Taking the Drama out of Discipline

NPN RTD featureThis post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is No Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph. D, authors of the book The Whole Brain Child. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.


Everything was going fairly well, until the incident. The incident may have been something big, or maybe it was just a tiny little thing. Maybe it wasn’t even the incident itself that was the problem but just merely a trigger. Whatever it was, it was the incident that caused the dam to burst. With an inhale the size of an arctic storm, that dam let loose a shrill cry that would rival any banshee. The screaming. The crying and tears. The flinging of limbs that would cause an earthquake that could register an 8.0 on the Richter scale. Did I mention the screaming? And it didn’t stop.

Flickr (Miss Yasmina)

Flickr (Miss Yasmina)

When that dam released, it just seemed to keep on coming. There was no going back once it broke. All of those pent up emotions and frustrations were making their way out, and there was no way to stop it. Once started, it just needed to rage forth until the energy behind it ran out and everyone around was spent, drenched in the words and actions, with the innocent bystanders standing by, mouths agape.The drama rivaled that of any Oscar winning motion picture.

Is it a scene you recognize? Now let me ask you something else, quietly. Was it your child, or was it you? Don’t answer out loud. I don’t need to know. Either way, it’s a horrible feeling, isn’t it? Someone, or in many cases multiple people, was out of control. The person felt so powerless in a situation and in that moment lacked the skills to cope with the situation, that the most basic of reactions overtook them. If it was you, you know it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good to your child, either.

And what is worse? It often causes chain reaction. The people around the person also feel helpless with the situation and lack the skills to cope. Maybe you are having a bad day. Maybe your child is, because children have bad days, too. But something happens and now you are faced with a choice. Do you fight back against the flood, causing more energy to build up resulting in more drama? Do you threaten, punish, or throw a tantrum of your own Or do you opt for the drama free approach? The one in which you realize that you can do something besides reptilian reacting?

Kids are learning. They are going to make mistakes. They are also still developing, which means some of those lessons aren’t going to stick for a while. You really don’t have any control over that. Welcome to parenting. It’s a roller coaster of a ride sometimes. But you aren’t just strapped in, helpless for the ride. You aren’t aren’t at the mercy of a miniature dictator. You get to make the choice of reacting and adding fuel to the fire, so to speak, or responding and changing the situation into a better direction.

No-drama discipline has two main goals: (1) working together with your child, and (2) helping your child develop the necessary skills and self-control to make better decisions and handle situations appropriately. You just have to ask yourself which road you are willing to take, and how you are going to get there. Working with our children isn’t always easy, especially in the early years when they are young and many of us are new to the concept. No one ever said parenting was easy. However, it is definitely worth every minute. As your family has more practice working together and living consensually, it will come easier and faster to everyone.

I’m Not Raising Corporate America

Photo by Justin Lowery

I’ve often heard parents rationalizing punishments and rewards by citing the real world. When the kids grow up, they’ll be in the real world. In the real world, they’ll have to get a job and then, they had better be prepared. Punishments and rewards are everywhere, in the real world.

This misses a key point. I’m not raising Corporate America. I’m raising my children. So, while some day they may find themselves in a corporate position faced with a choice to make, right now they are children living their lives. I don’t run my family by Corporate America’s values – to gain as much money (i.e. reward) as possible, often at the expense of others. And frankly, if my children are ever in such a position, I hope they look beyond the immediate reward and follow what they know in their hearts is the right thing to do – not because of someone else’s beliefs or because of some extrinsic reward – but because they are following what they believe.
In Corporate America, a person can make the choice to walk away and leave. They voluntarily choose to be in that position to earn a wage with whatever consequences go with their choices. Except in rare occassions, children do not have the choice to leave their parents and family of origins in order to find a more suitable position should they deem it necessary. Arbitrary punishments and rewards only exacerbate that parental power. If you want to compare punitive parenting with the work force, a more likely comparison would be with slavery. There is no chance of leaving besides running away with the hope of not being found.
Most of us look for jobs that are rewarding. However, that reward generally isn’t the almighty dollar. The most rewarding jobs are the ones where people are doing what they enjoy intrinsically. A few companies recognize this. Google is a prime example of this, despite its huge size. Employees at Google have a voice in matters. Recognizing that happy workers are more productive workers, Google strives to provide an enjoyable work environment rather than trying to control its employees.
At the end of the day, however, work isn’t all there is to life, and most people would say that their relationships are what really matter to them. Rather than trying to control our children with punishments or rewards, we talk to them – like the people they are. Sure, some of the people in our family are smaller and younger, but these are still relationships. And the last time I checked, we are living in the real world.

be the parent you want to be…

Photo by Lori Grieg

I often come across the question from others about what to do when you haven’t parented according to your ideals. When posted on a parenting forum, there seems to be an overwhelming urge for others to tell the original poster that, “It’s okay.” They regal everyone with posts about their less than stellar moments and state that everyone messes up sometimes.

It’s true that no one is perfect. We are human and come into each of our relationships with baggage from our pasts. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat our own mistakes the way we would like our children to view mistakes – as learning opportunities. When parents make posts sharing such concerns, I believe it would be much more beneficial to help the person be the parent they want to be rather than swapping bad parenting moments.

Christine at Living the Unschooling Life recently wrote a post about labels. The particular post was about radical unschooling (RU), but the part that stood out to me that could relate to any parent rather than those practicing RU was this:

So, when I see that I’m not living up to my radical unschooling principles what do I do?  I learn from it – I think carefully about what got in the way & I resolve to handle things better.  I don’t act like a radical unschooler, I am a radical unschooler & the only way for that to be true is if I keep pushing myself to live a life that follows these principles.  After all, I want to be the parent my children need so that they will be the parent their children will need.
Replace the parts about radical schooling with any aspect you are currently struggling with. For instance, gentle parenting:
So, when I see that I’m not living up to my gentle parenting principles what do I do?  I learn from it – I think carefully about what got in the way & I resolve to handle things better.  I don’t act like a gentle parent, I amgentle parent & the only way for that to be true is if I keep pushing myself to live a life that follows these principles.  After all, I want to be the parent my children need so that they will be the parent their children will need.
Rather than telling yourself that it doesn’t matter that you screwed up, strive to learn from your mistake(s) and be the parent you want to be.


Though conflict, we learn to establish healthy boundaries between ourselves and other people. Conflict provides an opportunity for growth and learning. This is true not only for children, but also for ourselves.

approaching mistakes…

How we, as parents, approach our children’s mistakes can have a profound effect on how they approach mistakes for the rest of their lives. Attribute negative interpretations to their behaviors, and our children learn that their mistakes make them bad. Approach mistakes from a positive position, and they learn that mistakes are merely learning experiences.

parents and power struggles…

From the day we are born, we spend our lives learning. We observe those around us. We learn to sit, crawl, walk, and talk in some order. We learn to navigate the world around us by interacting with it and with others. We gain experiences, learning from each one. By the time we reach adulthood, we have amassed a large number of experiences and have learned a great deal.

When we enter parenthood, it only makes sense that we would want to pass on the information we have gleaned through the years. Afterall, we want what we feel is best for our children, and by passing on the information we have learned, we can give them a step up in life so that they don’t suffer the same struggles we did.

However, as much as we want to help our children, it is important to realize that our children’s journeys are not our own. While we are here to help guide them away from danger, to give them counsel when needed and asked of us, and to be a safety net for them in those early years of growth, they have to learn things themselves.

It would be easy if we could expect compliance from them at all times – if they would listen to what we tell them without question. As rewarding as parenting is, it isn’t always easy. Just as we are not perfect, neither are our children. Sometimes they have to stumble a bit or just experience something in order to learn.

It’s how we deal with these opportunities that defines us as parents. I say opportunities because mistakes and conflict are opportunities to learn and grow. As parents, we can recognize that we are all human, and therefore imperfect. We can also recognize that as parents, we are here to help guide our children through these opportunities in life.

We could punish, inciting resentment, revenge, rebellion, or retreat, creating a power struggle by our attempts to control another person. In doing so, we might receive short term compliance or we might breed defiance. Either way, we lose some of our children’s trust and the connection we have with them, neither of which are conducive to learning. Alternatively, we could talk with our children about the situation and encourage growth by helping them to come up with a solution to the problem, thereby helping them to learn conflict resolution and problem solving, while taking responsibility for their actions and feelings.

The bottom line comes down to want you want your child to learn. If you want them to learn that you are the boss and they must defer to you at all times, punishment is the way to go. If you want them to learn skills which will serve them through life, they need to be able to talk through the situation and come up with solutions to the problems.