Creative Child

The Trouble with Separation-Based Discipline Part 2


For very young children, ages 2-3, Dr. Tina Bryson, author of No Drama Discipline, recommends doing three things. First address the feeling with something like, “You’re feeling mad at your friend because he knocked over your blocks.” Then you address the behavior with, “You can’t push him down like that though. It hurts.” After that, you simply move on and get their attention on something more positive. Don’t give too much focus and attention to the negative behavior. 


For preschoolers up to about age 6 or so, I recommend using time-in. During a time-in, you bring the child into a safe space. The first order of business is to get her brain regulated. If she’s crying or angry, she isn’t receptive to learning. Empathize with her feelings and use calming techniques such as deep breathing, coloring, sensory play, or reading a book. Once she is calm, discuss what she did wrong and what she could’ve done differently, and if she is able to make amends or fix her mistake, help her to do so. Keep it fairly brief and as positive as possible.

Another great option for elementary aged kids is to create a calm-down area. Rather than being forced to go sit in a chair for a set amount of time, the calm-down area is a positive and soothing place. The child can go alone if he wishes or the parent can sit with him. It should be an inviting area and can be stocked with books, crayons, paper, squishy balls, etc. The goal here is to teach the child emotional regulation skills. It is never used for punishment and there is no time limit. 

Practicing better/positive behavior is yet another great alternative to sitting alone for 3 minutes. Let’s say your child was too rough with the family pet. Rather than sitting in time-out, use that time to show your child how to pet gently. Practice petting the pet softly and talking about how Fluffy has feelings too. 

Finally, for older kids over the age of 7, problem-solving is a great skill to teach. Ask questions such as “what were you feeling when you did that,” “how did your actions affect others,” and “what are you going to do to fix this?” This not only strengthens the prefrontal cortex, the thinking area of the brain, but it also helps the child learn accountability without the shame. It lets her know that she can correct her mistakes and repair relationships if she’s willing to change her behavior.  

Keep in mind that discipline means to teach. The goal is not to shame, blame, or punish but to help the child learn to control their own behavior. The best way to do that is not to trigger alarm by threatening separation or to withdraw your attention but instead to be their positive guide whom they know will always love them, no matter what. When children know in their hearts that nothing can separate them from our love, they can get the emotional rest they need to grow into their best selves.

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