What is Conscious Discipline?

Cheryl Cotter, MEd
Conscious discipline

Parents, caregivers and teachers serve as role models for children. This is especially true when it comes to managing emotions and understanding feelings. But we can’t teach what we don’t know. That’s when a program called Conscious Discipline might help.

Social-emotional learning

Conscious Discipline is a social-emotional learning program. Designed by Dr. Becky Bailey, the program supports first teaching ourselves about self-control and self-regulation, and then teaching children. It helps us see how we respond to upset and understand our emotions, and how to regulate ourselves when we are triggered. In short, it teaches us how to be conscious as adults of what we are saying to children, and what behaviors we are modeling.

What is really wonderful is that it is an inside-out program – it teaches adults to manage their own upset, sadness, happiness, anger. Then, in turn, it teaches us how we can teach children the same thing. Then they too can manage their own upset when triggered and understand their own feelings.

Sometimes when we’re triggered or angry, we are in an emotional state. We may not even be fully conscious of it, but because of that state, we may yell aggressively or say something we regret. As a result, we are modeling to children that these negative behaviors are the appropriate response.

A higher level of understanding

Conscious Discipline is based on brain research. It is based on the brain state and being able to move from an unconscious brain state to a more aware state.

Once we become more conscious, we can be at a higher level of understanding. When we react in an upset brain state, we do so unconsciously. We want to be in a higher functioning brain state so we can be solution driven, and we can respond rather than just react.

Why is emotional awareness important for parents?

We want to be more aware of what we are teaching our children. When we are passive, we teach kids not to respect boundaries. If we are aggressive, children learn to be aggressive. We only have the skills that were taught to us growing up.

That’s not to say you haven’t been a good teacher or caregiver! It simply means that we do the best we can do at the time, but once we know better, we can do differently.

My own experience

I have found that the Conscious Discipline program is a journey, but not a destination because you are constantly learning and reflecting.

It’s very much about the learner. Everyone who studies the program will hear what is important for them at the time. The key takeaway, however, is an ability to understand the brain in upset. Through that, we can understand how we respond to a child, and also recognize the child’s emotional state.

For example, in the past, if I gave a direction to one of my children and they didn’t follow it, we would get into a verbal debate or power struggle. Now, I will pause sometimes, to see where the child is and what kind of response I’m receiving. I can understand and recognize when it’s best to just stop and be present.

Through Conscious Discipline, I have learned to recognize when they are in a moment of upset, and now I know I can help them in that particular time. In the past, I would simply try to avoid upset and conflict. Now I’ve learned that by doing so, I was taking away the opportunity for my child to recognize their own emotions.

Then, I would fix things when they were sad or disappointed. Now, I’ve learned that children need to feel disappointed and it is my job to coach them and empathize with them and let them have their own disappointment. Sensing disappointment or sadness is vital to having the important quality of empathy.

Overall, the program can help us to be conscious of our emotions and our reactions so we can help children better manage their own. It builds resilience. We can learn that it is okay to be disappointed or sad. And we learn how to manage our response to that. In turn, children can learn from us.

Conscious Displine is a step in changing the culture to teach self-regulation among children. But really, it’s all about connection. Because connection brings willingness, and helps a child feel safe so they can learn.

If you’d like to learn more about the Conscious Discipline program, I will be offering an introduction to the topic at the Bradley Hospital Parenting Matters conference on Saturday, March 21.

Learn more about Parenting Matters and register here. For more tips on childhood health and wellness, visit the Growing section of our Lifespan Living blog.

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