Conscious Discipline 101
Last week, PPP’s yearly Parent Conversations took place, giving the teachers and parents a chance to share and delight in the growth of our incredible little learners. In many of these conversations, we referred to Conscious Discipline strategies used in our classrooms. While it would take a year of blog posts to do justice to the many layers of the Conscious Discipline model, we hope that in reading this today, you gain a better understanding of this impactful program.
First, let’s start with some basic points:
Conscious Discipline helps children learn how to regulate their own behavior, rather than having behavior regulated by an adult. It’s effects, therefore, are powerful and life-long.
Conscious Discipline’s success is based upon working with the children to create a safe community, teaching them to identify their own emotions, and finally teaching them how to regulate these emotions.
Conscious Discipline is effective at school AND at home.
Conscious discipline is a brain-based approach. When you understand what a child is capable of based on his or her stage of brain development, you better empathize with and react to this child’s behavior.
The Conscious Discipline model was created by Dr. Becky Bailey, PhD, a former educator
PPP began our own Conscious Discipline journey several years ago, and during the 2016-2017 school year, we made it the focus of our professional development, embracing the approach whole-heartedly. This is visible in the routines, language used, and in certain “structures” in our classrooms. But most obviously, it is visible in watching our students interact with their peers and teachers, solve problems, recognize emotions, and regulate their own behavior.
Upon entering our classrooms each morning, children are greeted by a teacher or classmate at the door. This greeting ritual is intentional and a very special way to make sure each child is welcomed into the space. Eye contact is made, and children are often given a choice: “Would you like a high five? A hand shake? A Wave? A hug?” Our morning gathering times, called Kivas, are another time where we foster the classroom community. A morning song is sung, the day is discussed, and the children feel a sense of security in the rituals of Kiva.
In our classrooms, you will also see specific “structures” that support and guide our children’s social-emotional learning. The Kindness Tree is one of these. Our classroom Kindness Trees may be different shapes and sizes, but they all support the same idea: teaching children to recognize kindness in others. By age 4-5, our students are able to spot a kind act and proudly tell the class “Kindness Reporter” who will then add a heart to the Kindness Tree.
Another important structure you will see in each classroom is the Safe Place. The Safe Place exists as a retreat that our students learn they can visit whenever they feel they need to reset their emotional state. In the Safe Place, children will find books, cards, stress balls, and other items that help us return to a calm emotional state. At the beginning of each school year, they learn and practice various strategies that can be used in the Safe Place. A favorite is being a S.T.A.R. (Smile, Take a Deep Breath, And Relax!). The most important idea to remember about this area of the room is that it is not used as a time out. We may suggest a visit to the safe place, but never force it.
The most important part of Conscious Discipline, however, cannot be seen. It is the empathy and understanding communicated by teachers, parents, caregivers, and children. There are several concepts and phrases that we find powerful here at PPP. As caregivers, our most important job is regulating our own emotions and behaviors. Not only does this act as a model for the children, but it allows us to be neutral and do what Becky Bailey calls “downloading calm” to any situation. Giving a child empathy when he or she is angry is especially important, too, and the language we use when helping a child identify her own emotional state goes something like this: “Your face is like this. Your hands are in fists. You seem angry. Are you feeling upset because your friend kicked your block tower?” We also teach our students to use their own “Big Voice” right from the start. We use our Big Voice when a toy is taken, when we would like a turn on the tire swing, when someone is sitting too close to us in Kiva, anytime a child needs to advocate for their own emotional well-being. You will hear our students saying, “Please stop. I don’t like it when you take my shovel. Please give it back.” Or “Please move over. You are too close to me.” It is direct. It is neutral. It is powerful.
So, the next time you see a teacher high fiving a child for using her Big Voice, or hear your own child’s delight when he reports that he saw “5 kindnesses” on the playground, we hope you will smile, take a deep breath, and relax, knowing that Conscious Discipline is on the job!
consciousdiscipline.com is an amazing resource for anyone wanting to learn more. Check it out!