In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student & Athlete Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainers Kelly Pfeiffer and Dodie Blomberg to talk about positive discipline and how parents can use it as a tool to empower and grow their children while fostering true connection.
Susan Stone: Welcome back to Real Talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. We’re full-time moms and attorneys bringing our students defense legal practice to light with real candid conversation. Today’s topic is discipline, in particular, positive discipline. We bring with us two special guests, Kelly Pfeiffer, and Dodie Blomberg.
Kelly Pfeiffer: Thanks for having us.
Kristina Supler: Our pleasure. We’re so pleased today to have Kelly and Dodie with us. Both women are Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainers and have years of experience with the topic that is positive discipline. So ladies, before we dive in, why don’t you give us a little bit of your own background? Tell us about yourselves.
Kelly Pfeiffer: I’m Kelly Pfeiffer and when I became a mom years and years and years ago, I’d say 28 years ago, I was struggling. I knew I didn’t want to discipline my children the exact same way that I did before. I found positive discipline 28 years ago. Then, I decided I wanted to start teaching it. Currently, I have two children who are 28 and 25 and two stepchildren who are 28 and 26 and I live in Greenville, South Carolina.
Susan Stone: Thank you, Kelly. That’s a great introduction. Dodie?
Dodie Blomberg: So, I’m Dodie Blomberg and I started my career as a classroom teacher and I had a really hard first year. I didn’t have the tools and skills I needed to manage really tough fifth graders. They’re tougher than they seem. A few years in, a friend said, “Hey, take this training.” It’s positive discipline in the classroom. I thought it was so amazing. It gave me tools that I just didn’t even know existed to grow kids’ skills and to grow my own skills with social, emotional, relationships, communication. I didn’t even know that was out there. Then a few years later, I got married and had two kids. Then I learned you can use this on with your own children. Of course, everyone knew that. I just took a little time to figure that out. Then, like Kelly, I love this work. I got trained. I’ve been practicing this work since 1995. I’m still learning. My children now are 26 and 23 and they’re pretty good people. We have a good relationship and I just really think positive discipline has helped it along the way.
Susan Stone: Well, I would like to share with our listening audience that, as you know, Kristina and I work with students every day and we get a lot of parenting questions when we have to advise parents on how to handle certain circumstances, such as it might sound, “Go on spring break when there’s a pending tons of charges.” We realized early on that people were not asking us for legal questions but parenting questions and that lead us to want to learn more for our own business. I can share that Dodie and Kelly certified us in positive discipline. I’ve also seen a change not only on how we speak to our clients who are students, but my own family. So, I thank you for imparting your knowledge on us, but we’d like you guys to talk to our audience. Can you tell us what is positive discipline?
Dodie Blomberg: So, positive discipline basically is a group of skills and tools that adults can use to help grow children’s skills and tools like teaching respect, responsibility, communication, listening, problem solving, and more. And I don’t know about all of you, but I didn’t learn all of those growing up. Like my growing up was you obey adults. But then as a kid, what did I do when I was on my own and I had to solve problems? I didn’t know how to do that. I just knew how to follow directions. So really, ideally, how do we teach our kids to think, to solve problems, to think through things so they become adults who know how to do that? Kelly, do you want to add on?
Kelly Pfeiffer: I can just add one more thing. Traditional discipline generally focuses on getting rid of behaviors. So, we want them to go away. Those behaviors that are annoying or dangerous. Positive discipline instead focuses on adding to the child, helping them learn new skills and tools. So, I love to explain that difference, that we’re not taking away until we add something because children are going to use the same tools that they have until they have new tools. So we need to… the focus is on teaching children these new life skills and tools [crosstalk]
Susan Stone: How about an example, ladies?
Dodie Blomberg: So, let’s just start with little kids. Because I think little kids is just like, you could see the starting point and where you’re going. So young children, they have harsh tools, right? You see kids in preschool. They’re hitting. They’re biting. They’re grabbing. Those are the tools they know. It gets results quickly. Now we don’t want our kids to have those… Use those tools long term so we need to replace them with the tools. So, we teach kids gentle hands, ask for the toy, take time to share, teeth are for chewing, not biting. Right? Like really teaching the tools we want so they know what to do. That’s more helpful than hurtful tools as a beginning place. Kelly, can you add another one?
Kelly Pfeiffer: One thing I remember Jane Nelson saying a lot is that when children make a mistake or have a misbehavior, that the parents tell the kids what happened, what caused it to happen, what they can do about it and what can they do in the future to prevent it. In a positive discipline, let’s see a teenager gets a speeding ticket, we might lecture about it, tell them what they need to do. Then instead of positive discipline, we ask the teen, “Wow, what happened? Tell me what was going on. What do you think caused that to happen?” We’re having to pause and wait for them to think and come up with answers. “Wow, what do you think you can do about this speeding ticket and what do you think you can do in the future about this?”
Kristina Supler: Kelly I’m glad you brought up that example of teenagers and the speeding tickets because I was going to ask, is positive discipline geared more towards younger children? You talk about it’s a philosophy designed to give parents and children really more tools to bring to problem solving, but it sounds like what you’re saying is it can be used for children of all ages. Is that correct?
Kelly Pfeiffer: It is. So, as a young child, I might only ask, “Wow, what happened?” if the child is three or four because they may not be able to process those questions. Then, when that same time gets to be six, maybe I’ll ask, “Oh, what happened? What caused it to happen?” When they’re older, I just add on the questions. By the time they’re teenagers, we just added on more skills. We are inviting them to think about problem solving. So, it is for all ages and we do have to think about the child’s developmental stage and age as to how we apply each tool.
Dodie Blomberg: Kelly, can I add to that? The beauty of this is it becomes their own self-talk. Right? So when they end up with a challenge or a difficulty, instead of saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m in trouble. Don’t let mom or dad learn.” The self-talk might be, “Oh my gosh, what happened? What did I do? What do I need to do? How can I get help? How do I solve this?” They get a new self-talk that helps them solve the problem instead of just being afraid of getting in trouble.
Susan Stone: How’s it different than logical consequences?
Dodie Blomberg: I personally think logical consequences can be challenging. Most of us use them because that’s what we’re raised with. But often people use logical consequences as punishment. Let’s think of a punishment that’ll match this issue. The child is driving badly with their car and taking the keys away. Driving badly, take the keys away. That would be a logical consequence. Now that could also be a solution. It could be. If you sit down and have a good talk through conversation with your child and find out what their reasons were. Who was in the car? What made you drive quickly? Maybe underneath, you find out it has to do with that friend in the car who’s always telling him to hit the accelerator. So, maybe a better solution is that friend can’t drive with you. You can still drive the car to school, but you can’t have that friend in the car. That might be a better solution. Kelly, ideas on logical consequences?
Kelly Pfeiffer: One thing I want to add is if you’re just trying to cause blame, shame and pain with your logical consequence, that’s probably you’re just trying to punish and then disguise it as a logical consequence. So to change the mindset to a positive discipline mindset is to focus on solutions because we can’t change the past. We can only change what happens in the future and to focus on really what might be helpful because if we’re just using blanket consequences, they might not be helpful at all in solving the problem. But just like you said, Dodie, drilling down to, “Oh, it’s the friend. Oh, then let’s focus our solution on-
Susan Stone: Right skills.
Kristina Supler: So Kelly, a question I have is when you’re talking about having a conversation to think things through, analyze what happened, and arrive at solutions, how is that conversation and looking for solutions different from not imposing any discipline at all in the child?
Kelly Pfeiffer: Oh yes. So lots of people think if you’re not punishing or giving consequences, then you’re being permissive and we’re definitely not recommending permissive parenting at all. So, the solution-focused conversation is joint problem solving and also teaching skills for the future. So, if there wasn’t a conversation at all and people just forgot about it and said, “Oh, don’t do that again, honey.” We might call that permissive parenting because the parent is not addressing the problem. Another piece of this is timing to address the problem because right when the parents find out about a ticket or an accident in a car accident, the parents might be really upset. And the teen’s probably really upset and that is not the time to have the conversation. So another piece of having this conversation is to wait until people have calmed down, everyone is calmed down so that you can focus on solutions. Dodie, anymore about permissive parenting for me. What’s going on with [inaudible]
Dodie Blomberg: Yeah. The other thought I have is permissive parenting. The weight of the problem never sits in the child’s lap or the teenagers lap. The parent holds the weight when you’re going to, and now you’re going to, and now the situation is and the parents is holding all the weight of the problem, right? The situation that happened. Ideally, you’d let the situation just sit in your teenager’s lap and you’re going to talk about how they’re going to solve it. Let’s talk through the ways you can fix this problem because it’s your problem. Do you feel the weight of the problem? Does that make sense?
Kristina Supler: Yeah and actually I am just… In your experience teaching this view of discipline over the many years that you’ve done. So I would imagine when parents engage in joint problem solving, does that help achieve more… I don’t know, I guess what some might call buy-in from the child? To help be invested in the solution versus just feeling like I have to do this because my mother is making me.
Dodie Blomberg: Yeah. I want to add that. What often happens when we use punishment or quote consequences, it ends up being a wrestling match between us and the kids. Well, my parents and now I have to it’s my parents’ fault. Like all of a sudden, it’s not the problem that happened. It’s all about the parent. They’re angry at the parent. So ideally, the problem would sit there and they kind of think of it as a visual, like sometimes we feel like we’re opposite our child and we’re wrestling with this problem back and forth. It said definitely setting the problem in their lap and then sitting next to them and you’re both looking at this problem like, “Ugh, [crosstalk] that’s a big problem.”
Susan Stone: Team. I think that’s the thing. We’re on the same team. I’m with you. Let’s get to the root behind these issues. Is there a psychological foundation of what’s behind misbehavior?
Dodie Blomberg: Well, according to positive discipline, Rudolph Dreikurs came up with four main reasons people misbehave. If we back up even farther, all human beings want belonging and significance. If we think about that for ourselves, we all kind of know that. We like when we belong somewhere. We like when we matter somewhere, peer pressure, all of that, it has to do with belonging and significance. Besides being tired, hungry, or sick, right? The main four reasons people misbehave is they want attention, or they want power or they’re feeling hurt so they do revenge or they feel so disconnected. They feel inadequate so they almost give up. So, there’s kind of this range, it’s attention and then power and then I don’t have any connection, revenge, and then just kind of give up. You could almost see most misbehavior fall into those four categories for adults and children, like human beings.
Kristina Supler: That’s so interesting that the same tenants hold true for someone, regardless of whether they’re five years old or 45 years old. Those root causes drive certain decisions and behavior.
Susan Stone: Yeah. We all want to be loved. Is that the foundation at the end of the day? [crosstalk] I see by smiling, but our listeners can’t see you. So I just wanted to say everybody’s smiling and I hope you, listeners, are, too.
Dodie Blomberg: What we find is when people feel like they belong, they behave better. Our behavior is better. When we don’t feel like we belong, we can kind of misbehave and create mischief. Right?
Kristina Supler: Kelly, a question I’m wondering for you, Susan and I and our law practice, we represent students of all ages across the country who are confronted with a variety of legal issues. Part of the group of students we serve in particular are children with special needs. So, if you could speak to, particularly for our parents or listeners out there with children who have special needs, does this approach work for that population? How might you be able to adapt it or apply it?
Susan Stone: Right question Kristina.
Kelly Pfeiffer: So it does because even children with special needs have that primary goal of belonging and significance, but their idea of how to belong and feel significant may look slightly different. We may have to do a little bit more detective work to see, “Oh, they do want attention.” or “They are trying but they have some skill deficits that we’re just not aware of. That’s why the behavior ends up looking like this.”
So, the positive discipline are trying to look at the goal or mistaken goal behind the behavior and for special needs children, it may take a little bit of extra work and getting into their world. That can be challenging if they have communication deficits. Sometimes we’re making guesses at first, as we’re trying to solve problems with our children or figure out what their mistaken goal is. When they can communicate well and they’re older, we can ask them and possibly get some information. But when they’re young and don’t have language skills or they have language barriers because of the special need, if yes, it gets challenging, but these same principles are still all apply. There’s actually a book Positive Discipline for Children with Special Needs that parents may want to check into or listened to. I think there’s an audio version as well.
Kristina Supler: That’s wonderful.
Susan Stone: Right. Came to appreciate. While Kristina and I were going through the training and I don’t… Kristina, you want to know if you feel the same way is that there was a lot of subtlety to concepts that we think we know as appearance, that there are differences. And one of the refined differences between traditional parenting and positive discipline is the concept of encouragement versus-
Kristina Supler: Right. [crosstalk] Susan, I’m so glad you brought that up because it was only through this class and the training that we did with Kelly and Dodie that I realized some of the… how I am guilty of sort of doling out praise versus encouragement. Though related, they are in fact very different concepts that ultimately foster difference, resiliency, and life skills. Dodie, can you tell us a little bit more about the subtle difference between encouragement and praise and why it’s so important for parents to understand the difference between the two concepts?
Dodie Blomberg: So I appreciate you bringing that up. As a teacher, I started out my career praising and I’m really good at praise. I still have to keep my eye on it. So, praise is about the giver. It’s about me, so “I think you did a good job. Oh, you look so pretty. What a nice painting.”
Susan Stone: Yawty, I’m a praiser.
Dodie Blomberg: [crosstalk] I get it. It can be really challenging and it’s, “I think you did a good job.” or “I like what you did or you didn’t like I told you.” It’s really a reflection of my judgment and it’s not bad, but it’s not that helpful. When we only use praise, our children become pleasers and are always looking for praise so they do something and they look, “Is this good, Mom? Did I do it right, Dad? Is this right?” If they don’t like you, they don’t give a flip if you like their work or not. It’s almost like the flip side of it, right?
Kristina Supler: [crosstalk] for those teenage years.
Dodie Blomberg: If you feel hurt, “Uh, forget it. I don’t care what you think.” Right? Where encouragement is more about noticing people’s forward motion. So, I noticed you got started on your homework. I noticed you made your bed without being asked. I noticed you filled the tank with gas. Thank you for that. Nothing big, like hurray, super great, like just acknowledging what people do. That’s a forward motion. It’s powerful. You can start with, I noticed, I appreciate, or I have faith. Those are lovely sentence starters and noticing people’s forward motion.
The other thing is you can use praise when people are successful, but when people make mistakes or aren’t successful, you can’t use praise, but you can still use encouragement. Right? So if your child comes home with a failing test, but you saw them study for it, right? You saw them. You can still use encouragement and say, “Oh my gosh, I saw you study so hard yesterday.” And you can even ask a curiosity question. “So can you take the test again? Are you able to figure out what you did wrong so we can practice some more.” Right? So you can still use encouragement and curiosity and still help our child feel better.
Susan Stone: It’s more genuine.
Kristina Supler: Kelly, Dodie used a phrase or reference that concept curiosity question. What’s that? Can you tell us more about a curiosity question?
Kelly Pfeiffer: So generally a curiosity question begins with the words what or how. What’s going on for you? Or what were you thinking in that moment? How would you like to solve this problem? Just being genuinely curious and I caution parents, don’t ask a curiosity question if you’re not really interested in listening to the answer. So some people might say, “I’m going to ask a curiosity question. How are you going to solve this problem by tomorrow at eight o’clock?”
Dodie Blomberg: Or what were you thinking?
Susan Stone: I know that is not helpful. We have so much to ask you. Let me deal with a lot of mental health issues in our practice and especially the past year or so. Maybe even before, Kristina and I were seeing an increase in depression and anxiety, both in our student population and in the adults that we represent, does this method work with individuals who are experiencing mental health challenges?
Dodie Blomberg: So I think this work is encouraging work and what comes up for me is one of the things we talk about is connection. We all need connection. As like this last year and a half, we need connection more than ever. So, how do we stay deeply connected with people, even if they’re depressed, even if they’re having challenges, like making sure our children and our friends know that we are here, we’ve got them now, it may not solve any problem. But knowing that somebody has your back and is tightly connected to you can really help people feel a little better.
Susan Stone: Kelly, can you give an example of how you would convey that to someone who’s so anxious that they’re having panic attacks and maybe don’t want to do something because they’re so whipped up into anxiety?
Kristina Supler: Right. I have, I mean, we’re getting into back to school season so for teens or children of any age who are anxious about the return to school and what the new school year is going to hold. How would you help foster connection and encouragement in the child who’s just super anxious about returning to the classroom?
Kelly Pfeiffer: One of our parenting tools and teacher tools is connection before correction. So, first we might acknowledge the feelings or validate the feelings that the child is having. Many times parents want to say, “Oh, it’ll be fine.” and that is not acknowledging that the child’s feelings, the students’ feelings are real and valid. So when we might start with, oh, you’re feeling anxious about blank, blank, blank, whatever the child has said. So, that is a connection piece first, and then listening to what the child says. So, listening is a connection tool, as well as validating feelings. Then after you think that the child has said everything, normally, I would notice that the child gets calm just being able to voice it because in self-regulation one of the essential skills that even preschoolers can do is just to name the feeling they’re having. When we name the feeling Daniel Siegel system, Name It to Tame It. Naming the feelings help [inaudible]
Susan Stone: Name it to tame it.
Kelly Pfeiffer: Yeah.
Susan Stone: I’m writing that down.
Kelly Pfeiffer: That is the first step to self-regulation is naming the feeling that you’re having. Then another tool that we teach is positive timeout. That means how can each person use tools to calm down either in the moment, or they might have to step away to go. I’ve told my kids if you ever need, if you’re at school and you’re stressed, just ask to go to the bathroom. Go to the bathroom, calm down. If that’s what you need, it’s a quiet space or try to do things in your own head. But one of our breakdown tools is positive timeout. Each person finding small tools they can use both while they’re with people or if they need to step away and take deep breaths, count to 10, say three sentences about gratitude, what they’re thankful for, whatever works for them, but it’s a coping skills that are taught for anxiety or stress in positive discipline. It’s really individual. Notice what your own body does to tell you that your stress and then use other tools, say name it to tame it and then calm down.
Susan Stone: That was very powerful. Thank you so much.
Kristina Supler: Ladies, thank you so much for joining us today, Kelly, Dodie. We really appreciate the wonderful wealth of information you’ve provided to our listeners and we encourage our listeners to learn more about positive discipline. Check out the information on the web and thank you all for listening to real talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. And please don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast for more resources. Visit us online at studentdefense.kjk.com.