Conscious Discipline

At our teacher In–Service Day in October Mary Margaret Wilson, M.Ed. Early Childhood Education Consultant and school grandparent, presented a seminar on the “Conscious Discipline” method, based on the work of Dr. Becky Bailey. The method melds perfectly with Dr. Montessori’s vision of the prepared environment.

Here are some notes from the day:

If we always do what we’ve always done, it would be crazy to expect a different outcome. Most adults use fear-based discipline techniques when managing conflicts with children because that’s how most of us were raised. We do it institutionally.


Fear based discipline involves:

– motivating a child through fear/punishments/threats (ex: “If you do that again I’m going to…”)

– focusing on the behavior that you DON’T want (ex: “don’t throw pencils…if you throw the pencil… why did you throw the pencil?”- all child is hearing is THROW THE PENCIL!)

– manipulating or trying to control the child with rewards/punishments

– believing that a child must feel pain in order to learn, usually through some kind of repentance based method (like time out or other equally ineffective punishments)

– believing that we can change or make another person behave a certain way (ex: If I keep reminding him, he will eventually learn to do it…)


Positive/Conscious discipline involves:

– motivating the child through connecting with him

– focuses on the behavior that we DO want

– focuses on respecting the child and connecting with him to create cooperation

– stimulates self-regulation in the child

– the child does things out of internal motivation

– believing that mistakes are necessary in order to learn (friendliness with error!)

– believing that the only person we can make change is ourselves


Conscious Discipline is based on research of the development of the brain. It uses knowledge about how the brain works to offer a way to connect with children at moments of conflict so that both parties may be enriched in the process of finding a solution.

It is based on the idea of helping the child work through the different natural reactions until they are at the point where they can register what you say, think, and find a solution to the conflict. The child moves from the survival mode (fight or flee), to a place where they can empathize or at least understand the situation. In order to carry out the process the adult has to want to connect with the child and be fully present.

When a child experiences fear or stress their primal response is to fight or flee. This is the body’s natural defense mechanism. The responses of the body are triggered from the stem of the brain, which is basically in charge of survival. The child under stress (very angry, having a tantrum) is operating under conditions that allow him only to choose between fighting or running away. It’s not very effective to use reasoning with the child at this point. When approaching a child in this state the adult can calmly state what they see in the child (be a reflection of the child). Ex: “You are so angry, look at your brow, and you are red and stomping your feet…”.

It is important at this point (when the child could be yelling and possibly cussing at you) to remember that no on can make you angry without your permission. We choose or not to get crazy and frustrated. The point here is to show the child a way out of their emotional mayhem into a more peaceful state. We have to be calm ourselves to do this. In the course they said that using affirmations such as “I am safe”, “I am calm”, or “I can handle this” is useful along with being aware of our breath.


Not judging the child, or trying to control the behavior helps the child feels a little safer, you are not towering over him or yelling at him, so he moves up to the place where the limbic system (responsible for feelings) can be active. At this point you can talk to the child about how he feels: “You got so angry when Johnny took your paper and threw it, you were furious, it made you feel hurt.” This is where a connection can be made with the child, he feels that you understand and trusts you.

Once out of that stage, the child is calmer and clearly ready to listen, you can approach him for problem solving. This is where the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain where we make decisions based on choices (the CEO of the brain if you will), comes in. At this point you can talk to the child about finding a solution to the problem: “You got angry with Johnny because he took something from you. What could you say to Johnny so that he knows that you didn’t like that?” It is only at this stage that the child is capable of reasoning with you and learning by making better choices. This allows the child to develop the skill of self-regulation, which is the #1 skill for lifelong success.

Remember that parenting is a journey … Enjoy the ride, as it is one that is filled with ups and downs.  Using Conscious Discipline can create a fundamental shift of power in your family so that intrinsic motivation, helpfulness, problem solving and genuine connection govern your home.

Resources and Videos on the method can be found at


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