No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

An effective, compassionate road map for dealing with tantrums, tensions, and tears.

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kk: From The Parent’s Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


kk: Today, we’re discussing *No-Drama Discipline* written by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.

In this episode, UCLA  School of Medicine psychiatrist and founder of the Mindful Awareness Research Center, Daniel J. Siegel along with adolescent and pediatric psychotherapist, Tina Payne Bryson, provide a new approach to disciplining children by emphasizing the importance of teaching over punishment.

Based on neuroscience, this method reduces drama while also guiding parents on how to build a deeper relationship with their children. They provide an effective, research-based solution for parents who are tired of yelling at their children.

kk: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


kk: Vincent, the authors in this book explain how to be the most effective parent and more specifically they talk about the hardships and difficulties that come along with parenting, which we don’t talk about enough. What are some difficulties first time parents experience when it comes to discipling their children?

vp:  That’s a good question and I agree we don’t talk about these struggles parents share enough. The main concept here is that disciplining a child is not always an easy task and can often be emotionally draining.

Small arguments over things like picking up toys or washing the dishes, can escalate into larger conflict which puts pressure on your relationships and well-being.

kk: It seems like there is a fine line between avoiding emotionally driven discipline.

vp: Exactly. This is why you must learn how to discipline your child in a positive manner, meaning a more constructive form rather than a punishment.

The authors explain how effective disciplining can only be achieved if you first understand how the brain works. By following their advice, your children will become more receptive to your parenting which, over time, will strengthen the bond between you.

kk: How can parents make the transformation of discipline being a learning experience rather than a punishment?

vp: Okay, think about the last time you discipline your child for misbehaving. What did you do? You could have yelled at them, lectured them, or maybe sentenced them to a timeout. But have you ever stopped to think about what the goal of discipling a child is?

kk: So that they can reflect on their bad behavior and learn from their mistakes?

vp: Yes, but this goal is harder to achieve than the standard approach to discipline, using punishment and fear rather than focusing on the development of your child.

As you said, a goal of discipline is the child reflecting on their behavior. Lots of parents use timeouts as a means for reflecting and think their child will sit and reflect on their misbehavior, but in reality they sit there and reflect on how mean their parents are, which brings out more emotions and escalates the situation.

The same counterproductivity applies to spanking as a form of discipline because the child becomes fearful of their parent’s actions rather than reflecting on their behavior. Fear and resentment don’t foster effective positive behavioral changes in children.

kk: How can parents approach discipline as an opportunity to learn constructive, valuable lessons?

vp: To do that, parents must shift from discipline as a punishment to emphasizing teaching in a manner that's intentional and flexible.

The authors’ notion behind no-drama discipline is that discipline should be proactive, not reactive. In the short-term, you aim to get your child to cooperate with you, while the long-term goal is helping them develop good behaviors and improve their relationship skills.

In order for this to work, the authors explain we need to connect and redirect. This focuses on the connection you must foster with your child before redirecting them towards positive behavior.

kk: As we discussed a few weeks ago, the part of the brain in charge of emotions, behaviors, and relationship skills takes time to develop so is this the same part of the brain we have the ability to shape through discipline?

vp: Yes, precisely. At birth the lower parts of the brain are already developed, which control basic functions like digestion and breathing. In the book, this is referred to as the downstairs brain. The upstairs brain houses the cerebral cortex, the part in charge of emotions and empathy, which is mostly underdeveloped at birth.

We have neuroplasticity which refers to our brain’s ability to physically change as a result of our experiences, meaning we can mold the upstairs brain.

kk: So, since the brain has the ability to evolve and develop in children, this is why misbehavior should be seen as an opportunity for development, not punishment.

vp: So for example, my daughter Lily is almost three years old. And she always wants to read books. She wants to read when she wakes up, she wants to read before bed, she even wants to read during meal times.

So sometimes she cries and screams during meals because she wants to read a book. Instead of further angering Lily by yelling, we’ve found that we can engage her upstairs brain by giving her a choice of reading a book either before or after bath time.

By offering Lily a choice in her behavior, it diffuses the situation and provides an opportunity for development.

kk: I wish I liked reading that much. Okay, Going back to the idea of connect and redirect, what is the benefit of connecting with your child when they misbehave?

vp: Connecting with them when they misbehave actually puts them in an open-minded, receptive state, activating the upstairs part of their brain. Effective discipline is fostered when there is a loving and supportive relationship between you and your child. To achieve this, the authors say you must transfer your children from that reactive state, to a receptive state which is done through connecting with them.

When a child has a meltdown or does something wrong, they’re in a reactive state, using their downstairs brain. So, when you don’t acknowledge their feelings in this state, they will feel misunderstood and the situation will heighten. This is where you would instead try to connect with them and use that connection to move them into a receptive state.

kk: Then this is where you’d do things like offer comfort or relate to them, to engage their upstairs brain and get them to cooperate.

vp: Yes, and the authors make an important note that sometimes it takes longer, for instance the next day, before your child is ready to learn.

So the big idea here is that rather than calming in the short term, connecting helps the parts of their brain become integrated to act together in the long-run which will promote certain functions that we want our kids to develop, like the ability to calmly adapt to situations.

kk: I feel like this type of conflict-resolution method can also apply to adults.

vp: Yea it could be.

kk: Now we know the importance of connecting with your child when they are misbehaving, but how can we build those connections?

vp: As in any relationship, connecting is all about being there and listening to them in their difficult moments. The notable ways to do so are through communicating comfort, offering validation and listening.

kk: Let's start with offering validation and communicating comfort, how is this done?

vp: A successful way to communicate comfort is through non-verbal gestures, like nodding or hugging. At the same time, verbal validation is just as important. One way we can validate their experience is by helping them identify the emotions that they are feeling.

These can coexist, for example if your child is upset you could say

*“I’m sorry that you are having a bad time, would you like a hug?”*

kk: Got it, so is that when listening comes in?

vp: Yes, active listening is key in connecting. You can show that you’re listening by reflecting back on what your child is experiencing, and listening while they share how they are feeling.

kk: How can the no-drama discipline framework apply to all situations, children of all ages, all temperament levels, and mental development?

vp: I’m glad you asked that because an extremely important part of the no-drama discipline method is ensuring response flexibility. To have successful response flexibility, you need to be able to check your mental condition and put any reactive feelings aside, like anger, so you can handle the matter calmly and rationally.

Seigel and Bryson also discuss chasing the why, which is figuring out the reason behind your child’s misbehavior or factors that lead to whatever is causing the behavior. Chasing the why will help keep your responses flexible.

kk: Okay, for example if your child gets a bad score on a test and may not receive a good grade in the class, your first instinct may be to yell at them or lecture them on how this may affect their future.

vp: Yes, but instead of yelling like you’re inclined to, try having a conversation instead.

kk: Then by having a calm conversation you may be able to find out what factors led to the poor grade, and knowing these reasons you’re better suited to redirect them in a way that addresses their needs so that you both can learn and the situation can be avoided in the future.

vp: Exactly. Then the last way to maintain response flexibility is by paying attention to how you respond to misbehavior and trying to frame your response in a positive tone. So instead of saying “if you don’t get in bed now, I won’t read you a story” you could say, “if you don’t get into bed soon, we won’t have time for reading!”

kk: That makes perfect sense, plus it shows that how you discipline your child not only affects your relationship with them but forms experiences that their upstairs brain uses as an example of how they should behave with others in the future.

vp: Absolutely, you also want to teach them how to develop mindsight outcomes to redirect your child towards good behavior so that they have a positive emotional and relational life.

kk: Mindsight is your ability to use insight and empathy for problem solving, right?

vp: Yes, which you can help your kids develop mindsight outcomes by disciplining them through empathy and insight-constructive conversations. Again, this goes back to encouraging your children to discuss how they feel and explaining their emotional experience helps deepen their self-understanding.

A common example is if your child upset someone else, you could point to the other person crying and ask your child to imagine how they would feel if someone expressed upsetting behavior towards them.

kk: Oh that’s a classic way to spark that self-reflection. Can this be applied to situations when you ask your child to come up with a compromise on a punishment or how to avoid misbehavior in the future?

vp: Yes, getting your child’s help to fix the situation is another way to practice mightset outcomes. Obviously what solution you use varies case-by-case, but helping your child understand their misbehavior and teach them how to correct it, will result in less misbehavior over time.

kk: These are very important skills to prepare them for the real world! One thing I think is challenging is saying no to your child. So when you’re trying to redirect bad behavior, how can you draw on the positives and avoid lecturing them?

vp: Good question, many parents have a hard time implementing this into practice. When you’re redirecting them towards good behavior by focusing on the positive, you want to do your best to provide them with a conditional yes rather than a straight no. An example could be if your child wants to stay at the playground when it's time to go, you can say “of course you can come back to the playground but it's time to go right now, but you can ask dad if we can come back next week.” By doing this you acknowledge what they want and also helps them cope with disappointment because they don’t get exactly what they want.

kk: I’ve definitely been that child wanting to stay at the playground (haha). During your redirection, how do you avoid feeling like you’re lecturing them?

vp: One way to avoid lecturing your child is by reducing your words and giving them the ability to steer the conversations. An example would be if your son is playing video games too much and you point out that it distracts from other things like school work. Instead of going into a rant about good behavior, ask him if he has any ideas on how to fix the situation and make this a more collaborative effort.

kk: And giving him the opportunity to talk about his wrong behavior allows for him to reflect on this so there is less likely a repeat in the future.

vp: Yes and this helps establish a mutual respect and help them become aware of the impact of their behaviors.

kk: It sounds like the key takeaways from this book are discipline should be viewed as an opportunity to teach your children how to develop better relationship and behavioral skills by appealing to their upstairs brain. It’s equally important to listen, offer validation and communicate comfort to them, as well as keep your responses flexible. The key is to connect and help them develop mindsight outcomes before redirecting them toward good behavior.


kk: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki.

vp: And I’m Vincent Phamvan.

kk: We’ll see you next time.


Highlighting the fascinating link between a child’s neurological development and the way a parent reacts to misbehavior, No-Drama Discipline provides an effective, compassionate road map for dealing with tantrums, tensions, and tears—without causing a scene.

Defining the true meaning of the “d” word (to instruct, not to shout or reprimand), the authors explain how to reach your child, redirect emotions, and turn a meltdown into an opportunity for growth. By doing so, the cycle of negative behavior (and punishment) is essentially brought to a halt, as problem-solving becomes a win/win situation. Inside this sanity-saving guide you’ll discover:

  • strategies that help parents identify their own discipline philosophy—and master the best methods to communicate the lessons they are trying to impart
  • facts on child brain development—and what kind of discipline is most appropriate and constructive at all ages and stages
  • the way to calmly and lovingly connect with a child—no matter how extreme the behavior—while still setting clear and consistent limits
  • tips for navigating your child through a tantrum to achieve insight, empathy, and repair
  • twenty discipline mistakes even the best parents make—and how to stay focused on the principles of whole-brain parenting and discipline techniques

Complete with candid stories and playful illustrations that bring the authors’ suggestions to life, No-Drama Discipline shows you how to work with your child’s developing mind, peacefully resolve conflicts, and inspire happiness and strengthen resilience in everyone in the family.

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