You are not alone.
If you feel at a loss when it comes to getting your kids to argue less or speak more respectfully . . . if you can’t figure out how to keep your toddler from climbing up to the top bunk, or get him to put on clothes before answering the front door . . . if you feel frustrated having to utter the same phrase over and over again (“Hurry! You’re going to be late for school!”) or to engage in another battle over bedtime or homework or screen time . . . if you’ve experienced any of these frustrations, you are not alone.
In fact, you’re not even unusual. You know what you are? A parent. A human being, and a parent.
It’s hard to figure out how to discipline our kids. It just is. All too often it goes like this: They do something they shouldn’t do. We get mad. They get upset. Tears flow. (Sometimes the tears belong to the kids.)
It’s exhausting. It’s infuriating. All the drama, the yelling, the hurt feelings, the guilt, the heartache, the disconnection.
Do you ever find yourself asking, after an especially agonizing interaction with your kids, “Can’t I do better than this? Can’t I handle myself better, and be a more effective parent? Can’t I discipline in ways that calm the situation rather than create more chaos?” You want the bad behavior to stop, but you want to respond in a way that values and enhances your relationship with your children. You want to build your relationship, not damage it. You want to create less drama, not more.
In fact, that’s the central message of this book: You really can discipline in a way that’s full of respect and nurturing, but that also maintains clear and consistent boundaries. In other words, you can do better. You can discipline in a way that’s high on relationship, high on respect, and low on drama and conflict— and in the process, you can foster development that builds good relationship skills and improves your children’s ability to make good decisions, think about others, and act in ways that prepare them for lifelong success and happiness.
We’ve talked to thousands and thousands of parents all over the world, teaching them basics about the brain and how it affects their relationship with their kids, and we’ve seen how hungry parents are to learn to address children’s behavior in ways that are more respectful and more effective. Parents are tired of yelling so much, tired of seeing their kids get so upset, tired of their children continuing to misbehave. These parents know the kind of discipline they don’t want to use, but they don’t know what to do instead. They want to discipline in a kind and loving way, but they feel exhausted and over-whelmed when it comes to actually getting their kids to do what they’re supposed to do. They want discipline that works and that they feel good about.
In this book, we’ll introduce you to what we call a No- Drama, Whole- Brain approach to discipline, offering principles and strategies that will remove most of the drama and high emotions that so typically characterize discipline. As a result, your life as a parent will be easier and your parenting will become more effective. More important, you’ll create connections in your children’s brains that build emotional and social skills that will serve them now and throughout their entire life— all while strengthening your relationship with them.
What we hope you’ll discover is that the moments when discipline is called for are actually some of the most important moments of parenting, times when we have the opportunity to shape our children most powerfully. When these challenges arise— and they will— you’ll be able to look at them not merely as dreaded discipline situations full of anger and frustration and drama, but as opportunities to connect with your children and redirect them toward behavior that better serves them and your whole family.
If you are an educator, therapist, or coach who is also responsible for the growth and well- being of children, you will find that these techniques work just as well for your students, patients and clients, or teams. Recent discoveries about the brain give us deep insights into the children we care for, what they need, and how to discipline them in ways that foster optimal development. We’ve written this book for anyone who cares for a child and is interested in loving, scientifically informed, effective strategies to help children grow well. We’ll use the word “parent” throughout the book, but if you’re a grandparent, a teacher, or some other significant person in the life of a child, this book is also for you. Our lives are more meaningful with collaboration, and this joining together can begin with the many adults who cooperate in the nurturing of a child in the earliest days of life onward. We hope all children have many caregivers in their lives who are intentional about how they interact with them and, when necessary, discipline them in ways that build skills and enhance their relationship.
Let’s begin with the actual goal of discipline. When your child misbehaves, what do you want to accomplish? Are consequences your ultimate goal? In other words, is the objective to punish?
Of course not. When we’re angry, we may feel like we want to punish our child. Irritation, impatience, frustration, or just being unsure can make us feel that. It’s totally understandable— even common. But once we’ve calmed down and cleaned the raw egg out of everyone’s hair, we know that giving consequences is not our ul-timate goal.
So what do we want? What is the goal of discipline?
Well, let’s start with a formal definition. The word “discipline” comes directly from the Latin word disciplina, which was used as far back as the eleventh century to mean teaching, learning, and giving instruction. So, from its inception in the English language, “discipline” has meant “to teach.”
These days, most people associate only punishment or consequences with the practice of discipline. It’s like the mother with the eighteen-month-old son who asked Dan: “I’m doing a lot of teaching with Sam, but when do I start disciplining him?” The mother saw that she needed to address her son’s behaviors, and she assumed that punishment is what discipline is meant to be.
As you read the rest of this book, we want you to keep in mind what Dan explained: that whenever we discipline our kids, our over-all goal is not to punish or to give a consequence, but to teach. The root of “discipline” is the word disciple, which means “student,” “pupil,” and “learner.” A disciple, the one receiving discipline, is not a prisoner or recipient of punishment, but one who is learning through instruction. Punishment might shut down a behavior in the short term, but teaching offers skills that last a lifetime.
We thought a lot about whether we even wanted to use the word “discipline” in our title. We weren’t sure what to call this practice of setting limits while still being emotionally attuned to our children, this approach that centers on teaching and working with our kids to help them build the skills to make good choices. We decided that we want to reclaim the word “discipline,” along with its original meaning. We want to completely reframe the whole discussion and differentiate discipline from punishment.
Essentially, we want caregivers to begin to think of discipline as one of the most loving and nurturing things we can do for kids. Our children need to learn skills like inhibiting impulses, managing big angry feelings, and considering the impact of their behavior on others. Learning these essentials of life and relationships is what they need, and if you can provide it for them, you’ll be offering a significant gift not only to your children, but to your whole family and even the rest of the world. Seriously. This is not mere hyperbole. No- Drama Discipline, as we’ll describe it in the coming pages, will help your kids become the people they are meant to be, improving their ability to control themselves, respect others, participate in deep relationships, and live moral and ethical lives. Just think, then, about the generational impact that will have as they grow up with these gifts and abilities, and raise children of their own, who can then pass on these same gifts to future generations!
It begins with rethinking what discipline really means, reclaiming it as a term that’s not about punishment or control, but about teaching and skill building— and doing so from a place of love, respect, and emotional connection.