The Conscious Discipline Method Helps Parents Think More and Punish Less

It gives you the tools to yell less, think more, and stay in control.

by Emily Kelleher
Originally Published: 
A mother talking to her child

Expecting parents are famous for making grandiose vows about what they

won’t do as a parent: use an iPad to keep a kid quiet, fight with their partner in front of the kids, yell, curse, bribe – promises differ, but all soon-to-be parents make them. And yet, a great tradition of parenthood is swiftly breaking them. It’s easy to imagine being the perfect parent before the baby arrives, when nobody’s screaming, you’ve had a good night’s sleep, and your feet have yet to be scarred by stray Legos. But in the heat of the moment, rational decision making has a way of going out the door. Psychologist Becky Bailey, PhD, is all too familiar with this. In one of her most widely viewed talks, the child development expert, author, educator and founder of Conscious Disciplineasks an audience of parents to raise their hand if they ever made promises about what they would never do as a parent. Hands shoot up, including Bailey’s own. Then, she asks them how many of them have done what they swore they wouldn’t. Everyone, including Bailey herself, raises their hand again. One of the areas where parents go back on promises to them is discipline. We promise not to yell or be the parent who is anything but calm and understanding. But that can quickly deteriorate. We promise to do better. Eventually, we break that promise again.To stop the cycle, parents would be wise to reconsider how they look at discipline. That’s Bailey’s point. Her philosophy is that parents punish kids in ways that aren’t productive because the emotions that overtake us during conflict make it hard to find alternatives. Instead, we fall back on methods that were used on us during childhood.But Bailey’s method, called Conscious Discipline, gives parents tools to push back against these knee-jerk reactions, respond to children intentionally, and keep those promises. It all centers around two main ideas: One, that when kids act out, they don’t need punishment, but rather guidance in calming down and working through their feelings. And two, that parents can’t provide this guidance if they don’t know how to calm down themselves.

What is Conscious Discipline?

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How Does Conscious Discipline Work?

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How Can Parents Implement Conscious Discipline?

  1. Use Visual Reminders and Routines

Maybe it’s a chart in a child’s bedroom that reminds where to put their shoes and dirty clothes. Maybe it’s a calendar that uses pictures to show which days a child has art class or soccer practice. Children, particularly under the age of seven, respond well to pictures, because they’re easier to interpret than words. “Pictures never get tired of explaining, but people do,” Speidel says. “If there’s a routine and pictures, then you’re not having to be the foreman on the job making sure that everybody’s doing what they need to do. The picture tells the story, and it also empowers children to be in charge of their own routines by checking off what they’ve done,” Calendars and schedules can be particularly helpful, as children feel safest with routines.

  1. Create I Love You Rituals

Conscious Discipline urges parents to come up with what they call “I Love You Rituals,” or activities like singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ and doing hand movements or dancing along to a song together. They all include eye contact, touch, and presence in a playful situation, which Bailey believes are the prerequisites for connection. For kids, these seemingly silly activities are about learning how to express affection and love through shared experience and vulnerability, says DeSilva.

  1. Remember: It’s a long process

The goals of Conscious Discipline are lofty, and the process is long. Speidel tells parents to start by practicing these new skills just 20 percent of the time. “Eventually the brain starts to gravitate towards the more powerful tools.” Inevitably, parents will fail and react in ways they later regret. When that happens, Speidel says the best thing to do is acknowledge it. Tell your child that you didn’t react in a way that was calm or helpful, and you’d like to try again. When we do this, “We give our children an opportunity to witness how it is that we make mistakes and recover,” Speidel says.

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