Sunday, November 22, 2009

Conscious Discipline


This Saturday I attended a seminar for teachers and parents about the "Conscious Discipline" method, based on the work of Dr. Becky Bailey. It was presented by a child development expert on the Island, Helen Guda, who gave a really excellent and well timed workshop.

Since I've been fretting about the ideas of freedom and limits in the classroom so much lately, the seminar came as a opportune blessing. A lot of what was said was familiar from the bits about classroom management given to me in training, or from the parenting books I've read, but it's always good to be reminded of why certain things work better than others. And that when faced with a frustrated tantrumy child there are ways of handing things respectfully without helping the situation escalate.

Here are some notes on the lecture:

If we always do what we've always done, it would be crazy to expect a different outcome. Most adults (me sometimes) use fear based discipline techniques when managing conflicts with children because that's how most of us were raised. We do it institutionally.

Fear based discipline involves:

- motivating a child through fear/punishments/threats (ex: "If you do that again I'm going to...")
- focusing on the behavior that you DON'T want (ex: "don't throw pencils...if you throw the pencil... why did you throw the pencil?"- all child is hearing is THROW THE PENCIL!)
- manipulating or trying to control the child with rewards/punishments
- believing that a child must feel pain in order to learn, usually through some kind of repentance based method (like time out or other equally inefficate punishments)
- believing that we can change or make another person behave a certain way (ex: If I keep reminding him, he will eventually learn to do it...)

Positive/Conscious discipline involves:

- motivating the child through connecting with him
- focuses on the behavior that we DO want
- focuses on respecting the child and connecting with him to create cooperation
- stimulates self regulation in the child
- the child does things out of internal motivation
- believing that mistakes are necessary in order to learn (friendliness with error!)
- believing that the only person we can make change is ourselves


Conscious Discipline is based on research of the development of the brain. It uses knowledge about how the brain works to offer a way to connect with children at moments of conflict so that both parties may be enriched in the process of finding a solution.

It is based on the idea of helping the child work through the different natural reactions until they are at the point where they can register what you say, think, and find a solution to the conflict. The child moves from the survival mode (fight or flee), to a place where they can empathize or at least understand the situation. In order to carry out the process the adult has to want to connect with the child and be fully present.

When a child experiences fear or stress their primal response is to fight or flee. This is the body's natural defense mechanism. The responses of the body are triggered from the stem of the brain which is basically in charge of survival. The child under stress (very angry, having a tantrum) is operating under conditions that allow him only to choose between fighting or running away. It's not very effective to use reasoning with the child at this point. When approaching a child in this state the adult can calmly state what they see in the child (be a reflection of the child). Ex: "You are so angry, look at your brow, and you are red and stomping your feet..." You can even, the instructor suggested, imitate the child- this will either distract him or (my guess) drive him totally bonkers.

It is important at this point (when the child could be yelling and possibly cussing at you) to remember that no on can make you angry without your permission. We choose or not to get crazy and frustrated. The point here is to show the child a way out of their emotional mayhem into a more peaceful state. We have to be calm ourselves to do this. In the course they said that using affirmations such as "I am safe", "I am calm", or "I can handle this" is useful along with being aware of our breath.

Ok, so not judging the child, or getting into it with him about his tantrum is supposed to already help alleviate the situation a little. The child feels a little safer, you are not towering over him or yelling at him, so he moves up to the place where the limbic system (responsible for feelings) can be active. At this point you can talk to the child about how he feels: "You got so angry when Fred took your pencil and threw it, you were furious, it made you feel hurt." This is where a connection can be made with the child, he feels that you understand and trusts you.

Once out of that stage, the child is calmer and clearly ready to listen, you can approach him for problem solving. This is where the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain where we make decisions based on choices (the CEO of the brain if you will), comes in. At this point you can talk to the child about finding a solution to the problem: "You got angry with Fred because he took something from you. What could you say to Fred so that he knows that you didn't like that?" It is only at this stage that the child is capable of reasoning with you and learning by making better choices.


With children who you have difficulty connecting to the following things are also helpful:

-build rapport with the child during positive moments by showing affection, conversing, showing interest and giving attention to the child

-it is possible to encourage the child by noticing out loud when he does things the correct way (a SUPER book about how to use praise effectively is "The Kazdin Method" by Alan E. Kazdin)

-creating a "safe place" or "quiet place" in the classroom gives the child the option of knowing where to go when he is angry or sad. (More on creating these spaces in "Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms" by Aline Wolf)

-being assertive in our own communications with the children especially when it comes to limits (More on this in "Non Violent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg)

3 comments:

Helen said...

Love your summary Susanne, it is an excellent description of what we talked about!
Thank you!

Marie said...

I need to start stocking up on parental literature - the last book you recommended was fab! Off to Amazon to place an order... :)

DiPietro said...

WOW, i was impressed from the moment i stumbled upon BSM. And i get a fresh WOW the deeper i explore. I hope when i visit Aruba, i may have permission to visit your school and you.