Dr. Tina Payne Bryson: Reframe discipline as teaching, not just punishment

Dr. Tina Payne Bryson: Reframe discipline as teaching, not just punishment

In today's society, the term "discipline" is often synonymous with punishment. But parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., says that is not necessarily the best way to look at it, and it isn't giving our kids the help and skills they need.

Dr. Bryson is the co-author of The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, both of which she wrote with Daniel Siegel. I attended a talk she gave in a Chicago suburb yesterday. She packed a ton of info into the 90 minute talk, but what has stuck with me the most is the way she's urging a cultural shift in the view of discipline.

Instead of seeing discipline as punishment, parents should reframe discipline as teaching. Instead of focusing solely on the punitive approach, parents should view it as an opportunity for teaching and skill building, says Bryson, who notes that "teaching" is the original meaning of the word.

The etymology is that "discipline" comes from the Latin word disciplina, meaning "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge," according to etymonline.com (yes, I'm citing an etymology dictionary. I'm a nerd.)

So, how do parents of tweens and teens register this shift? Bryson suggests asking three questions before taking any action.

1. Why did my t(w)een act this way?

Bryson stressed looking behind the behavior to figure out what is leading to it in the first place. She said parents should be curious and peel back the layers of the problematic behavior onion to get to the real intention and cause.

2. What is the lesson or skill I want them to learn?

I really liked her way of looking at the behavior as communication. Misbehavior can be a sign that your kids need help with something, be it organizing, time management, anger management, etc. It's a call for help, even if they don't necessarily know that.

She acknowledged that parents will still be annoyed by the request to go to the craft store late on Sunday for the project due the next morning, but that when they see it as a sign that they need additional help with time management, they can make it into an opportunity to teach so it won't happen again. (Fear not, I won't judge you for seething over the request in the first place because c'mon, kid, you knew all weekend!)

3. What is the most effective way to teach it?

The key to this is making sure that your child is in a receptive state, meaning not when they're blowing up or shutting down. I was surprised when she said that the consequences to an action do not need to be immediate. She acknowledged that the approach of swift punishment so that kids equate the action with the consequence was a common way of thinking, but not necessarily an effective one.

It makes sense. If your kid isn't in a position to learn, is the punishment really achieving the end goal? Probably not.

In terms of what is most effective, that can vary from kid to kid and day to day. Don't be too rigid. (Was she looking right at me when she said that?  Yeah, probably.)

Payne writes on her website, "Consistent love and clear expectations are the key to good discipline. But too often, consistency gets confused with rigidity. Be willing to make exceptions at times, and even to cut your kids some slack when necessary."

You May Also Like: Thoughts on parenting adolescents from expert Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.

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Filed under: Parenting

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