without the interaction
becoming about rewards or praise. Simply giving your attention to
your child and stating what you see can be a positive experience
unto itself.
We’re not saying you’re not going to have to address negative
behaviors as well. Of course you are. But as much as possible,
focus on the positive and allow your kids to understand, and to feel
from you, that you notice and appreciate when they’re making good
decisions and handling themselves well.
Redirection Strategy #7: Creatively Approach the Situation
One of the best tools to keep ready in your parenting toolbox is
creativity. As we’ve said time and again throughout the book,
there’s no one-size-ɹts-all discipline technique to use in every
situation. Instead, we’ve got to be willing and able to think on our
feet and come up with diʃerent ways to handle whatever issue
arises. As we put it in Chapter 5, parents need response ɻexibility,
which allows us to pause and consider various responses to a
situation, applying diʃerent approaches based on our own
parenting style and each individual child’s temperament and needs.
When we exercise response ɻexibility, we use our prefrontal
cortex, which is central to our upstairs brain and the skills of
executive functions. Engaging this part of our brain during a
disciplinary moment makes it far more likely that we’ll also be
able to conjure up empathy, attuned communication, and even the
ability to calm our own reactivity. If, on the other hand, we
become inflexible and remain on the rigid bank of the river, we
become much more reactive as parents and don’t handle ourselves
as well. Ever had that kind of moment? We have, too. Our
downstairs brain will take charge and run the show, allowing our
reactive brain circuitry to take over. That’s why it’s so important
that we strive for response ɻexibility and creativity, especially
when our kids are out of control or making bad decisions. Then we
can come up with creative and innovative ways to approach
difficult situations.
For example, humor is a powerful tool when a child is upset.
Especially with younger children, you can completely change the
dynamics of an interaction simply by talking in a silly voice, falling
down comically, or using some other form of slapstick. If you are
six years old and furious with your father, it’s not as easy to stay
mad at him if he’s just tripped over a toy in the living room and
enacted the longest, most drawn-out fall to the ground you’ve ever
seen. Likewise, leaving the park is a lot more fun if you get to
chase Mom to the car while she cackles and screams in pretend
fear. Being playful is a great way to break through a child’s bubble
of high emotion, so you can then help him gain control of himself.
It applies to interactions with older kids, too; you just have to be
more subtle, and willing to receive an eye roll or two. If your
eleven-year-old is on the couch, less than inclined to join you and
his younger siblings in a board game, you can shift the mood by
playfully sitting on him. Again, this has to be done in a considerate
way and ɹt with his personality and mood, but a playfully
apologetic “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there” can at least draw
a pretend-frustrated “Daaaad” and, again, change the dynamics of
the situation.
One reason this type of playfulness and humor can be eʃective
with kids—and adults as well, by the way—is that the brain loves
novelty. If you can introduce the brain to something it hasn’t seen
before, something it didn’t expect, it will give that something its
attention. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective:
something that’s diʃerent from what we usually see will pique our
interest on a primitive and automatic level. After all, the brain’s
ɹrst task is to appraise any situation for safety. Its attention
immediately goes to whatever is unique, novel, unexpected, or
diʃerent, so that it can assess whether the new element in its
environment is safe or not. The appraisal centers of the brain ask,
“Is this important? Do I need to pay attention here? Is this good or
bad? Do I move toward it or away from it?” This attention to
novelty is a key reason that humor and silliness can be so eʃective
in a disciplinary moment. Also, a respectful sense of humor
communicates the absence of threat, which allows our social
engagement circuitry to engage, which in turn opens us up to
connect with others. Creative responses to disciplinary situations
prompt our kids’ brains to ask these questions, become more
receptive, and give us their full attention.
Creativity comes in handy in all kinds of other ways, too. Let’s
say your preschooler is using a word you don’t like. Maybe she’s
saying things are “stupid.” You’ve tried ignoring it, but you keep
hearing the word. You’ve tried rephrasing it with a more
acceptable synonym—“You’re right, those swim goggles are just
wacky, aren’t they?”—but she keeps saying the goggles are stupid.
If ignoring and re-languaging don’t turn out to be eʃective
strategies, then instead of forbidding the word—you know how
well that works—get creative. One gifted preschool director came
up with an inspired way to address the use of the word. Anytime
he heard a child say something was stupid, he would explain, in a
matter-of-fact tone, that the word is really only meant to be used
in a particular context: “ ‘Stupid’ is such a great word, isn’t it? But
I’m afraid you’re using it wrong, my dear. You see, that’s a very
particular word that’s really meant to be used only when talking to
baby chickens. It’s sort of a farm word. Let’s come up with another
term to use in this situation.”
There are plenty of ways to approach a situation like this. You
might suggest devising a code word that means “stupid,
” so that
you two share a secret language that no one else understands.
Maybe the new term could be “glooby” or some other fun word to
say, or it could even be a hand signal you make up together. The
point is that you ɹnd a way to creatively redirect your child
toward behavior that will work better for everyone involved, and
even give you a fun sense of connection.
Let’s acknowledge one thing, though: sometimes you don’t feel
like being creative. It feels like it takes too much energy. Or maybe
you’re not too happy with your kids because of the way they’re
acting, so you’re not exactly thrilled with the idea of mustering the
energy to help them shift their mood or see things in a new light.
In other words, sometimes you just don’t want to be playful and
fun. You want them to just get in the car seat without a song and
dance! You want them to just put on their stinking shoes! You want
them to just get their homework done, or turn oʃ the video game,
or stop fighting, or whatever!
We get it. Boy, do we get it.
However, compare the two options. The ɹrst is to be creative,
which often demands more energy and goodwill than we can easily
muster when we don’t like the way our kids are acting. Ugh.
The other option, though, is to continue to have to participate in
whatever battle the discipline situation has created. Double ugh.
Doesn’t it usually end up taking much more time and much more
energy to engage in the battle? The fact is, we can often completely
avoid the battle by simply taking just a few seconds to come up with an
idea that’s fun and playful.
So the next time you see trouble coming with your kids, or if
there is a particular issue that you typically end up battling over,
think about your two options. Ask yourself: “Do I really want the
drama that’s on the horizon?” If not, try playfulness. Be silly. Even
if you don’t feel like it, muster up the energy to be creative.
Sidestep the drama that sucks the life out of you and takes the fun
out of your relationship with your child. We promise, this option is
more fun for everyone.
Redirection Strategy #8: Teach Mindsight Tools
The ɹnal redirection strategy we’ll discuss is perhaps the most
revolutionary. You’ll recall that mindsight is all about seeing our
own minds, as well as the minds of others, and promoting
integration in our lives. Once kids begin to develop the personal
insight that allows them to see and observe their own minds, they
can then learn to use that insight to handle difficult situations.
We discussed this idea in detail in our previous book, The WholeBrain Child, focusing on several Whole-Brain strategies parents can
use to help their children integrate their brains and develop
mindsight. As we’ve taught the fundamentals of that book to
audiences of parents, therapists, and educators, we’ve further
refined those ideas.
The overall point of this ɹnal redirection strategy is one that
even small children can understand, although older kids can
obviously grasp the message in more depth: You don’t have to get
stuck in a negative experience. You don’t have to be a victim to
external events, or internal emotions. You can use your mind to take
charge of how you feel, and how you act.
We realize that this is an extraordinary promise to make. But we
are enthusiastic about this approach because of how it has worked
for so many people through the years. Parents really can teach
their kids and themselves mindsight tools that will help them
weather emotional storms and deal more eʃectively with diɽcult
experiences, thus leading them to make better decisions and enjoy
less chaos and drama when they are upset. We can help our children
increasingly have a say in how they feel, and in how they look at the
world. Not through some mysterious, mystical process available
only to the gifted, but by using emerging knowledge about the
brain and applying it in simple, logical, practical ways.
For example, you may have heard about the famous Stanford
marshmallow experiment from the 1960s and 1970s. Young
children were brought into a room one at a time, and a researcher
invited them to sit down at a table. On the table was a
marshmallow, and the researcher explained that he would leave
the room for a few minutes. If the child resisted the temptation to
eat the marshmallow while he was gone, he would give the child
two marshmallows when he returned.
The results were predictably hilarious and adorable. Search
online and you can view video of numerous replications of the
study, which show children variously closing their eyes, covering
their mouths, turning their back to the marshmallow, stroking it
like a stuʃed animal, slyly nibbling at the corners of the
marshmallow, and so on. Some children even grab the sugary treat
and eat it before the researcher can ɹnish delivering the
instructions.
Much has been written about this study and follow-up
experiments focusing on children’s ability to delay gratiɹcation,
demonstrate self-control, apply strategic reasoning, and so on.
Researchers have found that kids who demonstrated the ability to
wait longer before eating the marshmallow tended to have many
improved life outcomes as they grew up, such as doing better in
school, scoring higher on the SAT, and being more physically fit.
The application we want to highlight here is what a recent study
revealed about how children could use mindsight tools to be more
successful at delaying gratiɹcation. Researchers found that if they
provided the kids with mental tools that gave them a perspective
or strategy to assist in containing their impulse to eat the
marshmallow—thus helping them manage their emotions and
desires in that moment—the children were much more successful at
demonstrating self-control. In fact, when the researchers taught the
kids to imagine that it wasn’t an actual marshmallow in front of
them, but instead only a picture of a marshmallow, they were able
to wait much longer than the kids who weren’t given any strategies
to help them wait! In other words, simply by using a simple
mindsight tool, the children were able to more eʃectively manage
their emotions, impulses, and actions.
You can do the same for your kids. If you’ve read The WholeBrain Child, you know about the hand model of the brain. Here’s
how we introduced it in a “Whole-Brain Kids” cartoon for parents
to read to their children.

Dan recently received an email from a school principal about a
new kindergarten student who was struggling. The child’s teacher
had taught her class the hand model of the brain, and she saw
immediate results:
Yesterday a teacher came to me very concerned about
the behavior of a new kindergarten student. He had just
come to our school, and he was crawling under tables
and saying he hated everything. (He is living with a
family member, as his mom is incarcerated, and now
he’s had to leave a teacher he really liked.)
Today our teacher retaught Brain-in-the-Hand. This
was new to him. He was under the table most of the
time while she taught. Soon after, he motioned to her,
showed the ɻipped lid with his hand, and, on his own,
went to the cool-off spot for a long time. (He almost fell
asleep.)
When he ɹnally got up, he approached her while she
was teaching, pointed to his hand/brain with his lid
closed, and joined the group.
After a bit she complimented him for his
participation, and he said,
“I know. I told you.” And he
pointed to his hand/brain with the lid closed.
It was a huge moment, and she and I celebrated for
him that he must really have needed that language!
Later today I went in during choice time and played
“restaurant” with him. At one point he took a single
ɻower out of a vase and handed it to me. My heart
melted. Yesterday his teacher was comparing him to a
child who truly struggles. Today he’s seeking every
opportunity to connect with us. I’m so thankful that
we’re learning this.
What did this teacher do? She gave her student a mindsight tool.
She helped him develop a strategy for understanding and
expressing what was happening around and within him, so he could
then make intentional choices about how to respond.
Another way to say it is that we want to help kids develop a dual
mode of processing the events that occur in their lives. The ɹrst mode
is all about teaching children to be aware of and simply sense their
subjective experiences. In other words, when they’re dealing with
something diɽcult, we don’t want them to deny that experience,
or to squelch their emotions about it. We want them to talk about
what’s going on as they describe their inner experience,
communicating what they’re feeling and seeing in that moment.
That’s the ɹrst mode of processing: to simply acknowledge and be
present with the experience. This teacher, in other words, didn’t
want this little boy to deny how he was feeling. His feeling was his
experience, and this “experiencing mode” is all about simply
sensing inner subjective experience as it is happening.
But also we want our kids to be able to observe what’s going on
within them, and how the experience is impacting them. Brain
studies reveal that we actually have two diʃerent circuits—an
experiencing circuit and an observing circuit. They are diʃerent,
but each is important, and integrating them means building both
and then linking them. We want our kids to not only feel their
feelings and sense their sensations, but also to be able to notice
how their body feels, to be able to witness their own emotions. We
want them to pay attention to their emotions (“I’m noticing that
I’m feeling kind of sad,
” or “My frustration isn’t grape-size right
now; it’s like a watermelon!”). We want to teach them to survey
themselves, and then problem-solve based on this awareness of
their internal state.
That’s what this boy did. He both lived in his experience and
observed it. This allowed him to own what was going on. He had
the perspective to be able to observe his experience as he was
experiencing it. He could bear witness to the unfolding of
experience, not just be in the experience. And then he could narrate
what had happened, using language to express to others and to
himself an understanding of what was going on. Using the hand
model as his tool, he surveyed himself and recognized that he had
“ɻipped his lid,
” and he took steps in response, thus changing his
internal state. Then when he was back in control of his emotions,
he rejoined the group.
We see kids and parents in our work who become stuck in an
experience they’re dealing with. Of course they need to deal with
what’s happened to them. But that’s only one mode of processing.
They also need to look at and think about what’s going on. They
need to use mindsight tools to become aware of and observe,
almost like a reporter, what is happening. One way to explain it is
that we want them to be the actor, experiencing the scene in the
moment, but also to be the director, who watches more objectively
and can, from outside the scene, be more insightful about what’s
taking place on camera.
When we teach kids to be both actor and director—to embrace
the experience and also to survey and observe what’s happening
within themselves—we give them important tools that help them
take charge of how they respond to situations they’re faced with. It
allows them to say,
“I hate tests! My heart is pounding, and I’m
starting to freak out!” but then also to observe,
“That’s not weird. I
really want to do well on it. But I don’t have to freak out. I just
need to skip that TV show tonight and put in some extra study
time.”
Again, this is about teaching kids that they don’t have to be stuck
in an experience. They can also be observers and therefore change
agents. Let’s say, for example, that the child described above
remains overly concerned about tomorrow’s test. He begins a
cascade of worrying that takes him into a spiral of panic about the
test and his semester grade, and what that might mean in terms of
graduating with the right GPA to get into a good college.
This would be a great time for his parents to teach him that he
can change his emotions and his thinking by moving his body, or
simply by altering his physical posture. In The Whole-Brain Child,
we call this particular mindsight tool the “move it or lose it”
technique. The boy’s parents could have him sit “like a noodle,

completely relaxed and “ɻoppy,
” for a couple of minutes. They all
could then observe together how his feelings, thoughts, and body
began to feel diʃerent. (It really is amazing how eʃective this
particular strategy can be when we’re tense.) Then they could go
back and talk about the exam from an “unstuck place” where he
could see that he had some options.
There are limitless ways you can teach your kids about the
power of the mind. Explain the concept of shark music, and have a
conversation about what experiences from the past might be
impacting their decision making. Or explain the river of well-being.
Show them the picture from Chapter 3, and walk them through a
discussion of a recent experience when they were especially chaotic
or rigid. Or when they are feeling scared about something, tell
them,
“Show me what your body looks like when you’re brave, and
let’s see what that feels like.” Recent studies are suggesting that
simply holding our bodies in various postures can actually shift our
emotions, along with the way we view the world.
Opportunities to teach mindsight tools are everywhere. In the
car, when your nine-year-old is upset about an important shot she
missed in her basketball game, direct her attention to the splotches
on your windshield. Say something like,
“Each spot on the
windshield is something that has happened or will happen this
month. This one here is your basketball game. That’s real, and I
know you’re upset. I’m glad you’re able to be aware of your
feelings. But look at all the other splotches on the windshield. This
one here is the party this weekend. You’re pretty excited about
that, aren’t you? And that one next to it represents your math
grade from yesterday. Remember how proud you felt?” Then
continue the conversation, putting the missed shot into context
with her other experiences.
The point of an exercise like this isn’t to tell your daughter not to
worry about her basketball game. Not at all. We want to encourage
our kids to feel their feelings, and to share them with us. The
sensing mode that lets us experience directly is an important mode
of processing. But along the way, we want to give them perspective
and help them understand that they can focus their attention on
other aspects of their reality. This comes from having our observing
circuits well developed, too, not just our sensing circuits. It’s not a
matter of one or the other. Both are important, and together they
make a great team. That’s one way we can help our kids develop
integration by diʃerentiating and then linking their sensing and
absorbing capacities. Having built both circuits, our kids can use
their minds to think about things other than what’s upsetting them
in a particular moment, and as a result, they see the world
diʃerently and feel better. When we teach our kids mindsight
tools, we give them the gift of being able to regulate their
emotions, rather than being ruled by them, so they don’t have to
remain victims of their environment or their emotions.
The next time a discipline opportunity comes up in your house,
introduce your kids to some mindsight tools. Or use one of the
other redirection strategies we’ve presented here. You might have
to try several diʃerent approaches. No one strategy will apply in
every situation. But if you work from a No-Drama, Whole-Brain
perspective that ɹrst connects, then redirects, you can more
eʃectively achieve the primary goals of discipline: gaining
cooperation in the moment and building your children’s brains so
they can be kind and responsible people who enjoy successful
relationships and meaningful lives.
W
CONCLUSION
On Magic Wands, Being Human, Reconnection,
and Change: Four Messages of Hope
e’ve emphasized throughout this book that No-Drama
Discipline allows for a much calmer and more loving
disciplinary interaction. We’ve also said that a No-Drama, WholeBrain approach not only is better for your children, their future,
and your relationship with them, but actually makes discipline
more eʃective and your life easier as well, since it increases the
cooperation you’ll receive from your kids.
Still, even with the best ambitions and the most intentional
methods, sometimes everyone walks away from a disciplinary
interaction feeling angry, confused, and frustrated. In our closing
pages, we want to oʃer four messages of hope and solace for those
diɽcult moments we all inevitably face at one time or another as
we discipline our children.
First Message of Hope: There Is No Magic Wand
One day Tina’s seven-year-old became furious with her because she
told him it wouldn’t work that day to invite a friend over to play.
He stormed oʃ to his room and slammed the door. Less than a
minute later, she heard the door open, then slam again.
Here’s how Tina tells the story.
I went to check on my son, and taped to the outside of
his door, I saw this picture.
(You can see from the drawing below that he regularly
uses his artistic talents to communicate his feelings
about his parents.)
I went into his room and saw what I knew I’d see: a
child-size lump under the covers on his bed. I sat next to
the lump and put my hand on what I assumed was a
shoulder, and suddenly the lump moved away from me,
toward the wall. From beneath the covers, my son cried
out,
“Get away from me!”
At times like this I can become childish and drop
down to my child’s level. I’ve even been known to say
things like,
“Fine! If you won’t let me cut that toenail
that’s hurting, you can stay in pain all week!”
But this particular day, I maintained control and
handled myself pretty well, trying to address the
situation from a Whole-Brain perspective. I ɹrst tried to
connect by acknowledging his feelings: “I know it
makes you mad that Ryan can’t come over today.”
His response? “Yes, and I hate you!”
I stayed calm and said,
“Sweetie, I know this is
upsetting, but there’s just not time to have Ryan over
today. We’re meeting your grandparents for dinner in a
little while.”
In response, he curled tighter and moved as far away
from me as possible. “I said get away from me!”
I went through a series of strategies, the ones we’ve
been discussing in the previous chapters. I comforted,
using nonverbal connection. I tried to relate to his
changing, changeable, complex brain. I chased the why
and thought about the how of my communication. I
validated his feelings. I tried to engage in a
collaborative dialogue and reframed my no, oʃering a
playdate the next day. But at that moment, he couldn’t
calm down and wasn’t ready to let me help him in any
way. No amount of connection did the trick.
Moments like these highlight a reality that’s important for
parents to understand: sometimes there’s just nothing we can do to
“ɹx” things when our kids are having a hard time. We can work to
stay calm and loving. We can be fully present. We can access the
full measure of our creativity. And still, we may not be able to
make things better right away. Sometimes all we have to oʃer is
our presence as our children move through the emotions. When
kids clearly communicate that they want to be alone, we can
respect what they feel they need in order to calm down.
This doesn’t mean we’d leave a child crying alone in his room for
long periods of time. And it doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying
diʃerent strategies when our child needs our help. In Tina’s case,
she ended up sending her husband into her son’s room, and the
change of dynamic helped him begin to calm some, so that later he
and his mom could come back together and talk about what
happened. But for a few minutes, all Tina could do was say,
“I’m
here if you need me,
” then leave him in his room for a few
minutes, shut the door with the anti-Mom sign on it, and let him
ride it out the way he needed to, on his own timing and in his own
way.
The same goes for sibling conɻict. The ideal is to help each
sibling return to a good state of mind, then work with them,
individually or together, and teach them good relational and
conversation skills. But there are times this just isn’t possible. If
even just one of them is emotionally dysregulated, it can prevent
anything like a peaceful resolution, since reactivity is trumping
receptivity. Sometimes the best you can do is separate them until
you can all come together again once everyone has calmed down.
And if cruel fate decrees that you’re all trapped in the minivan
when the conɻict erupts, you may just need to explicitly
acknowledge that things are not going well and turn up the music.
In doing so, you’re not surrendering. You’re just acknowledging
that at this moment, eʃective discipline isn’t going to happen. In
cases like this, you can say,
“This isn’t a good time for us to talk
this through. You’re both mad, and I’m mad, so let’s just listen to
some Fleetwood Mac.” (OK, maybe that’s not the best choice in
music to win your kids over, but you get the idea.)
We, Dan and Tina, are both trained child and adolescent
psychotherapists who write books about parenting. People come to
us for advice on how to handle problems when their kids are
struggling. And we want to make it clear that for us, like you, there
are times when there just isn’t a magic wand we can wave to
magically transport our kids to peace and happiness. Sometimes the
best we can do is to communicate our love, be available when they
do want us close, and then talk about the situation when they’re
ready. It’s just like the Serenity Prayer says: “May I have the
courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things
I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
So that’s our ɹrst message as we conclude the book: sometimes
there’s no magic wand. And it doesn’t make you a bad parent if you
do your best, and your child stays upset.
Second Message of Hope: Your Kids Benefit Even When You Mess Up
Just as it doesn’t make you a bad parent if your discipline
techniques aren’t always eʃective in the moment, you’re also not a
bad parent if you make mistakes on a regular basis. What you are
is human.
The fact is that none of us are perfect, especially when it comes
time to deal with our kids’ behavior. Sometimes we handle
ourselves well and feel proud of how loving, understanding, and
patient we remain. At other times, we lower ourselves to our kids’
level and resort to the childishness that upset us in the first place.
Our second message of hope is that when you respond to your
kids from a less-than-optimal place, you can take heart: most likely
you’re still providing them with all kinds of valuable experiences.
For example, have you ever found yourself so frustrated with
your kids that you call out, a good bit louder than you need to,
“That’s it! The next one who complains about where they’re sitting
in the car can walk!” Or maybe, when your eight-year-old pouts
and complains all the way to school because you made her practice
the piano, you deliver these sarcastic and biting words as she
departs the minivan: “I hope you have a great day, now that you’ve
ruined the whole morning.”
Obviously, these aren’t examples of optimal parenting. And if
you’re like us, you can be hard on yourself for the times you don’t
handle things like you wish you had.
So here’s hope: those not-so-great parenting moments are not
necessarily such bad things for our kids to have to go through. In
fact, they’re actually incredibly valuable.
Why? Because our messy, human, parental responses give kids
opportunities to deal with diɽcult situations and therefore develop
new skills. They have to learn to control themselves even though
their parent isn’t doing such a great job of controlling herself. Then
they get to see you model how to apologize and make things right.
They experience that when there is conɻict and argument, there
can be repair, and things become good again. This helps them feel
safe and not so afraid in future relationships; they learn to trust,
and even expect, that calm and connection will follow conɻict.
Plus, they learn that their actions aʃect other people’s emotions
and behavior. Finally, they see that you’re not perfect, so they
won’t expect themselves to be, either. That’s a lot of important
lessons to learn from one parent’s loud, impulsive declaration that
he’s sending back all the presents because his kids complained
about having to help put up the holiday decorations.
Abuse, of course, is diʃerent, whether physical or psychological.
Or if you’re signiɹcantly harming the relationship or scaring your
child, then the experience can result in substantially harmful
eʃects. These are toxic ruptures, and ruptures without repair. If
you ɹnd yourself in that situation repeatedly, you should seek the
help of a professional right away in order to make whatever
changes are necessary so that your children are safe and know that
they are protected.
But as long as you nurture the relationship and repair with your
child afterward (more about that below), then you can cut yourself
some slack and know that even though you might wish you’d done
things diʃerently, you’ve still given your child a valuable
experience, by learning the importance of repair and reconnection.
We hope it’s obvious that we’re not saying that parents should
intentionally rupture a connection or that we shouldn’t aim for the
best when we respond to our kids in a high-stress situation (or any
other time). The more loving and nurturing we can be, the better.
Those non-ideal moments of non-optimal interactions will happen
to all of us, even those of us who write books on this subject.
We’re just saying that we can oʃer grace and forgiveness to
ourselves when we’re not acting as we’d like to, because even
those situations provide moments of value as well. Having a goal,
an intention in mind, is important. And being kind to ourselves,
having self-compassion, is essential not only to create an internal
sanctuary, but also to oʃer our children a role model for being
kind to themselves as well as to others. These experiences with us
give our kids opportunities to learn important lessons that will
prepare them for future conɻict and relationships, and even teach
them how to love. How’s that for hope?
Third Message of Hope: You Can Always Reconnect
There’s no way we can avoid experiencing conɻict with our kids.
It’s going to happen, sometimes multiple times per day.
Misunderstandings, arguments, conɻicting desires, and other
breakdowns in communication will lead to a rupture in the
relationship. Ruptures can result from conɻict around a limit that
you’re setting. Maybe you decide to enforce a bedtime or keep
your child from seeing a movie you’ve decided isn’t good for him.
Or maybe your daughter thinks you’re taking her sister’s side in an
argument, or she gets frustrated that you won’t play another game
of Chutes and Ladders.
Whatever the reason, ruptures occur. Sometimes they are bigger,
sometimes smaller. But there’s no way to avoid them. Each child
presents a unique challenge to maintaining attuned connection, one
that depends on our own issues, on our child’s temperament, on the
match between our history and our child’s characteristics, and on
whom our child may remind us of in our own un-worked-through
past.
In most of our adult relationships, if we mess up, we eventually
own up to it, or address it in some way, and then make amends.
But many parents, when it comes to their relationship with their
child, just ignore the rupture and never address it. This can be
confusing and hurtful for children, just like it can be for adults. Can
you imagine someone you care about being reactive and talking to
you really rudely, then never bringing it up again and just
pretending it never happened? That wouldn’t feel great, would it?
It’s the same for our kids.
What’s key, then, is that you repair any breach in the
relationship as quickly as possible. You want to restore a
collaborative, nurturing connection with your child. Ruptures
without repair leave both parent and child feeling disconnected.
And if that disconnection is prolonged—and especially if it’s
associated with your anger, hostility, or rage—then toxic shame
and humiliation can grow in the child, damaging her emerging
sense of self and her state of mind about how relationships work.
It’s therefore vital that we make a timely reconnection with our
kids after there’s been a rupture.
It’s our responsibility as parents to do this. Maybe we reconnect
by granting forgiveness, or by asking for it (“I’m sorry. I think I
was just reacting because I’m extra tired today. But I know I didn’t
handle myself very well. I’ll listen if you want to talk about what
that was like for you”). Maybe laughter’s involved, maybe tears
(“Well, that didn’t go very well, did it? Anyone care to play back
for me how crazy I was?”). Maybe there’s just a quick
acknowledgment (“I didn’t handle that how I would have liked.
Will you forgive me?”). However it happens, make it happen. By
repairing and reconnecting as soon as we can, and in a sincere and
loving manner, we reconnect and send the message that the
relationship matters more than whatever caused the conɻict. Plus,
in reconnecting with our kids, we model for them a crucial skill
that will allow them to enjoy much more meaningful relationships
as they grow up.
So that’s the third message of hope: we can always reconnect.
Even though there’s no magic wand, our kids will eventually soften
and calm down. They’ll eventually be ready to sense our positive
intentions and receive our love and comfort. When they do, we
reconnect. And even though we’re going to mess up as parents over
and over again because we are human, we can always go to our
kids and repair the breach.
In the end, then, it all comes back to connection. Yes, we want
to redirect. We want to teach. Our children need us to help them
learn how to focus their desires in positive ways; how to recognize
and deal with limits and boundaries; how to discover what it
means to be human and to be moral, ethical, empathic, kind, and
giving. So yes, redirection is crucial. But ultimately, it’s your
relationship with your child that must always stay at the forefront
of your mind. Put any particular behavior on the back burner, and
keep your relationship with your child always on the front burner. Once
that relationship has been ruptured in any way, reconnect as soon
as possible.
Fourth Message of Hope: It’s Never Too Late to Make a Positive
Change
Our ɹnal message for you is the most hopeful of all: it’s never too
late to make a positive change. Having read this book, you may
now feel that your discipline approach up to this point has at least
partially run counter to what’s best for your children. Perhaps you
feel that you’re undermining your relationship with them by the
way you discipline. Or maybe you realize that you’re overlooking
and missing out on opportunities to build the parts of their brains
that will help them achieve optimal growth. You might now see
that you’re using disciplinary strategies that are simply not
eʃective, are just contributing to more drama and frustration in
your family, and are actually keeping you from enjoying your kids
because you end up having to deal with the same behaviors over
and over.
If any of that’s the case, have hope. It’s not too late.
Neuroplasticity, as we’ve said, shows us that the brain is amazingly
changeable and adaptive across a lifetime. You can change the way
you discipline at any age—yours or your child’s. No-Drama
Discipline shows you how. Not by oʃering a formula to follow. Not
by providing a magic wand that will solve every problem and make
you a parent who never misses the mark. The hope comes in that
you now have principles that can guide you toward disciplining
your children in ways you can feel good about. You now have
access to strategies that actually sculpt the brain in positive ways,
allow your kids to be emotionally intelligent and make good
choices, strengthen your relationship with them, and help them
become the kind of people you want them to be.
When you respond to your kids with connection—even and
especially when they do something that frustrates you—you put
your primary focus not on punishment or obedience, but on
honoring both your child and the relationship. So the next time
your toddler throws a tantrum, your second grader punches his
sister, or your middle schooler talks back, you can choose to
respond in a No-Drama, Whole-Brain fashion. You can begin with
connection, then move on to redirection strategies that teach kids
personal insight, relational empathy, and the importance of taking
responsibility for the times they mess up.
Along the way, you can be more intentional about how you
activate certain circuits of your kids’ brains. Neurons that ɹre
together wire together. The circuitry that is repeatedly activated
will be strengthened and further developed. So the question is,
which part of your kids’ brains do you want to strengthen?
Discipline with harshness, shouting, arguments, punishment, and
rigidity, and you’ll activate the downstairs, reactive part of your
child’s brain, strengthening that circuitry and priming it to be easily
activated. Or discipline with calm, loving connection, and you’ll
activate the reɻective, receptive, regulating mindsight circuitry,
strengthening and developing the upstairs section of the brain to
create insight, empathy, integration, and repair. Right now, in this
moment, you can commit to giving your children these valuable tools.
You can help them develop this increased capacity to regulate
themselves, to make good choices, and to handle themselves well—even
in challenging times, and even when you’re not around.
You’re not going to be perfect, and you’re not going to discipline
from a No-Drama, Whole-Brain perspective every time you get the
chance. Neither do we. Nobody does.
But you can decide that you’ll take steps in that direction. And
every step you take, you’ll give your kids the gift of a parent who
is increasingly committed to their lifelong success and happiness,
and to making them happy, healthy, and fully themselves.
Further Resources
Click here to download a PDF of Connect and Redirect Refrigerator
Sheet
CONNECT AND REDIRECT REFRIGERATOR SHEET
No-Drama Discipline
by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
FIRST, CONNECT
• Why connect first?
• Short-term benefit: It moves a child from reactivity to
receptivity.
• Long-term benefit: It builds a child’s brain.
• Relational benefit: It deepens your relationship with your
child.
• 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: Instead of focusing only on behavior, look
for what’s behind the actions:
“Why is my child acting this
way? What is my child communicating?”
• Think about the how: What you say is important. But just
as important, if not more important, is how you say it.
• 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 even 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.
THEN, REDIRECT
• 1-2-3 discipline, the No-Drama way
• One definition: Discipline is teaching. Ask the three
questions:
1. Why did my child act this way? (What was happening
internally/emotionally?)
2. What lesson do I want to teach?
3. How can I best teach it?
• 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 reɻecting 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
J
WHEN A PARENTING EXPERT LOSES IT
You’re Not the Only One
ust because we write books about parenting and discipline
doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we mess up with our own
kids. Here are two stories—one from each of us—that, while pretty
funny in retrospect, show that the reactive brain can get us all.
Dan’s “Crepes of Wrath” Moment (adapted from Dan’s book
Mindsight)
One day my thirteen-year-old son, my nine-year-old daughter, and
I stopped into a small shop for a snack after a movie. My daughter
said she wasn’t hungry, and so my son ordered a small crepe for
himself from the counter and we sat down. The simple crepe
arrived, aromas wafting from the open kitchen behind the counter
where my son had placed his order. After my son took his ɹrst
forkful of crepe, my daughter asked if she could try some. My son
looked at the small crepe and said that he was hungry and she
could order her own. It was a reasonable suggestion, I thought, so I
oʃered to get another crepe for her—but she said she wanted only
a small bite to see how it tasted. That also seemed reasonable, so I
suggested that my son share a piece with his sister.
If you have more than one child at home, or if you’ve grown up
with a brother or sister, you may be very familiar with the game of
sibling chess, an ever-present strategy match composed of
movements aimed to assert power and achieve parental recognition
and approval. But even if this was not such a sibling assertion
game, the small cost of buying the additional crepe from this little
family-run crepe shop would have been quite a simple one to pay
to avoid what you may guess was about to happen. Instead of
making the purchase, I made a parental blunder and took sides in
this sibling game. I ɹrmly insisted that my son share his crepe with
his sister. If this was not a sibling chess match before, it certainly
became one after I stepped into their interaction.
“Why don’t you just give her a small piece so she can see how it
tastes?” I urged.
He looked at me, then at his crepe, and with a sigh he gave in.
Even as a young teenager he was still listening to me. Then, using
his knife like a scalpel, he extracted the smallest piece of crepe you
can imagine, one you’d almost need tweezers to pick up. Under
other circumstances, I might have laughed and seen this as a
creative move in the sibling chess game.
My daughter took the specimen, placed it on her napkin, and
said that it was too small. And that it was “the burnt part.” Another
great younger-sister move.
An outsider looking in at us at the table may have seen nothing
out of the ordinary: a dad and his two animated kids out for some
food. But inside, I was about to explode. When the bantering
continued, turning into a full-blown argument, something inside me
shifted. My head began to spin, but I told myself that I’d remain
calm and appeal to reason. I could feel my face tense up, my ɹsts
get taut, and my heart begin to beat faster, but I tried to ignore
these signals that my downstairs brain was hijacking the upstairs.
That was it for me.
Feeling overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of the whole
encounter, I got up, took my daughter’s hand, and went outside to
wait on the sidewalk in front of the shop until my son ɹnished his
crepe. A few minutes later he emerged and asked why we had left.
As I stormed oʃ toward the car, my daughter in tow and my son
hurrying to keep up, I told them that they should learn to share
their food with each other. He pointed out in a matter-of-fact tone
that he did give her a piece, but by then I was boiling over with
frustration, and at that point there was no turning oʃ the heat
under the kettle. We got to the car, and, ɹred up, I ignited the
engine and away we went toward home. They had been normal
siblings out for movies and a snack. I became a father out of my
mind.
I couldn’t let it go. Sitting next to me in the passenger seat, my
son countered everything I came up with by some rational,
measured response, as any teenager would do. In fact, he seemed
quite adept at staying calm as he dealt with his now irrational
father.
In that state, I became more and more irate, eventually resorting
to cursing, calling him names, and even threatening to take away
his beloved guitar—all inappropriate consequences for things he
didn’t even do.
I’m not proud to tell you any of this. But Tina and I do feel that
since such explosive episodes are quite common, it is essential that
we acknowledge their existence and help each other understand
how mindsight can diminish their negative impact on our
relationships and on our world. In our shame, we often try to
ignore that a meltdown has occurred. But if we own the truth of
what has happened, we can not only begin to repair the damage—
which can be quite toxic to ourselves as well as to others—but
actually decrease the intensity of such events and the frequency
with which they occur.
So when I got home, I realized that I needed to calm down and
connect with my son. I knew repair was crucial, but my vital signs
were through the roof, and I had to bring them into balance before
doing anything else. Knowing that being outside and exercising
could help alter my state of mind, I went skating with my
daughter, during which time she helped me regain mindsight. I
achieved more personal insight (recognizing that I reacted to my
son the way I did at least partially because I was unconsciously
identifying him with my own older brother) and empathy for how
my son experienced our encounter.
When I ɹnally cooled down after talking and skating and
reɻecting, I went to my son’s room and asked if we could talk. I
said that I thought I had gone oʃ the deep end, and that it would
be helpful for us to discuss what had happened. He told me that he
thought I was too protective of his sister. He was absolutely right.
Although the embarrassment of having become irrational created
an urge to speak up to defend myself and my reactions, I just kept
quiet. My son went on to tell me that my getting “upset” was
unnecessary because he really hadn’t done anything wrong. He was
right. Again I felt a defensive urge to lecture him about sharing.
But I reminded myself to remain reɻective and focus on my son’s
experience, not mine. The essential stance here was not to judge
who was right, but to be accepting and receptive to him. You can
imagine that this all required mindsight, for sure. I was thankful
my prefrontal region was back at work.
After listening to him, I acknowledged that I had in fact taken his
sister’s side (unfairly), that I could see how this felt unjust to him,
and that my explosion seemed irrational—because in fact it was. As
an explanation—not an excuse—I let him know what had happened
in my mind, seeing him as a symbol of my brother, so that we both
could make sense of the whole encounter. Even though I probably
looked awkward and clumsy in his teenage mind, I could tell that
he knew my commitment to our relationship was deep and my
eʃort to repair the damage was genuine. My mindsight had
returned, our two minds connected again, and our relationship was
back on track.
Tina Threatens an Amputation
When my oldest child was three years old, he hit me one day. As a
young and idealistic parent who, at that time, believed that my
best alternative was to have a rational conversation with a threeyear-old in which he would magically see things from my point of
view, I guided him to the bottom of our stairway, sat next to him,
and smiled. I lovingly (and naively) said,
“Hands are for helping
and loving, not for hurting.”
While I was uttering this truism, he hit me again.
So I tried the empathy approach. Still naive, my voice perhaps
sounding a bit less loving, I said,
“Ouch! That hurts Mommy. Be
gentle with my body.”
At which point he hit me again.
I then tried a more ɹrm approach: “Hitting is not OK. We don’t
hit. If you’re mad, you need to use your words.”
Yup, you guessed it. He hit me again.
I was lost. I felt I needed to up the ante, but I didn’t know how.
In my most powerful voice, I said,
“Now you’re in time-out at the
top of the stairs.” (The technical, scientiɹc term for this parenting
strategy is “Flying by the seat of your pants.” Not exactly
intentional parenting.)
I marched him to the top of our stairs. He was probably thinking,
“Cool! We’ve never done this before … . I wonder what will
happen next if I keep hitting her?”
At the top of the stairs, I bent over at the waist, my ɹnger
wagging, and said,
“No more hitting!”
He didn’t hit me again.
He kicked me in the shin.
(As he points out these days when we retell the story, he was
technically obeying my no-hitting instructions.)
At this moment virtually all of my self-control was gone, as were
any viable options I could think of. I grabbed his arm and pulled
him into my room at the top of the stairs, yelling,
“Now you’re in
time-out in Mommy and Daddy’s room!”
Again, I had no strategy, no plan or approach. And as a result,
my young son continued to escalate the situation while his
increasingly red-faced mother yanked him from location to location
in the house.
By this point I was by turns cajoling, scolding, commanding,
reacting, and reasoning (waaaay too much talking): “You may not
hurt Mommy. Hitting and kicking are not how we do things in our
family … . Blah blah blah …”
And that’s when he made his biggest mistake. He stuck out his
tongue at me.
In response, my rational, empathic, responsible, problem-solving
upstairs brain was hijacked by my primitive, reactive, downstairs
brain, and I yelled,
“If you stick that tongue out one more time, I’m
going to rip it out of your mouth!”
In case you’re wondering, neither Dan nor I recommend in any
circumstance threatening to remove any of your children’s body
parts. This was not a good parenting moment.
And it wasn’t eʃective discipline, either. My son dropped to the
ground, crying. I’d scared him, and he kept saying,
“You’re a mean
mommy!” He wasn’t thinking about his own behavior at all—he
was solely focused on my misbehavior.
What I did next was probably the only thing I did right in the
whole interaction, and it’s essential each time we have these types
of ruptures in our relationship with our children: I repaired with
him. I immediately realized how awful I’d been in that reactive,
angry moment. If anyone else had treated my child as I just had, I
would’ve come unglued. I knelt down and joined my young son on
the ɻoor, held him close, and told him how sorry I was. I let him
talk about how much he didn’t like what had just occurred. We
retold the story to make sense of it for him and I comforted him.
I usually get big laughs when I tell this story because parents so
identify with this type of a moment, and I think they enjoy hearing
that a parenting expert can totally lose it, too. As I explain to my
audiences, we need to be patient, understanding, and forgiving—
not only with our children, but with ourselves as well. (People
always ask what I would do diʃerently now. See Chapter 6, where
we discuss addressing toddler misbehavior in four steps—with
illustrations!)
Though these stories are a bit embarrassing to relate, we oʃer
them as (yes, humorous) evidence that we are all potentially prone
to such downstairs dis-integrations when we lose control and
handle ourselves poorly. Episodes like these shouldn’t become a
regular occurrence, though. If you ɹnd yourself repeatedly losing it
in intense ways, we recommend that you consider seeking
professional help to assist you in making sense of your own
emotional needs or woundings that may be contributing to
frequently reactive ways of relating to your children. But if you go
down the low road only every so often, as most of us do, that’s just
part of parenting. The key is recognizing when these moments
happen, putting an end to them as quickly as possible to minimize
the hurt they cause, and then making a repair. We need to regain
what was truly lost—mindsight—and then use insight and empathy
to reconnect with ourselves and repair with those for whom we
care so deeply.
Y
A NOTE TO OUR CHILD’S CAREGIVERS
Our Discipline Approach in a Nutshell
ou are an important person in the life of our child or children.
You’re helping determine who they’re becoming by shaping
their hearts, their character, and even the structures of their brains!
Because we share this incredible privilege and responsibility of
teaching them how to make good choices and how to be kind,
successful human beings, we want to also share with you how we
handle behavioral challenges, in hopes that we can work together
to give our children a consistent, eʃective experience when it
comes to discipline.
Here are the eight basic principles that guide us:
1. Discipline is essential. We believe that loving our kids and giving
them what they need includes setting clear and consistent
boundaries and holding high expectations for them—all of which
helps them achieve success in relationships and other areas of
their lives.
2 . Eʃective discipline depends on a loving, respectful relationship
between adult and child. Discipline should never include threats or
humiliation, cause physical pain, scare children, or make them
feel that the adult is the enemy. Discipline should feel safe and
loving to everyone involved.
3. The goal of discipline is to teach. We use discipline moments to
build skills so kids can handle themselves better now and make
better decisions in the future. There are usually better ways to
teach than giving immediate consequences. Instead of
punishment, we encourage cooperation from our kids by helping
them think about their actions, and by being creative and
playful. We set limits by having a conversation to help develop
awareness and skills that lead to better behavior both today and
tomorrow.
4. The ɹrst step in discipline is to pay attention to kids’ emotions. When
children misbehave, it’s usually the result of not handling big
feelings well and not yet having the skills to make good choices.
So being attentive to the emotional experience behind a behavior
is just as important as the behavior itself. In fact, science shows
that addressing kids’ emotional needs is actually the most
eʃective approach to changing behavior over time, as well as
developing their brains in ways that allow them to handle
themselves better as they grow up.
5. When children are upset or throwing a ɹt, that’s when they need us
most. We need to show them we are there for them, and that
we’ll be there for them at their absolute worst. This is how we
build trust and a feeling of overall safety.
6. Sometimes we need to wait until children are ready to learn. If kids
are upset or out of control, that’s the worst time to try to teach
them. Those big emotions are evidence that our children need us.
Our ɹrst job is to help them calm down, so they can regain
control and handle themselves well.
7. The way we help them be ready to learn is to connect with them.
Before we redirect their behavior, we connect and comfort. Just
like we soothe them when they are physically hurt, we do the
same when they’re emotionally upset. We do this by validating
their feelings and by giving them lots of nurturing empathy.
Before we teach, we connect.
8. After connecting, we redirect. Once they’ve felt that connection
with us, kids will be more ready to learn, so we can eʃectively
redirect them and talk with them about their behavior. What do
we hope to accomplish when we redirect and set limits? We
want our kids to gain insight into themselves, empathy for
others, and the ability to make things right when they make
mistakes.
For us, discipline comes down to one simple phrase: Connect and
redirect. Our ɹrst response should always be to oʃer soothing
connection; then we can redirect behaviors. Even when we say no to
children’s behavior, we always want to say yes to their emotions, and to
the way they experience things.
B
TWENTY DISCIPLINE MISTAKES
Even Great Parents Make
ecause we’re always parenting our children, it takes real eʃort
to look at our discipline strategies objectively. Good intentions
can be replaced by less-than-eʃective habits quickly, and that can
leave us operating blindly, disciplining in ways that might not bring
out our best—or the best in our children. Here are some common
discipline mistakes made by even the best-intentioned, most wellinformed parents. These mistakes crop up when we lose sight of
our No-Drama, Whole-Brain goals. Keeping them in mind can help
us to avoid them or to step back when we start heading down the
low road.
1. Our discipline becomes consequence-based instead of teachingbased.
The goal of discipline is not to make sure that each infraction is
immediately met with a consequence. The real goal is to teach our
children how to live well in the world. But many times we
discipline on autopilot, and we focus so much on the consequences
that those become the end goal, the entire focus. So when you
discipline, ask yourself what your real objective is. Then ɹnd a
creative way to teach that lesson. You can probably ɹnd a better
way to teach it without even using consequences at all.
2. We think that if we’re disciplining, we can’t be warm and nurturing.
It really is possible to be calm, loving, and nurturing while
disciplining your child. In fact, it’s important to combine clear and
consistent boundaries with loving empathy. Don’t underestimate
how powerful a kind tone of voice can be as you have a
conversation with your child about the behavior you want to
change. Ultimately, you’re trying to remain strong and consistent in
your discipline while still interacting with your child in a way that
communicates warmth, love, respect, and compassion. These two
aspects of parenting can and should coexist.
3. We confuse consistency with rigidity.
Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent
philosophy so that our kids know what we expect of them. It
doesn’t mean maintaining an unswerving devotion to some sort of
arbitrary set of rules. So at times you might make exceptions to the
rules, turn a blind eye to some sort of minor infraction, or cut your
child some slack.
4. We talk too much.
When kids are reactive and having a hard time listening, we often
need to just be quiet. When we talk and talk at our upset children,
it’s usually counterproductive. We’re just giving them a lot of
sensory input that can further dysregulate them. Instead, use more
nonverbal communication. Hold them. Rub their shoulders. Smile
or oʃer empathic facial expressions. Nod. Then, when they begin
to calm down and are ready to listen, you can redirect by bringing
in the words and addressing the issue on a more verbal, logical
level.
5. We focus too much on the behavior and not enough on the why
behind the behavior.
Any good doctor knows that a symptom is only a sign that
something else needs to be addressed. Children’s misbehavior is
usually a symptom of something else. It will keep occurring if we
don’t connect with our kids’ feelings and their subjective
experiences that lead to the behavior. The next time your child acts
out, put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and look through the
behavior to see what feelings—curiosity, anger, frustration,
exhaustion, hunger, and so on—might be causing the behavior.
6. We forget to focus on how we say what we say.
What we say to our kids matters. Of course it does. But just as
important is how we say it. Although it’s not easy, we want to aim
for being kind and respectful every time we communicate with our
kids. We won’t always be able to hit this mark, but that should be
our goal.
7. We communicate that our kids shouldn’t experience big or
negative feelings.
When your child reacts intensely when something doesn’t go his
way, do you ever shut down that reaction? We don’t mean to, but
parents can often send the message that we’re interested in being
with our kids only if they’re happy, and not when they’re
expressing negative emotions. We may say things like,
“When
you’re ready to be nice, then you can rejoin the family.” Instead,
we want to communicate that we will be there for them, even at
their absolute worst. Even as we say no to certain behaviors or to
how certain feelings get expressed, we want to say yes to our kids’
emotions.
8. We overreact, so our kids focus on our overreaction, not their own
actions.
When we overshoot the mark with our discipline—if we’re
punitive, or we’re too harsh, or we react too intensely—our
children stop focusing on their own behavior and focus instead on
how mean or unfair they feel we are. So do whatever you can to
avoid building mountains out of molehills. Address the misbehavior
and remove your child from the situation if you need to, then give
yourself time to calm down before saying much, so you can be
calm and thoughtful when you respond. Then you can keep the
focus on your child’s actions rather than your own.
9. We don’t repair.
There’s no way we can avoid experiencing conɻict with our kids.
And there’s no way we’ll always be on top of our game in how we
handle ourselves. We’ll be immature, reactive, and unkind at times.
What’s most important is that we address our own misbehavior and
repair the breach in the relationship as soon as possible, most
likely by oʃering and asking for forgiveness. By repairing as soon
as we can in a sincere and loving manner, we model for our
children a crucial skill that will allow them to enjoy much more
meaningful relationships as they grow up.
10. We lay down the law in an emotional, reactive moment, then
realize we’ve overreacted.
Sometimes our pronouncements can be a bit “supersized”: “You
can’t go swimming for the rest of the summer!” In these moments,
give yourself permission to rectify the situation. Obviously, followthrough is important or you’ll lose credibility. But you can be
consistent and still get out of the bind. For example, you can oʃer
the “one more chance” card by saying,
“I didn’t like what you did,
but I’m going to give you another try at handling things the right
way.” You can also admit that you overreacted: “I got mad earlier,
and I wasn’t thinking things through very well. I’ve thought about
it again and I’ve changed my mind.”
11. We forget that our children may sometimes need our help making
good choices or calming themselves down.
When our kids begin to get out of control, the temptation is to
demand that they “stop that right now.” But sometimes, especially
in the case of small children, they actually may not even be capable
of immediately calming themselves down. That means you may
need to move in and help them make good choices. The ɹrst step is
to connect with your child—with both words and nonverbal
communication—to help him understand that you’re aware of his
frustration. Only after this connection will he be prepared for you
to redirect him toward making better choices. Remember, we often
need to wait before responding to misbehavior. When our kids are
out of control, that’s not the best time to rigidly enforce a rule.
When they are calmer and more receptive, they’ll be better able to
learn the lesson anyway.
12. We consider an audience when disciplining.
Most of us worry too much about what other people think,
especially when it comes to how we parent our kids. But it’s not
fair to your children to discipline diʃerently when someone else is
watching. In front of in-laws, for example, the temptation might be
to be harsher or more reactive because you feel that you’re being
judged as a parent. So remove that temptation. Pull your child
aside and quietly talk to just him, without anyone else listening.
Not only will this keep you from worrying how you sound to the
others in the room, it will also help you get better focus from him,
and you can better attune to his behavior and needs.
13. We get trapped in power struggles.
When our kids feel backed into a corner, they instinctually ɹght
back or totally shut down. So avoid the trap. Consider giving your
child an out: “Would you like to get a drink ɹrst, and then we’ll
pick up the toys?” Or negotiate: “Let’s see if we can ɹgure out a
way for both of us to get what we need.” (Obviously, there are
some non-negotiables, but negotiation isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s
a sign of respect for your child and her desires.) You can even ask
your child for help: “Do you have any suggestions?” You might be
shocked to find out how much your child is willing to bend in order
to bring about a peaceful resolution to the standoff.
14. We discipline in response to our habits and feelings instead of
responding to our individual child in a particular moment.
We sometimes lash out at our child because we’re tired, or because
that’s what our parents did, or because we’re fed up with his
brother, who’s been acting up all morning. It’s not fair, but it’s
understandable. What’s called for is to reɻect on our behavior, to
really be in the moment with our children, and to respond only to
what’s taking place in that instant. This is one of the most diɽcult
tasks of parenting, but the more we can do it, the better we can
respond to our kids in loving ways.
15. We embarrass our kids by correcting them in front of others.
When you have to discipline your child in public, consider her
feelings. (Imagine how you’d feel if your signiɹcant other called
you out on something in front of other people!) If possible, step
out of the room, or just pull her close and whisper. This isn’t
always possible, but when you can, show your child the respect of
not adding humiliation to whatever else you need to do to address
the misbehavior. After all, embarrassment will just take her focus
oʃ the lesson you want to teach, and she’s unlikely to hear
anything you want to tell her.
16. We assume the worst before letting our kids explain.
Sometimes a situation looks bad and it really is. But sometimes
things aren’t as bad as they seem. Before lowering the boom, listen
to your child. She may have a good explanation. It’s really
frustrating to believe you have a rationale for your actions, yet to
have the other person say,
“I don’t care. I don’t want to hear it.
There’s no reason or excuse.” Obviously, you can’t be naive, and
any parent needs to wear her critical-thinking cap at all times. But
before condemning a child for what seems obvious at ɹrst blush,
ɹnd out what she has to say. Then you can decide how best to
respond.
17. We dismiss our kids’ experience.
When a child reacts strongly to a situation, especially when the
reaction seems unwarranted and even ridiculous, the temptation is
to say something like,
“You’re just tired,
” “Stop fussing,
” “It’s not
that big a deal,
” or “Why are you crying about this?” But
statements like these minimize the child’s experience. Imagine
someone saying one of these phrases to you if you were upset! It’s
much more emotionally responsive and eʃective to listen,
empathize, and really understand your child’s experience before
you respond. Even if it seems ridiculous to you, don’t forget that
it’s very real to your child, so you don’t want to dismiss something
that’s important to him.
18. We expect too much.
Most parents would say that they know that children aren’t perfect,
but most parents also expect their children to behave well all the
time. Further, parents often expect too much of their children
when it comes to handling emotions and making good choices—
much more than is developmentally appropriate. This is especially
the case with a ɹrstborn child. The other mistake we make in
expecting too much is that we assume that just because our child
can handle things well sometimes, she can handle things well all
the time. But especially when kids are young, their capacity to
make good decisions really ɻuctuates. Just because they can handle
things well at one time doesn’t mean they can at other times.
19. We let “experts” trump our own instincts.
By “experts,
” we mean authors and other gurus, as well as friends
and family members. It’s important that we avoid disciplining our
kids based on what someone else thinks we ought to do. Fill your
discipline toolbox with information from lots of experts (and nonexperts), then listen to your own instincts as you pick and choose
diʃerent aspects of diʃerent approaches that seem to apply best to
your situation with your family and your unique child.
20. We’re too hard on ourselves.
We’ve found that it’s often the most caring and conscientious
parents who are too hard on themselves. They want to discipline
well every time their kids mess up. But it’s just not possible. So
give yourself a break. Love your kids, set clear boundaries,
discipline with love, and make up with them when you mess up.
That kind of discipline is good for everyone involved.
Y
AN EXCERPT FROM
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your
Child’s Developing Mind
by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
ou’ve had those days, right? When the sleep deprivation, the
muddy cleats, the peanut butter on the new jacket, the
homework battles, the Play-Doh in your computer keyboard, and
the refrains of “She started it!” leave you counting the minutes
until bedtime. On these days, when you (again?!!) have to pry a
raisin from a nostril, it seems like the most you can hope for is to
survive.
However, when it comes to your children, you’re aiming a lot
higher than mere survival. Of course you want to get through those
diɽcult tantrum-in-the-restaurant moments. But whether you’re a
parent, grandparent, or other committed caregiver in a child’s life,
your ultimate goal is to raise kids in a way that lets them thrive.
You want them to enjoy meaningful relationships, be caring and
compassionate, do well in school, work hard and be responsible,
and feel good about who they are.
Survive. Thrive.
We’ve met with thousands of parents over the years. When we
ask them what matters most to them, versions of these two goals
almost always top the list. They want to survive diɽcult parenting
moments, and they want their kids and their family to thrive. As
parents ourselves, we share these same goals for our own families.
In our nobler, calmer, saner moments, we care about nurturing our
kids’ minds, increasing their sense of wonder, and helping them
reach their potential in all aspects of life. But in the more frantic,
stressful, bribe-the-toddler-into-the-car-seat-so-we-can-rush-to-thesoccer-game moments, sometimes all we can hope for is to avoid
yelling or hearing someone say,
“You’re so mean!”
Take a moment and ask yourself: What do you really want for
your children? What qualities do you hope they develop and take
into their adult lives? Most likely, you want them to be happy,
independent, and successful. You want them to enjoy fulɹlling
relationships and live a life full of meaning and purpose. Now think
about what percentage of your time you spend intentionally
developing these qualities in your children. If you’re like most
parents, you worry that you spend too much time just trying to get
through the day (and sometimes the next ɹve minutes) and not
enough time creating experiences that help your children thrive,
both today and in the future.
You might even measure yourself against some sort of perfect
parent who never struggles to survive, who seemingly spends every
waking second helping her children thrive. You know, the PTA
president who cooks organic, fully balanced meals while reading to
her kids in Latin about the importance of helping others, then
escorts them to the art museum in the hybrid that plays classical
music and mists lavender aromatherapy through the airconditioning vents. None of us can match up to this imaginary
superparent. Especially when we feel like a large percentage of our
days is spent in full-blown survival mode, where we ɹnd ourselves
wild-eyed and red-faced at the end of a birthday party, shouting,
“If there’s one more argument over that bow and arrow, nobody’s
getting any presents!”
If any of this sounds familiar, we’ve got great news for you: the
moments you are just trying to survive are actually opportunities to help
your child thrive. At times you may feel that the loving, important
moments (like having a meaningful conversation about compassion
or character) are separate from the parenting challenges (like
ɹghting another homework battle or dealing with another
meltdown). But they are not separate at all. When your child is
disrespectful and talks back to you, when you are asked to come in
for a meeting with the principal, when you ɹnd crayon scribbles all
over your wall: these are survival moments, no question about it.
But at the same time, they are opportunities—even gifts—because
a survival moment is also a thrive moment, where the important,
meaningful work of parenting takes place.
Parenting and the Brain
Parents are often experts about their children’s bodies. They know
that a temperature above 98.6 degrees is a fever. They know to
clean out a cut so it doesn’t get infected. They know which foods
are most likely to leave their child wired before bedtime.
But even the best-educated, most caring parents often lack even
basic information about their child’s brain. Isn’t this surprising?
Especially when you consider the central role the brain plays in
virtually every aspect of a child’s life that parents care about:
discipline, decision making, self-awareness, school, relationships,
and so on. In fact, the brain pretty much determines who we are
and what we do. And since the brain itself is signiɹcantly shaped
by the experiences we oʃer as parents, knowing about the way the
brain changes in response to our parenting can help us to nurture a
stronger, more resilient brain.
So we want to introduce you to the whole-brain perspective.
We’d like to explain some fundamental concepts about the brain
and help you apply your new knowledge in ways that will make
parenting easier and more meaningful. We’re not saying that the
whole-brain approach will get rid of all of the frustrations that
come with raising kids. But by understanding a few simple and easyto-master basics about how the brain works, you’ll be able to better
understand your child, respond more eʃectively to diɽcult situations,
and build a foundation for social, emotional, and mental health. What
you do as a parent matters, and we’ll provide you with
straightforward, scientiɹcally based ideas that will help you build a
strong relationship with your child that can help shape his brain
well and give him the best foundation for a healthy and happy life.
What Is Integration and Why Does It Matter?
Most of us don’t think about the fact that our brain has many
diʃerent parts with diʃerent jobs. For example, you have a left
side of the brain that helps you think logically and organize
thoughts into sentences, and a right side that helps you experience
emotions and read nonverbal cues. You also have a “reptile brain”
that allows you to act instinctually and make split-second survival
decisions, and a “mammal brain” that leads you toward connection
and relationships. One part of your brain is devoted to dealing with
memory; another to making moral and ethical decisions. It’s almost
as if your brain has multiple personalities—some rational, some
irrational; some reɻective, some reactive. No wonder we can seem
like different people at different times!
The key to thriving is to help these parts work well together—to
integrate them. Integration takes the distinct parts of your brain
and helps them work together as a whole. It’s similar to what
happens in the body, which has diʃerent organs to perform
diʃerent jobs: the lungs breathe air, the heart pumps blood, the
stomach digests food. For the body to be healthy, these organs all
need to be integrated. In other words, they each need to do their
individual job while also working together as a whole. Integration
is simply that: linking diʃerent elements together to make a wellfunctioning whole. Just as with the healthy functioning of the
body, your brain can’t perform at its best unless its diʃerent parts
work together in a coordinated and balanced way. That’s what
integration does—it coordinates and balances the separate regions
of the brain that it links together. It’s easy to see when our kids
aren’t integrated—they become overwhelmed by their emotions,
confused and chaotic. They can’t respond calmly and capably to the
situation at hand. Tantrums, meltdowns, aggression, and most of
the other challenging experiences of parenting—and life—are a
result of a loss of integration, also known as “disintegration.”
We want to help our children become better integrated so they
can use their whole brain in a coordinated way. For example, we
want them to be horizontally integrated, so that their left-brain logic
can work well with their right-brain emotion. We also want them
to be vertically integrated, so that the physically higher parts of their
brain, which let them thoughtfully consider their actions, work
well with the lower parts, which are more concerned with instinct,
gut reactions, and survival.
The way integration actually takes place is fascinating, and it’s
something that most people aren’t aware of. In recent years,
scientists have developed brain-scanning technology that allows
researchers to study the brain in ways that were never before
possible. This new technology has conɹrmed much of what we
previously believed about the brain. However, one of the surprises
that has shaken the very foundations of neuroscience is the
discovery that the brain is actually “plastic,
” or moldable. This
means that the brain physically changes throughout the course of
our lives, not just in childhood, as we had previously assumed.
What molds our brain? Experience. Even into old age, our
experiences actually change the physical structure of the brain.
When we undergo an experience, our brain cells—called neurons—
become active, or “ɹre.” The brain has one hundred billion
neurons, each with an average of ten thousand connections to other
neurons. The ways in which particular circuits in the brain are
activated determines the nature of our mental activity, ranging
from perceiving sights or sounds to more abstract thought and
reasoning. When neurons ɹre together, they grow new connections
between them. Over time, the connections that result from ɹring
lead to “rewiring” in the brain. This is incredibly exciting news. It
means that we aren’t held captive for the rest of our lives by the
way our brain works at this moment—we can actually rewire it so
that we can be healthier and happier. This is true not only for
children and adolescents, but also for each of us across the life
span.
Right now, your child’s brain is constantly being wired and
rewired, and the experiences you provide will go a long way
toward determining the structure of her brain. No pressure, right?
Don’t worry, though. Nature has provided that the basic
architecture of the brain will develop well given proper food,
sleep, and stimulation. Genetics, of course, play a large role in how
people turn out, especially in terms of temperament. But ɹndings
from various areas in developmental psychology suggest that
everything that happens to us—the music we hear, the people we
love, the books we read, the kind of discipline we receive, the
emotions we feel—profoundly aʃects the way our brain develops.
In other words, on top of our basic brain architecture and our
inborn temperament, parents have much they can do to provide the
kinds of experiences that will help develop a resilient, wellintegrated brain. This book will show you how to use everyday
experiences to help your child’s brain become more and more
integrated.
For example, children whose parents talk with them about their
experiences tend to have better access to the memories of those
experiences. Parents who speak with their children about their
feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can
understand their own and other people’s feelings more fully. Shy
children whose parents nurture a sense of courage by oʃering
supportive explorations of the world tend to lose their behavioral
inhibition, while those who are excessively protected or
insensitively thrust into anxiety-provoking experiences without
support tend to maintain their shyness.
There is a whole ɹeld of the science of child development and
attachment backing up this view—and the new ɹndings in the ɹeld
of neuroplasticity support the perspective that parents can directly
shape the unfolding growth of their child’s brain according to what
experiences they oʃer. For example, hours of screen time—playing
video games, watching television, texting—will wire the brain in
certain ways. Educational activities, sports, and music will wire it
in other ways. Spending time with family and friends and learning
about relationships, especially with face-to-face interactions, will
wire it in yet other ways. Everything that happens to us aʃects the
way the brain develops.
This wire-and-rewire process is what integration is all about:
giving our children experiences to create connections between
diʃerent parts of the brain. When these parts collaborate, they
create and reinforce the integrative ɹbers that link diʃerent parts
of the brain. As a result, they are connected in more powerful ways
and can work together even more harmoniously. Just as individual
singers in a choir can weave their distinct voices into a harmony
that would be impossible for any one person to create, an
integrated brain is capable of doing much more than its individual
parts could accomplish alone.
That’s what we want to do for each of our kids: help their brain
become more integrated so that they can use their mental resources
to full capacity. With an understanding of the brain, you can be
more intentional about what you teach your kids, how you respond
to them, and why. You can then do much more than merely
survive. By giving your children repeated experiences that develop
integration, you will face fewer everyday parenting crises. But
more than that, understanding integration will let you know your
child more deeply, respond more eʃectively to diɽcult situations,
and intentionally build a foundation for a lifetime of love and
happiness. As a result, not only will your child thrive, both now
and into adulthood, but you and your whole family will as well.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We are profoundly grateful to all of the people who have helped
shape this book that we feel so passionate about. Our teachers,
colleagues, friends, students, and family members have
signiɹcantly contributed to how we think about and communicate
these ideas. We’re especially grateful to Michael Thompson, Natalie
Thompson, Janel Umfress, Darrell Walters, Roger Thompson, Gina
Osher, Stephanie Hamilton, Rick Kidd, Andre van Rooyen, Lara
Love, Gina Griswold, Deborah Buckwalter, Galen Buckwalter, Jay
Bryson, and Liz Olson for their feedback on the book. We also
thank our mentors, clinical colleagues, and the students at the
Mindsight Institute and in our various seminars and parenting
groups who have asked questions that push us to seek and learn
more, and provided feedback about many of the ideas that make
up the foundation of the No-Drama, Whole-Brain approach to
parenting. There are so many people who enrich our lives and our
work that we can’t possibly thank you all individually, but we hope
you know how much you mean to us.
We want to thank our friend and literary agent, Doug Abrams,
who brought to the process not only a wealth of writing knowledge
but also a passion and commitment to strengthening families and
nurturing kids who are happy and healthy. We respect him as both
an agent and a humanitarian. We also gratefully acknowledge the
eʃorts and enthusiasm of our editor, Marnie Cochran, who not
only oʃered wise counsel throughout the publication process but
also extended plenty of patience as we worked to ɹnd just the right
way to express the ideas so important to us. And to our fabulous
illustrator, Merrilee Liddiard, we say thanks and more thanks for
bringing her talent and creativity to the project and helping give
the left-brain words of the book a right-brained graphic and visual
life.
In addition, we thank all of the parents and patients whose
stories and experiences helped us provide examples that give
richness and practicality to the ideas and theories we teach. We’ve,
of course, changed your names and the details of your stories here,
but we’re grateful for the power your stories lend to the
communication of the No-Drama approach to discipline.
We want to acknowledge our gratitude for each other. Our
collective passion for these ideas and for sharing them with the
world makes working together a meaningful honor. We are grateful
to our immediate and extended families who have and continue to
inɻuence who we are and celebrate what we do. Just as we have
shaped who our children are and who they are becoming, they
have shaped who we are as individuals and professionals, and we
are deeply moved by the meaning and joy they bring to us. Finally,
we thank our spouses, Caroline and Scott, who contributed in both
indirect and direct ways to the production of this manuscript. They
know what they mean to us, and we could never fully articulate
how important to us they are, as both personal and professional
partners.
Learning in life is cultivated best in our collaborative
relationships with others. Our primary teachers when it comes to
our own parenting have been our children—Dan’s now in their
twenties, Tina’s in their teen and pre-teen years—who have taught
us the vital importance of connection and understanding, patience
and persistence. Throughout the opportunities and the challenges of
being their parents, we have been reminded through their actions
and reactions, their words and their emotions, that discipline is
about teaching, about learning, about ɹnding lessons in our
everyday experiences no matter how mundane or maddening. That
learning is for both child and parent alike. And trying to create the
necessary structure in their developing lives while parenting in a
calm, even-keel,
“low-drama” way has not always been easy—in
fact, it is most likely one of the most challenging jobs any of us
will ever have. And for these reasons, we thank both our children
and our partners throughout this whole journey, for the powerful
ways they each have taught us about discipline as a way of
learning, of teaching, and of making life an educational adventure
and a celebration of discovery. We hope this book will oʃer an
invitation to reimagine discipline as such a learning opportunity so
that you and your children will thrive and enjoy each other
throughout your lives!
Dan and Tina
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
DANIEL J. SIEGEL, M.D., is a physician; child, adolescent, and adult
psychiatrist; and clinical professor at the David Geʃen UCLA
School of Medicine. He has been responsible for the publication of
dozens of books as author, co-author, or editor, including authoring
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, Mindsight:
The New Science of Personal Transformation,, and The Developing
Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are.
He is the executive director of the Mindsight Institute, an
educational center for interpersonal neurobiology that combines
the wide range of ɹelds of science into one framework for
understanding human development and the nature of well-being.
He lectures throughout the world, online and in-person, for
parents, professionals, and the public. (You can reach him at
www.DrDanSiegel.com.)
TINA PAYNE BRYSON, PH.D., is the co-author (with Dan Siegel) of the
bestselling The Whole-Brain Child, which has been translated into
eighteen languages. She is a pediatric and adolescent
psychotherapist, the director of parenting for the Mindsight
Institute and the child development specialist at Saint Mark’s
School in Altadena, California. She keynotes conferences and
conducts workshops for parents, educators, and clinicians all over
the world. Dr. Bryson earned her Ph.D. from the University of
Southern California, and she lives near Los Angeles with her
husband and three children. You can learn more about her at
TinaBryson.com, where you can subscribe to her blog and read her
articles about kids and parenting.
BY DANIEL J. SIEGEL, M.D., AND TINA PAYNE BRYSON, PH.D.
The Whole-Brain Child
No-Drama Discipline

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