Tue. Feb 25th, 2020

Parenting Tips

From Parenting Coach Dr. Clarity

What is “Conscious Discipline”

8 min read
toddler running with dog

Conscious Discipline 101

Originally developed for educators, Conscious Discipline is an approach developed by Dr. Becky Bailey, an education and childhood development expert. Dr. Bailey first founded her company and developed her methods in 1996 and has since published numerous books and resources supporting her technique.

Dr. Bailey’sfirst book, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, outlines seven skills parents should learn and the resulting seven values they teach kids. These skills are used throughout Conscious Discipline to teach children correct ways to deal with their emotions, instead of punishing the resulting behaviors. PHOTO- https://consciousdiscipline.com/methodology/seven-skills/

Science Behind Conscious Discipline

Conscious discipline is based on the idea that there are three parts of the brain.

  • Survival State- The lower brain is concerned with safety. This is the fight or flight response, and in children, is often seen in temper tantrums.
  • Emotional state- The mid brain is associated with emotions, and can be seen in an upset, crying child.
  • Executive State- The upper brain is what parents are trying to develop- problem solving and reasoning.

Children can’t learn to change their behavior when they are engaging in behavior in the lower parts of the brain. If a child is in the midst of a tantrum or emotional outburst, the only way to move forward and return to reason is through connection.

Creating Connection in Conscious Discipline

Think of the last time you had a blow-out argument with a spouse, partner or friend. You may have walked out of the house or gone for a drive, which would have been a “flight” response. You probably were so mad you thought of all the other times you had been mad, and every mistake your spouse or friend had ever made. You might have yelled things you later regretted.

Were you seeing reason in that moment?

If your partner tried to reason with or punish you at that point, would that have solved the situation or escalated it?

You might have an experience where you stayed in that crazed survival state until your spouse made the first move at apology, or connection. Even a touch on the knee might have been enough for you to begin to regain reason and understand how to move the situation forward.

The Conscious Discipline model is based on the idea that children need connection from their parents or caregiver to deescalate emotional situations and learn from their mistakes. In addition to connecting through playtime, reading, and generally enjoying spending time with your child, Conscious Discipline uses a few unique tactics.

  1. Conscious Discipline Safe Place

Instead of a time-out, conscious discipline encourages the use of a “safe place”. A safe place is an area of a home or classroom where a student can go to calm down and gain composure. This area serves as a base to help a child gain composure, figure out how to label their emotion and choose a calm activity before solving the problem.

A child may choose to go to this space on their own or a parent or teacher may encourage them to utilize the space, but a safe place is never a punishment. It is a tool to teach self-regulation. If a parent or teacher directs the child to use the safe place, it should be in a positive manner. A young baby or toddler may need a teacher or parent to hold them on their lap and help them calm down.

A safe place should be tucked in a quiet, cozy corner, with inviting cushions, a beanbag or a chair. Books or posters can be placed which depict various emotions or ways to calm down. Sensory items such as rice, stress balls, a pinwheel, a stuffed animal, or scented lotions can be located in the safe place to help a child calm themselves.

  • I Love You Rituals

Dr. Bailey has an entire book dedicated to I Love You rituals, structured activities focused on building a connection between caregivers and children. I Love You rituals can also be used between children to foster friendships or sibling relationships. These rituals encourage loving touch, eye contact and playfulness. The idea is that these activities foster a connection which prevents behavior issues or at the very least, makes the issues easier to solve.

I Love You rituals can be built into a morning or bedtime routine, can be done during meal times, or can be spread throughout the day. Although there are many examples of I Love You Rituals, the most popular one is set to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and includes positive messaging for children. LINK: https://consciousdiscipline.com/videos/i-love-you-rituals-your-guide-for-meaningful-connections/

A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Conscious Discipline

First step: Gain Your Composure

The first step to disciplining a child is to discipline yourself. Don’t stoop to childlike behavior when your child is upset. Model how to handle the situation maturely and effectively. By staying calm and composed and providing connection, you can help a child return to the upper levels of his or her brain.

You are in charge of your own emotions. No one can make you angry without your permission.

Tips to maintain composure yourself and teach your child to regain composure:

  • S.T.A.R. – Smile, Take a deep breath, and Relax
  • Guided breathing VIDEOhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXZ5l7G6T2I
  • Balloon Breathing VIDEO https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8Fjg4P9HBM
  • Drain- Extend arms, tighten upper body muscles, and exhale slowly, making a “shhh” noise while you release your muscles.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation- tense and release all the muscles in your body
  • 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique
    • List 5 things you can see
    • List 4 things you can feel
    • List 3 things you can hear
    • List 2 things you can smell
    • List 1 thing you can taste
  • Hug yourself- Place pressure on your stomach and back at the same time
  • Wall push- Stand near a wall and press both palms against it for 5-10 seconds
  • Shake out all the anger, stress, or fear in your body
  • Use the safe place you have set up in your home or school

Second Step: Reflect the child’s emotions

“Your face is going like this. Your arms are going like this. You seem _____”

By demonstrating the child’s nonverbal behavior and linking it to an emotion, you can start to help the child understand what they are feeling. “Hmm. When my face is scrunched up and I am stomping on the floor, that means I am angry.” Labeling the emotion is the first step towards shifting the brain to higher-level functioning.

“You wanted _________ so you _________.” “It’s hard when _______________”

Acknowledge the child’s intention. “You wanted the toy, so you took it from your brother. It’s hard to share.”

Third Step: Solve the Problem

Give the child alternatives to their behavior. It might be that the child needs to be able to communicate his/her wants to another child. It might be that they need to not climb on the counter to reach something, but ask a parent for help.

Helpful phrases:

“What could you do to solve this problem?”

“When you ________, then you may _____________” Example: “When you want a snack, you may ask me for one.”

“Is ________ safe?”

“If you choose to __________ then ___________ will happen. Do you understand?”

“Did you like it?”

“Are you telling me to be helpful or hurtful?”

Another problem-solving tool from Conscious Discipline is known as the time machine. Dr. Bailey outlines conflict resolution strategies for children using a time machine to re-do hurtful interactions in a positive manner. The full method can be found on the Conscious Discipline website and teaches children to be assertive and solve their own problems. Link:https://consciousdiscipline.com/free-resources/shuberts-home/playroom/time-machine/

Prevention Tips

A majority of conscious discipline is preventing a child from engaging in bad behavior. Conscious Discipline is more of a lifestyle change or parenting style than a quick discipline fix.

  1. Attention- When you focus on a behavior, you get more of it. Instead of judging, start a conversation with “I noticed…” or simple state what happened without labeling it as “good” or “bad”

Examples: “I noticed you picked out the pink socks today.”

“I noticed you said ‘thank you’ when I passed the salt.”

“Look at you! You threw your wrapper in the garbage.”

  • Assertiveness- Use an assertive voice as a parent. Instead of saying, “is it time to put on your shoes?” or “Should we go home now?”, say “Walk to the closet, take out your shoes, and put them on.” “You can go down the slide one more time and then we will go home.”

In a child-child conflict, teach the children to be assertive.

Example: One child hits another and the injured child comes to tell you.

Mom: “Well, did you like it?”
Injured child: “No.”

Mom: walks injured child to hitter. “If he hits you say, hitting hurts! I do not like it when you hit me.”

Next, try and guess the hitting child’s intention and explain an acceptable way to express themselves.

Mom: “James, you hit David because you wanted him to share his toy. You may not hit, hitting hurts. If you want to play with the toy, tap David on the shoulder and ask if you can have a turn.”

Have James model how he would ask David to share.

  • Provide Two Positive Choices

Children like to assert their free will. Instead of being a dictator, give the child two positive choices that ultimately lead them to the same result.


Instead of: Go get in the car

Try this: Would you like to hop to the car like a bunny or skip to the car?

Instead of: Hold my hand while we cross the street

Try this: Would you like to hold my right hand or my left hand?

A mistake parents might make is offering a negative choice. For example, “eat your dinner or you don’t get dessert” doesn’t give children the same sense of agency over their choices. Saying, “Would you like to start by taking a bite of peas or a bite of carrots” would be a better alternative.

The choice possibilities are endless! Think creatively! If you have a picky child, try offering the same food on a blue or green spoon. Or offer two pajama options for a child who doesn’t want to get ready for bed.

  • Encourage Consistent Routines

Having a consistent, written routine can help children cooperate at home or in school. It also builds skills like time management, responsibility, and organization. These routines should be posted where children can see them and ideally with visual pictures accompanying any words describing the routine. For example, if getting ready in the morning is a problem, take pictures of each step of the child’s routine (waking up, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, etc.). Post these where a child can see in order to help mitigate the constant nagging or yelling which can accompany trying to get a child out of the door. If a child is dallying, ask them if they have completed everything in their routine. Having a visual reminder keeps a child on task, and they can refer to the chart without needing to keep checking in with a parent or caregiver. Routines can be helpful in situations like using the bathroom, mealtime or getting ready for bed.

Routines can also prevent arguments or whining. If a child consistently tries to negotiate for more bedtime stories or another 30 minutes of screen time, write a routine which states the rules in a clear fashion. This strategy could also be combined with the strategy of giving choices. For example, if a child always requests more bedtime stories, you could post two options of a routine- one in which they get to listen to two bedtime stories and sing two song, or another option where they get to listen to three bedtime stories but only sing one song.

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