On September 23th, Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson published their latest book, No Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. Since there are lots of parenting books out there I wanted to review this one to highlight what’s unique about it and why every parent should have this on their reading list.
A literary Steve-Jobs-approach to keeping a complex topic for parents simple yet powerful
“Steve Jobs gave a small private presentation about the iTunes Music Store to some independent record label people. My favorite line of the day was when people kept raising their hand saying, "Does it do [x]?", "Do you plan to add [y]?" Finally Jobs said, "Wait wait — put your hands down. Listen: I know you have a thousand ideas for all the cool features iTunes could have. So do we. But we don't want a thousand features. That would be ugly. Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It's about saying NO to all but the most crucial features.” (Quote from Derek Sivers.)
Daniel Seigel and Tina Payne Bryson are innovators in the world of self-help books for parents and have intelligently, and elegantly, expanded on their parenting philosophy introduced in their prior collaboration, The Whole Brain Child. The authors demonstrated respect for simplicity in the presentation of their book. They made what could’ve been a runaway discourse on brain structures and neuroscience research into a wonderfully engaging argument for closely examining your own parenting philosophy.
Redeeming the Word "Discipline"
I was eager to read this book since Siegel and Bryson made such an incredible team in The Whole Child Brain. In No-Drama Discipline, the authors expand on their philosophy that discipline is teaching, not punishment. I've read most of Siegel's clinical books for therapists, which are brilliant and pioneering in themselves; But it's his work with Bryson that I've found to be especially engaging, down-to-earth, and readable for the average person.
No Drama Discipline invites you to treat your child as the amazing, complex, developing person he/she is. This is a huge leap for many parents to learn and put these techniques into practice. It was for me. I was first introduced to the idea of “mindful” parenting by Siegel’s first parenting book, Parenting From the Inside Out. What I appreciate about this now-mainstream genre of parenting books is that they’re not too parent-centered (“children must be obedient at all times”) and they’re not too child-centered (“let’s let our kids decide what rules they want to follow.”) Rather, the focus is on keeping a balanced relationship that neither tips too far toward rigid parental control nor too far toward parenting without boundaries.
The Long-term Limits of Punishment
One of the main themes of No Drama Discipline is the idea that as parents we must always protect the connection we have with our children. This isn’t always my first instinct when my daughter has just swung a scarf over her brother’s face as he practices his piano lesson. Protecting our connection means that if we’re setting limits we’ll be aware that a kid’s emotional brain isn’t fully capable of controlling every impulse and feeling. Therefore we won't seek to punish our child when teaching consequences can achieve far more lasting results. According to the authors, punishment is a short-term reaction that carries very little intrinsic learning potential—the child learns to fear you but hasn’t been given the “scaffolding” needed to internalize the lesson himself.
Connected parenting makes a point of circling back to the child at some point to help him or her process—at their developmental level—emotions. I'll admit that not every parent has the ability to be aware of his or her own emotions, never mind be able to help a child become aware of them. But my guess is that the authors assume that parents must be willing to recognize if they cannot perform this basic step in the No Drama Discipline tool kit and will be willing to get help increasing their own emotional intelligence elsewhere. The result of parenting children with connection/teaching—not control/compliance—as the main objective is children who become adults that are more adaptive and prepared to respond to challenges in the world.
No Magic Wands, Just the Basics
No Drama Discipline offers many examples of how to implement a parenting philosophy that values your long-term relationship with your child. But what I appreciate about Siegel and Bryson's leadership in this book is what seems to be their implicit faith in the plasticity of their own methods; Though the examples are very helpful (I loved the illustrations and "Connect and Redirect Refrigerator Sheet"), it's impossible to explain every possible situation in which their methods can be tested. I'm glad they didn't try.
My first response to their table of contents was to jump to the last section of the book which contained the author's stories of either "flipping their own lid" (Dan) or dealing with a kid that responds to absolutely none of the methods that the book teaches (Tina). None of the No Drama Discipline techniques fits perfectly into all real-world situations. The authors acknowledged these limitations and exceptions and had the courage to basically say, "it's not all-or-nothing." They know that their advice will not be a magic wand which you can use and expect to get immediate results. No Drama Discipline is a slow-release fertilizer that will add to your existing repertoire of personal and spiritual growth as parents.
There will be some readers that will have wanted to see the authors write an encyclopedia for every possible situation a parent encounters related to disciplining a child. In fact, I appreciated Siegel and Bryson's use of repetition of their concepts through the book and considered this far better than many other self-help books that overload the reader with complexity. What you get instead from No Drama Discipline is a curated selection of some of the best "pillar concepts" on which some of the most successful professional family and child therapies are based.
I will highly recommend this book to the couples and families in my own private practice. It’s a short read--only six chapters--and it will challenge you to find your own distinctive recipe for discipline in the truest sense of the word—teaching.