A Note to Our Child's Caregivers

A Note to Our Child's Caregivers - BLOG.png

The below letter is an excerpt from No-Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. If you're a fan of No Drama Discipline and want the people who help you care for your children to know about your discipline approach, then keep reading. This letter was written for grandparents, friends, babysitters, nannies, and other caregivers who haven't read the book.

You are an important person in the life of our child or children.  You're helping determine who they’re becoming by shaping their hearts, minds, 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 give our children a consistent, effective 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. Effective 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 first 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 their 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 effective 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 fit, 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.  So our first 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 effectively 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 first response should always be to offer 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.

Free Podcast on "Brain-Informed Parenting" with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson

Here's a link to my interview with Joyful Courage. I love sharing the ideas from Whole-Brain Child and No Drama Discipline, and discussing how science can help guide parents in really meaningful ways.

What you will hear in this episode:

  • How Dr. Dan Siegal and Tina collaborated on THE WHOLE-BRAINED CHILD
  • How science can help guide parents in really profound ways
  • Programs, communities and in which Dr. Bryson’s work is taught
  • The importance of HOW are parent shows up to the nervous system of a developing child
  • How getting CURIOUS with your child creates gateways into building important life skills and self regulation
  • How making ASSUMPTIONS delays or stops tool building; ie, taking behavior personal, over explaining behavior, making character assumptions, if they did it once they should be able to consistently complete task/request
  • Paying attention to a developing nervous system
  • If the nervous system is not regulated the child cannot have choice over behavior
  • How to influence the nervous system in both self and child
  • Identification of Dr. Bryson and Dr. Siegals emotional “ZONES”; Red Zone, Blue Zone, Green Zone
  • The Frontal Cortex is not developed yet
  • Children do not have the architecture to control “reptilian brain” / “fight or flight” in red or blue zones – difficulty paying attention, learning, regulating
  • Tools/techniques to get in “green zone” – regulated, calm, empathetic, attune
  • Behavior is communicating child’s lack of skills
  • When to seek out professional help
  • Self regulation – be gentle and kind with ourselves (reference Kristin Neff, of self-compassion.org)
  • New techniques require time and PRACTICE
  • Calming strategy when child is disregulated- get BELOW eye level and use soothing words including “I’m right here with you”
  • Brain associates with physical state – floppy noodle technique
  • Body shift can help shift emotions
  • How discipline is teaching
  • We need to give children tools not take them away
  • Thoughts on consequences
  • Key actions of soothing, connection, problem-solving, playfulness and being pro-active build a “whole-brained” child
  • How to recognize our own “zones” and practice getting/staying into “green zone”

Click here to listen to additional podcasts from Joyful Courage.

Free Audio Podcast from 'Preschool and Beyond'

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mike Dlott, host of Preschool and Beyond, Co-Director of the Discovery Child Development Center, and Director of Discovery Tech in  Morrisville/Cary North Carolina. 

In this episode, titled "Rethinking Discipline", I talk about discipline strategies for children during their preschool years.  This is a time when children start to become more independent and seek increasing control over their environment, resulting in more boundary testing and rulebreaking.  

As parents, this is a critical time to teach children how to recognize and regulate their emotions and how to set clear expectations and limits, as well as for giving children the tools to resolve future conflicts. 

To download this free audio podcast, simply click here.

If you prefer to read notes from this interview, you can access them at the Discovery Child Development Center's website.

Autism & The Whole-Brain Child & No Drama Discipline Books

Here is a recording from Barbara Avila's Synergy Autism Podcast.  In it, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson discuss how concepts in The Whole-Brain Child and No Drama Discipline books relate to those with autism.  They were joined by Corinna Gilligan, a mother of a teen with autism.  

Click on the link below to listen:


How to talk to your kids when they witness a scary event

Last summer a freak accident occurred in our community where a huge tree fell near a children's museum, injuring several children.  I'm grateful to Hanna Lim, who wrote the post below on her Lollaland blog, where she included some suggestions I offered at the time.

I'm reposting those recommendations now with Hanna's permission, hoping they might be helpful to you when your kids witness or hear about something scary or traumatic.  As always, it all comes down to "The Four S's":  helping kids feel Safe, Seen, Soothed, and Secure.


When [Freak] Accidents Happen

Posted on July 29, 2015 by Hanna Lim

I'm not sure if you heard the news, but "a 75-foot-tall, 75-year-old pine crashed without warning at around 5 p.m. just outside the Kidspace Children's Museum and fell onto kids at a summer day camp Tuesday, injuring eight children, two of them critically, fire officials said." (http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/including-children-hurt-falling-tree-kids-museum-32745551)  

Well, my two daughters (ages 6 and 7) were attending that camp and apparently standing less than 20 feet away from the tree when it fell.  When I arrived on the scene I was immediately notified that camp was being held directly under and near the tree when it fell.  The staff notified each parent whether his/her child(ren) was safe, and the police kept us all well-informed and calm as we waiting over an hour for our children to be released back to us. My girls are safe and unscathed, but my eldest was sobbing before bed as she shared with us that she saw her friend, Joy, get hit by the tree and go to the hospital.  I believe Joy's still in critical condition, so our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all the children who were injured.  

I am so thankful to the camp counselors and Kidspace Museum staff for keeping our children safe and in good spirits.  Thank you, also, Pasadena Police and Pasadena Fire Departments for your incredibly fast response.  You were all absolute rockstars.  

This was such a harrowing experience.  At least 1 firetruck and 1 ambulance passed me on my way to pick my girls up yesterday, but I thought nothing of it, until I pulled up to the scene.  I teach my children to say no to strangers, look both ways before crossing the street, but what can prepare them for freak accidents like these?  Nothing, really.  I guess it's all about how we choose to deal with the aftermath.  

Please say a prayer for all the children and families involved, and take a moment to peruse the resources listed below.  Finally, let this be another reminder to cherish each and every moment and live life to its fullest.  

The school psychologist at my children's school, Dr. Tina Bryson, suggests the following resources and steps to guide parents in talking with their children about the incident.

Helpful books/videos:

  • Verbal First Aid and The Worst is Over by Prager and Acosta
  • Trauma-Proofing our Kids by Dr. Peter Levine
  • Below find the link to a video with a few practical ideas from the book Verbal First Aid:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJp4Lrjs6qg

Steps to guide parents in talking with their children:

  • Soothe and comfort—non-verbal touch and holding as well as assuring words “The worst is over.  You are safe.”  
    • sometimes returning to things that settled your child when he/she was younger are good to pull back into your routine—a song you would sing to them or an old bedtime ritual can be comforting and help them feel safe
    • parents may need some additional self-care or support to be able to be a calm, assuring presence to their children since these experiences can be secondarily traumatizing to parents as well
  • Acting out behavior or heightened sensitivity or reactivity is to be expected for some children.  Consider these signs that they may need soothing, connected time with parents, slowing things down with lots of connection in order to soothe their little nervous systems.  
  • Name it to Tame it.  This is a technique in Dr. Tina Bryson's book The Whole-Brain Child, where we help children tell their stories about something scary.  When we help our children tell their story, the story should have the facts as the child remembers them, the emotions the child felt and feels, and a message of safety and resilience “There were lots of people who came to help.”  “You are safe.”  etc.
  • The most important thing is to help them feel safe and to assure them that you will listen, answer questions, and keep them safe.  Follow their lead on the questions and telling the story.
  • Help them find a way to do something active.  Draw a picture for someone who helped them, for someone else who was hurt, etc.  Give them a job that allows them to “help”.
  • Seek out professional help if your child’s distress begins to impact their appetite, sleep, or if their emotions begin to become overwhelmingly intense with feelings of depression or anxiety or panic.
  • Keep in mind that terrifying experiences are not always traumatizing.  There are many factors that contribute to whether or not a child is traumatized, but it’s important that parents don’t project their own trauma and that kids don’t hear their parents talking about “trauma”.  Pay attention to how your own child is experiencing the event.

Want to know the single most important thing to consider as a parent?

One of my favorite places in the world when it comes to helping kids is The Momentous Institute in Dallas.  Here's a video I recently recorded for them.

Thank you, Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, for sharing this wonderful video about attachment. We love the 4 S's as a way to talk about secure attachment. Check it out!

Do You Confabulate?

I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong.   One of the ideas in the book that I love and that has had an impact on me is how we so want to justify our emotional reactions and choices (even when they aren’t grounded in reality) that we “confabulate” information, or make it up from memory.  

She cites a study where a bunch of socks were laid out and people were asked to pick the pair that appealed to them most.  Later, when asked why they made their choice, they all cited a reason, like“I liked the pattern” or “The colors appealed to me”, etc.  No one said “I don’t know.”  

And guess what?  The socks were all identical.  Their left brains confabulated, or made up, a reason or “truth” about the situation.  

When it comes to our relationships, we confabulate the meaning about someone else’s behavior.  And the problem is that confabulations choke out curiosity, wondering, seeking understanding, and being present to what is actually unfolding right in front of me.  So I might “make up” that when my child is disrespectful to me it’s because I’ve been too easy on him lately and that he needs to “learn his place,” or or I might see this behavior as evidence that he doesn’t appreciate all that I do for him.  

But these confabulations may be completely wrong.  What’s more, they get in the way of my approaching my child with curiosity, of becoming open to what he is feeling, experiencing, focusing on, upset by, overwhelmed by, fearful of, needing support with, etc.  So these confabulations keep me from actually attuning to what my child is feeling and what he needs from me, and even from setting the limits I need to set in an effective way.  

Confabulations shut things down and make things worse instead of opening things up and making things better.   My confabulations keep me from being the mindful, present, attuned parent/friend/partner I want to be.  So, I’m watching for them.  

Since I’ve been more aware about how much I make up about the meaning of a moment, I’m surprised at how often I do this throughout the day.   I’m not going to judge myself for it; rather, I’m going to approach my own interpretaions with curiosity.  Then as I wake up to them and how often they are a part of my mental activity, I can then thank my brain for working hard to make sense of the world, and then investigate openly and attune to the person or situation in front of me in that moment.

Inciting Curiosity

Here's a short piece I recently wrote about curiosity, and how it applies to kids' experiences at summer camp:  


You’ve heard about curiosity killing the cat.  And about Pandora, whose curiosity released evil into the world.  But the more I think about it, the more I believe that curiosity is one of the most positive human characteristics—one we should try to develop in our children, and in ourselves.

Think about the powerful role it can play in the classroom, motivating students to learn, to pay attention, and to work hard.  Think about the powerful role it can play in parenting, allowing us to look beyond our child’s actions to what’s actually motivating their behavior, so we can be more effective in the discipline process (which is all about teaching). 

Recently I became curious about curiosity and decided to see what science has to say about the subject.  The Carnegie-Mellon researcher George Loewenstein defines “curiosity” pretty simply:  it’s when we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know”.[1] In this gap, the want motivates us to seek, to persist, and to learn.  We feel an eagerness and an inquisitiveness mixed together to know more, and we typically keep chasing it down to quell that drive.  Some people have compared it to an itch we need to scratch.   

What I found most interesting is that curiosity activates the learning centers, the memory centers, and the reward centers of the brain.[2]  When these different areas of the brain are active, we can learn more and remember more, then be chemically rewarded for our spirit of inquiry.  Basically, the anticipation we feel between wanting to know and starting to know makes us more receptive to learning and causes us to feel pleasure in the chase. 

I’m curious about how you might feel about your kids and curiosity these days.  When are they most curious?  Does school invoke their curiosity?  Or squash it?  Do they have the time or inclination for a spirit of inquiry? 

I’ll tell you that when I’m observing kids and counselors at camp, I see curiosity continually emerging.  Being in an environment away from their typical lives, away from technology, and immersed in nature that is always changing and even unpredictable, kids have the time, space, and natural inclination to explore and discover.  Further, kids at camp curiously anticipate, on a daily basis, what wildlife they’ll see, what goofy things their counselors have planned, what challenges lie ahead, etc.  

Since we know that curiosity makes us better able to learn, I wonder if this environment, where curiosity runs wild, is part of why kids learn so much more about themselves, and their social and emotional intelligence can take significant leaps in the weeks they’re at camp. 

The research on curiosity supports this speculation.  Studies show that when the “curiosity switch” gets flipped on, a person’s brain becomes more receptive—not only to learning about the subject the person was initially curious about, but to learning in general.  So when kids at camp become curious about how to, for example, bait a hook or sail a boat, their brains become more capable of learning all kinds of other important lessons regarding relationships and resilience and even self-understanding.  (Sneaky, huh?)

Watch for ways right now to incite curiosity in your kids as they think about camp this summer.  Ask them questions about their camp counselors, activities, and friends.  The anticipation of wondering and sitting in that gap between what they know and what they want to know will give them pleasure as they count down the days until it’s time to go to camp.  Then the real learning can begin.  

[1] Loewenstein, G. (1994). The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation. "Psychological Bulletin," 116(1), 75-98. 

[2] Gruber, M. J., Gelman, B. D., & Ranganath, C. (2014). States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit. Neuron.

No-Drama Discipline in a Nutshell

Dr. Tina Payne Bryson presents the main theme of the NY Times best-selling book, No-Drama Discipline, co-written with Dr. Dan Siegel.