From One Parent to Another: Discipline that Actually Works

By Rebecca Schall, MS, NCC, LPC-Intern

            When I was a child, my parents did not have a consistent parenting plan when it came to raising my three siblings and I. They lacked intention, and while my mom was adamant she would not discipline with corporal punishment, my father was physically and emotionally abusive. Unfortunately, this parenting method of inconsistency and/or abuse is far too common in our society today, and the number of kids experiencing trauma at the hands of their parents are far too great. For this reason, there is no shortage of literature attempting to help parents find the most appropriate method of discipline. So many parents (myself included) find themselves overwhelmed by all the experts who promise to share life-changing strategies for their family, and a lot of it can feel too difficult to master or even try. Because of this, I would like to take the time to point to a voice in the wilderness that helped me clear the air and provide a few simple and practical steps you can begin using today to help train your children up in the way they should go.

            A few years ago, my two sons were involved in an ugly custody battle, which left my oldest son, now 9, completely traumatized. We were honestly at a loss with how to help him, and none of the strategies we had previously used in disciplining him were working. He is seeing a wonderful Licensed Professional Counselor in the area that recommended a book to me that I personally and professionally recommend to every friend and client I see struggling to help their children. Written by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Bryson, PhD,  No Drama Discipline offers an effective and practical method of disciplining children. I give Dan and Tina all the credit for their method, and use it in my practice, as well as in my own home. It is my prayer that you see the value this has for you and your family as well.

            No Drama Discipline focuses on discipline, and not punishment. The idea behind discipline is to teach your children, not to punish them for making you angry. When our motivation is to teach, our discipline moments become opportunities to connect with our children and deepen our relationship, instead of wounding it. We do so by being intentional, connecting, and then redirecting the behavior. 

Intentionality

Before engaging with any child in a discipline moment, it’s critically important to be in the right head-space. If what has just taken place has your blood pressure rising, take a time out (you, not your child). Say a prayer, take a walk, take a breath, count to 10. Do whatever you need to do to move your brain from reactive to responsive. No effective teaching is going to be had if you’re doing everything you can to just contain your frustration.

While you’re taking a minute, you’ll want to examine any baggage you’re bringing to the table. Is this the 10th time your toddler has spilled his juice, making you want to scream? I’ve been there. Is this the first time your new teenager has slammed her door in your face, and deep down you fear she’s going to turn into the monster you were when you were a teen? No Drama Discipline refers to these thoughts and feelings as “Shark Music.” You know, as in the scary suspenseful background music you hear when Jaws is about to pop up on screen. Every human brings their own background noise into their present experience. But my child is not me, and when I lash out at her for fear that I’ve lost control, I find I’ve only done the thing I was trying to avoid. So taking a moment to notice tension in your body, and taking a small time-out can help you turn down the shark music and stay in the moment with your 13-year-old, before you imagine her as an out-of-control, rebellious 17 year old (all because she once slammed the door in your face).

Once you’re out of your momentary freak-out, examine the situation logically. This is called “Chasing the Why.” Ask yourself: Why did my child act this way? What is going on inside of them? What’s behind their behavior? And when you’ve got a handle on that, remind yourself that the goal of discipline is to teach, not punish. Ask yourself what you want to teach in this moment, and determine the most appropriate method to do so. Now you’re ready to connect.

Connection

            This is the part I love about No Drama Discipline. I wholeheartedly believe that connection and redirection - not punishment - is at the heart of God’s relationship with us. When was the last time you were struck down by God’s fiery wrath because you sinned against Him? We all deserve it, no doubt, and yet He is relentlessly patient and ridiculously loving to us, even when we make the same mistake over and over again. He is our Heavenly Father, providing us with a perfect example of how we as parents can interact with our kids when they are at their worst.

            There are so many benefits to connecting with our children. It helps them to develop their prefrontal cortex (a fancy word for the part of your brain that controls, logic, reason, and upper-level functioning), learn to regulate their emotions, and build a sense of morality, intuition, and empathy. If you want to build resilience in your child, connection is the way to do it. If connection is at the core of our relationship with our kids, even in disciplinary moments, our children will grow with a secure foundation of love and trust.  So how do you connect when your kid has temporarily lost his mind?

  1. Start with body language. Whether your kid is 6 or 16, standing over them with a pointed finger is probably only going to increase their negative emotions. Instead, try getting on their level, and give them your full attention with eye contact. If appropriate, make a funny face, and demonstrate empathy with your facial expressions. This will help them remember that you are on their side.

  2. Validate their feelings. Even when you don’t agree with their behavior, their feelings should always be validated. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it right? Just like adults, children are entitled to having a bad moment, even a bad day. Life is sometimes overwhelming. Acknowledging their feelings can help them feel heard and understood.

  3. Listen to what your child has to say. This isn’t the time to lecture your child. Instead, try hearing their side of the story. You may find out you’re missing vital information (which can really save you from some embarrassment later).

  4. Reflect what you hear. When your child has just told you he hates his brother for always taking the last apple in the snack tray, reflect back the meaning behind his words: “You’re frustrated that you didn’t get to have an apple.”

Redirection

            Once you’ve connected with your child, you are now ready to redirect. It’s important at this point to again remember that the goal is to teach, not to punish. You may find it is often not necessary to give a consequence. Your choice of teaching, and whether a consequence is warranted, will depend on the situation. Be flexible, but be consistent.

            If, during connection, you realize that your child is hungry or sleepy, there’s no harm in giving them a snack, a drink of water, or a nap. Because the goal is to teach, it may be counterproductive to try to address the situation when your child is unteachable in the moment.

            This method offers 8 practical strategies to redirect your child, which they creatively turned into the acronym REDIRECT.

  1. Reduce Words - don’t lecture. Most kids tune out after the first few sentences, so don’t waste your breath. This one has been a hard one for me. I’m a lecturer. But I have found so much value in keeping it short and sweet.

  2. Embrace Emotions - here’s that connection strategy again. Teach your kids its ok to have emotions, and help them learn to differentiate between them. This is a valuable skill they will need in adulthood.

  3. Describe, Don’t Preach - focus on the facts. Tell them what you observed, and give them an opportunity to recognize what they did and why it was wrong. This teaches them responsibility and accountability.

  4. Involve your Child in the Discipline - increase their buy-in and accountability by giving your children opportunities to choose what they should do to make it right. If your boys were in a food fight, maybe they will choose to clean up the mess. The punishment should always fit the crime.

  5. Reframe a No into a Yes with Conditions - instead of saying no to a reasonable request, say yes with a condition. For example, if your child wants to go play outside with the dog, instead of saying no (because her room is still a mess from play), say “yes, after you straighten up your room.” You’ll find you’ll forego a LOT of arguments just by giving them more Yes, and less No.

  6. Emphasize the Positive - encourage your children by focusing on what they do right. Even in disciplinary moments, there can be something to praise your child for.

  7. Creatively Approach the Situation - kids love creativity, and they equally love humor. If you can find a funny way to fix a problem - do it! For example, if my daughter doesn’t want to get dressed in the morning because she’d rather be asleep, I might make funny voices and sing silly songs to get her laughing. It lightens the mood and increases receptivity in your kids.

  8. Teach Mindsight Tools - this is so important. Give your child an opportunity to explore how other people feel when they make bad choices. Help them identify ways in which they can make different choices the next time a difficult situation arises. Giving them a chance to think critically about their behavior, how it affects other people, and what they can do differently next time builds connections in their brain, and helps them buikd relationship - with you and with others.

           

I have used these strategies at home, at church, and in session with my own clients. I have seen the difference it makes to connect, then redirect. It has been an answer to prayer. You see, I believe that the Lord desires parents to take the time to carefully plan and practice their parenting, to be intentional. His desire is that each of us would bring the Kingdom to earth in the community around us, and in our own homes. I am not perfect, and there are many days that I have thrown the book out the window and really made a fool of myself. But I love that God is gracious, and so is this method. If we mess up, we try again. Because our kids are worth it. 

 

Resources

 

https://www.drdansiegel.com/books/no_drama_discipline/

 

https://www.drdansiegel.com/pdf/Refrigerator%20Sheet--NDD.pdf

 

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/570a82c74d088e29f6f59598/t/5bf58a6d032be41e8e4d48a7/1542818414357/NDD+for+Teachers.pdf

 

Rebecca Schall is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern at Tapestry Counseling in Tyler, Texas. She holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The Power of Shame

Who among us doesn’t have something in our lives that we prefer to keep secret.  It may be a life event, a behavior, some feeling, or characteristics that we hide.

Perhaps it’s that secret might be about a family member that no one talks about, it might be that DWI that has been diligently kept private, it might be something sexually inappropriate that happened one time and is over, it might be something that happened to us as children that we want to forget, it might be a secret addiction that regardless of how many resolutions that have been made… still controls our lives. 

All of the emotion that may arise out of personal secrets and feelings of needing to be someone we aren’t share a common attribute… shame. The feeling of shame might come from someone in the form of a subtle glance of disapproval, or as bold as a humorous joke focused on something about us. What we know for sure is that we feel that something is wrong with us. That’s what shame does… it invalidates who we are as a person. 

In the book “The Soul of Shame” by Curt Thompson, describes shame as having an impact on all our social systems. He says of shame that “this is not merely a felt emotion that eventually morphs into words such as “I am bad”… This phenomenon is the primary tool that evil leverages… As such, it is actively, intentionally, at work both within and between individuals. Its goal is to disintegrate any and every system it targets, be one’s personal story, a family, marriage, friendship, church, community, business, or political system. Its power lies in its subtlety and its silence.”

Thompson sees shame as a tool that is used by “evil”, and I think he is right. In the Bible, the Apostle John describes a battle in heaven in which Satan and his angels are cast from heaven. John describes Satan as “the accuser of our brothers…who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10). Since the activity of Satan in heaven was to accuse the people of God, we shouldn’t be surprised that he would use the tool of shame to attack and accuse us.

I appreciate the way Thompson develops the concept of shame. He describes four aspects of how shame works in our lives.

The first concept that the author developed is that shame is more than a feeling. It is a sense within us that communicates that we are not enough and we don’t have what it takes. We can have a great theology of who we are “in Christ” and a biblical understanding that strength for living is found in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, yet this sense can strike us when we least expect it. It shows itself it the student who takes an exam and scores a 92, yet makes excuses for the other 8%. It’s there as a feeling we can’t explain when, as a professional, we diligently prepare and make a presentation and few people say something positive. It’s there when the stay-at-home mom is with her friends who are sharing their professional experiences, and finds herself questioning her choices in life.

The second aspect of shame is how it is wrapped up in judgment. Thompson describes it as a “spirit of condemnation or condescension with which we analyze or critique something, whether ourselves or someone or something else.” This “spirit of condemnation or condescension” is often directed not only to ourselves but to others also. I was challenged by the idea that many of the things that I criticize in others can grow out of those things I secretly struggle with myself.

The third aspect of shame is that it is great at hiding. The author describes shame as a sense that “leads us to cloak ourselves with invisibility to prevent further intensification of the emotion.” Regardless of who we are or what we have accomplished in life, we will go to extreme lengths to keep the information that shames us hidden away. This sense of privacy that grows out of shame is a challenge in Christian community. In our busy lives we often find that we don’t take the time to build a circle of friends who we grow to trust and who love us that we can honestly share the shame that we carry.

The last aspect of shame is that shame creates a loop in which shame begets shame. It creates is self-supporting cycle of isolation and disconnection. When we experience something that creates shame in us, we turn away from other people in our life as we avoid the reminder of the shame. This very turning away from others reinforces the sense of shame we experience. Thompson observes that, “this dance between hiding and feeling shame itself becomes a tightening of the noose. We feel shame, and then feel shame for feeling shame.”

If you are anything like me, you can identify with each of these four aspects of shame. Regardless of how old we are, we can remember that feeling when we were one of the last ones chosen to be on a team. As parents we can remember times when we were judgmental to our children, and pushed them to do things differently, so they could avoid what we experienced. And which one of us, when we are encouraged to “confess our faults one to another” is the first to speak up? How many times have we been hurt, and experienced shame, we make a vow that we won’t be hurt again.

Shame has had a crippling effect on our lives, and in the next post we will look at how shame can be addressed in a healthy and biblical way in our lives.

Story of Shame

Brené Brown did a TED Talk in 2012 entitled “Listening to Shame” that has had over 10 million views. Her TED Talk hit a nerve about shame that seems to resonate with each generation.  I’m curious if it resonates with you.   

 

It’s easy to recognize that shame can be good or bad. Shame can legitimately awaken us to actions in our lives that are not healthy and we need to be aware of, and for that we can be thankful. However, it is not the legitimate function of shame that usually dominates the lives of people, it is usually the feelings that occupy our thoughts after forgiveness has been given. The distinction has been made between guilt and shame. Guilt makes us feel bad for something we have done, and shame makes us feel bad for who we are.

 

 What is it about the story of shame that seems to never grow old? Curt Thompson in his book “The Soul of Shame”, reflects on the idea that the story of shame is woven into who we are as a human race. The story of shame is interwoven with the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we tell about God.

 

Thompson sees a connection between the story of shame in our lives and the story of struggle between God’s working with mankind and the power of evil. He makes the statement that, “shame is not just a consequence of something our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. It is the emotional weapon that evil uses to corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity.”

 

What I appreciate about Curt Thompson and Brené Brown, is their message that the story of shame in our lives isn’t resolved in the privacy of our lives and personal reflection. Thompson communicates clearly that shame is dealt with within a spiritual context where there is prayer, conversation, and community.

 

Practical Ways to Check Your Anger

Practical Ways to Check Your Anger

The world feels like an angry place. At times it feels like we are all walking on eggshells because we don’t know who thinks what or who’s on a hair trigger or what sensitivities someone might have. Certainly as believers we should always keep watch over the door of our lips (Psalm 141:3) and consider others worthy of the greater honor (Philippians 2:3). But some days, it feels a little like we’re all about to go off the deep end.