A couple of weeks ago, some of my team and I attended a workshop on Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline, an approach to supporting the social-emotional development of young children. While it was created mainly for early childhood classroom settings, Conscious Discipline provides more examples of how to reach children through being in a relationship with them in any environment, and is based on the same framework of brain development as Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline (Siegel and Bryson.) The framework describes three brain states, represented by three different parts of the brain: the brainstem/survival brain, the limbic system/emotional brain, and the prefrontal cortex/problem solving brain. The survival brain seeks to feel safe, the emotional brain to feel connected, and the problem solving brain to learn.
Conscious Discipline is structured to help children develop all twelve of the executive skills that the problem solving brain learns, by first satisfying the needs of the other two parts of the brain. First we help children feel safe and secure, then feel connected and loved, and then we can teach them social problem solving and executive skills. And let me tell you, if you look at that list of skills, you will see that most of the challenging behaviors that young children show us are signals about which executive skills they need help to learn!
It all starts with an attachment figure – the child’s “person” – that is available to provide reliable support when that child is in distress. Because when young children are in distress they perceive the world through the survival (fight, flight, or freeze) brain, they depend on their “person” to help them regulate. Regaining a feeling of safety allows them to be able to perceive the world through the emotional brain, seeking to be connected to others. If we can find a way to help them feel connected with their attachment figure, then they may progress to be in the ready-to-learn (executive) brain state, the only brain state that allows for social problem solving, and for learning and practicing the executive skills!