The first step towards better behaviour

So the last post was all about pro-active parenting from No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. It covered 3 questions to ask yourself when your child misbehaves. You can read it here:

But let’s face it, we’re not going to see misbehaviour in advance every time. So what do you do when the misbehaviour has already happened? Well, connection  the foundation of the No Drama Discipline approach. What’s that? It means that we communicate to our child that we value our relationship with them no matter what their behaviour. That we are there for them when they really need us. Unconditionally. We communicate to them that we’re on their side whether we like the way they’re acting or not. It’s like how we would respond if they fell, scraped their knee and were in physical pain. That’s the connect part.

Then we redirect. That means setting clear and firm boundaries. But we may have to wait for what they call the teachable moments. When our child is very upset, that’s not the time to try and get them to see that grabbing that toy off the other child is not a nice thing to do.

This post is all about the 3 principles of connecting and the 4 strategies for carrying it off.

The 3 principles of connecting with our children:

So- how do we connect? What do we say or do? There’s no one way to do this but it there are 3 things to do.

#1 Turn down the shark music.

That basically means pausing for a moment before thinking here we go again. I can’t believe she did that again and so on. Not jumping to conclusions about what just happened because of something they did in the past.

# 2 Be curious about the behaviour.

Asking in our own minds things like:

I wonder why she did this.

What is she wanting here?

Is she asking for something?

Trying to discover something? Communicate something

The idea is that we try to understand their inner world before rushing to judgement. So for example we were at a birthday party recently where one of the party games involved sitting in a circle on the floor. The party girls were age 6 and a little 2 year old tried to join in by sitting between my little girl and another girl. This did not go down well and my daughter began to say some mean things. I was mortified but took her out of the situation for a little chat. Then I realised that what she actually wanted was to sit next to one particular girl and the toddler had got in the way. My own shark music suddenly stopped and her behaviour now made sense. That doesn’t mean it was acceptable behaviour though. Or that we didn’t have a conversation later about it. And I’m readier now for future party crimes!

# 3 Think about the how

That is how we talk to our children when they are having trouble managing themselves or making good decisions. So instead of using intense facial expressions, raised voices, we could keep our face relaxed and use a warm tone of voice. I like the statements too like instead of issuing a command, saying things like The door is open (You want them to close it). Your lunch box is on the table (You want them to put it in their school bag). I have a post about getting co-operation going here


How we say things is important because it models how to talk to others for our child. We all know this right when we hear them chastising their dolls like mummy does! The  how influences how they feel about us, themselves and what they learn about treating others.


So what does is all look like in action? They describe 4 strategies in the connection cycle.

Strategy # 1 Communicate comfort

We hold our babies to calm them down and we soothe them right? And with our older children, we want to help them calm down when they need to. We can use words: It’s hard isn’t it? Can you tell me about it? The good news is that it’s more effective to do it without words. This means touching your child. And it might look something like this:

Putting your hand on their arm

Drawing them into a hug

Being below their eye-level

Rub their back

Hold their hand or give it a gentle squeeze.

Putting your arm around their shoulders.

This will release oxytocin and reduce cortisol which actually changes their brain chemistry and helps them calm down- amazing! We have to communicate to them that we’re not a threat because that would escalate the emotional intensity. And crouching down to be below their eye level is the quickest way to communicate safety and no threat.


Strategy #2 Validate their feelings

Resist the temptation to minimise what they are going through. This is hard! We want to focus our attention on genuinely appreciating their inner world, where they are coming from. The message we want to send is I get you. I see what you’re feeling and I acknowledge it. I can see how you might feel that way. I tried this recently when my little girl was crying because she coloured in the ‘wrong’ page in her school work book. She was very upset and I remembered this strategy. So I said You coloured in the wrong page and you’re very upset about it. You could almost see the upset drain out of her. Then another day she was saying something aggressive about hurting someone- I can’t remember the exact details. But that kind of talk usually alarms me but this time I said, I can understand how you’d want to do that. She was so surprised that I didn’t go into my usual lecturing about behaviour mode! And I could see she felt that I got her- for once!

This also means NOT saying:

You’re only saying that because you’re tired

It’s no big deal

Calm down.

It means saying things like:

You really wanted to go to her house today didn’t you? It’s so disappointing that her mummy was working and you couldn’t go.

That made you really sad.

You’re having a hard time.

I have another post with more details on how to validate their feelings here:


Strategy # 3 Stop talking and listen

Forget logic for the moment and definitely forget lecturing or sermonising.

So validate their feelings and then zip it! Really listen to the feelings within the words; not the literal words. Avoid the temptation to teach or explain. Don’t just do something, sit there!


Strategy # 4 Reflect back what you hear

This shows our child that we have heard them and it communicates comfort.  It feels so good to feel understood. This is different from acknowledging the feelings. Reflecting back would sound like:

I hear what you’re saying. You really hated it when I told you we had to leave the play date.

No wonder that made you made. I’d feel angry too.

It’s okay if you don’t get it totally right (No, I’m not cranky, I’m angry declared my little girl one day!) because this is a skill that takes a lot of practice to develop. And at least you are making the effort to understand them.

One last thing. While I really like this approach, you have to be in a good place yourself to be able to do it. So you need to look after your own needs too; making sure you have time for yourself. That you’re well fed and rested. It’s hard to do this if your own tank is empty. And go easy on yourself. It’s a long term project so just take baby steps and every bit helps!

So that’s the connection part. The next part of No Drama Discipline focuses on redirecting them towards better behaviour and that will be in my next post.


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Let’s get talking!




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