Mary Sweeney | March 1 | Cougar Chronicle

When you hear the term discipline, what comes to mind?  

For many, the word discipline translates to punishment.  Traditional forms of discipline involve rules which are upheld through the use of consequences with the goal of obedience.  Children who comply are rewarded and those who do not “get in trouble”.  Sound familiar?  This compliance model works well in the short term, but later on, how does this prepare our children to interact with the ever-changing world around them? I often get asked the question about how we handle discipline in the classroom from prospective families so I thought I would continue to share pieces of the program we use in Early Childhood.

The Conscious Discipline program is a wonderful supplement to the mission of The New School Early Childhood program. Conscious Discipline is a research-based program that helps adults stay calm enough to see misbehavior and upset as a signal to teach a child instead of punishing them. It provides effective strategies for teaching social-emotional and life skills to children. At The New School, we use Conscious Discipline in our classrooms every day, which helps the children learn social-emotional skills and how to self-regulate. Our “safe place” in the classrooms is one example of how we use Conscious Discipline each day. A “safe place” helps the children have a safe space when they are dealing with big emotions.

With everything over the past year that our children have had to manage, you may notice that your child is experiencing a lot more emotions at home. We suggest creating a “safe place” right at home like your child has learned to use in the classroom. Start by asking your child where they would feel more comfortable. Add items to the safe area to help your child deal with their big emotions and learn to self-regulate. Items include pillows and stuffed animals, books, yoga cards, family pictures, bubbles and pinwheels, and calming sensory bottles. This is their space and allows them to have a sense of control until they are ready to face whatever obstacle is ahead of them. 

One of the first steps our teachers use in their “safe place” is to help the child take a deep, calming breath. Three deep breaths shut off the fight or flight response in the body. Many children in the classroom often choose between the four Conscious Discipline breathing techniques: Drain, S.T.A.R., Pretzel, or Balloon. Children like to come up with their own as well.  We have found this to be one of the most used techniques from Conscious Discipline in the classroom. Ms. Chelsey expressed, “We introduce the calm down rituals to children using fun visuals to go along with the breathing exercises. An example of our favorite calm down ritual is called the "Pretzel Breath". With this particular breath, students fold their arms and legs and breath in and out slowly three times. Using these in daily transitions, help children become aware and comfortable using this when they are feeling excited, mad or sad in the moment. Over time this becomes natural to them and they are able to self regulate themselves.”

Another way families can practice Conscious Discipline at home is through “I Love You Rituals”. “I Love You Rituals” are enjoyable interactions and games that can be played with children and adults from infancy through age 8. These look different depending on the child’s age. They can be a sweet song between a parent and child or a special handshake upon arrival at school between a teacher and child. These send a message of unconditional acceptance – they are safe, they are welcome, and all is well. Children need both routines and rituals in their lives. Routines help the children learn to tell time and know what is happening next. Rituals are sacred spaces selected for togetherness and unity. 

One of the favorites used in our young toddler classroom is:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star – for this ritual, it is important to be at your child’s level

Twinkle, twinkle little star,

What a wonderful child you are!

With bright eyes and nice round cheeks,

A talented person from head to feet.

Twinkle, twinkle little star

What a wonderful child you are!

Conscious Discipline has many great strategies for parents and teachers. I encourage each of you to research if you find yourself struggling with your child. It is our job as adults to help when our favorite little people are overwhelmed with emotions. We need to share calm, find ways to connect, and lend a helping hand all while they are learning to manage those big emotions. 

TNS Strong, 

Mary Sweeney

Head of Early Childhood

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