Sides of Pyramid:
   Yellow Side
   Blue Side
   Red Side
   Green Side

Growth Stages (Red):
   Ages 0-3
   Ages 1-8
   Ages 7-12
   Ages 11-18
   Ages 16-20+
   Ages 20+
How to Discipline during each Growth Stage

The Red Side answers the immediate question that most parents care most about: So what do I DO when my child misbehaves?

The primary Present Parenting disciplinary responses listed on the pyramid for each stage are a general guideline for mindful parents to use as a foundation for how to react to challenging moments. They give utmost respect to a child’s natural needs (and therefore self-worth) at each developmental stage and attempt to delicately and gradually shift accountability for immature behavior to the child when the child's brain is mature enough to process it wisely. These responses require the patient use of the parent’s prefrontal cortex as he or she implements the parental virtues presented on the Blue Side and works towards the developmental childhood goals for the child shown on the Yellow Side. 

Connect, age 0-3:
Discipline by Connecting.

During the early years, we discipline by mindfully directing our time and attention toward ensuring our child forms a secure attachment.

If a child needs to be corrected or removed from a situation, we physically go to her and bring her to us and hold her gently while talking calmly with her. If we can’t hold her gently because we’re too mad/overwhelmed ourselves, we must take a minute to meditate and re-engage our prefrontal cortex in order to make the best decisions with her. Expect to struggle with this at first. It’s a new skill. With practice, holding a child or being fully present with a child (even one that’s having a tantrum) can also be a very rewarding form of meditation. If a child refuses to be held, we respectfully give her space, but we keep her emotional state in our awareness and at a level of genuine acceptance towards her.  We also consciously work to keep her and others physically safe while we look for the next moment to reconnect in a mindful way when she is ready. 

We do not rely on any made-up consequences like spanking or time-outs to discipline during the Attachment Stage. We simply think and act upon thoughts that will increase our connection with our child. We also take mental notes (or record them on our smart phones) regarding certain immature behaviors that could use the guidance of a mature example during the Following Stage and then we ponder about how to incorporate teaching moments (how to share, how to clean up, how to get dressed, etc.) into our bonding and play time with the child in the future, rather than in the thick moments of their distress.

When my child pushes my buttons, I notice how my body tries to defend itself. If my defensive walls go up, I work hard to break them down so I can improve my ability to show honest empathy toward an innocent and immature being who simply needs help processing out of control energy. I work at resisting the temptation to judge my child as manipulative. I study child development and neuroscience to gain knowledge. This helps me remember that my child has a very immature brain with no guile and great potential. I’ve learned that children are scientifically not capable of manipulating the way most adults think they are (just like a newborn doesn’t have the neurological ability to walk yet). When I need to rejuvenate, I practice religion, meditation, yoga, etc. to gain parenting wisdom.

Examples of discipline by 'Connecting' during the Attachment Stage:

The Bumbo Battle: How a Tantrum Enhanced my Day of Peace and Rest
Hitting (Attachment Stage 0-3)
Tantrums (Attachment Stage 0-3 and Following Stage 1-8)
Fear of Bubble Bath (Attachment Stage 0-3)

Back to Top

Lead, age 1-8:
Discipline by Leading and Modeling.

Note that the Attachment and Following stages have the biggest overlap in ages. This is because intellectually, children begin intensely mimicking their environment around age 1. But at least until age 3 or so, they are also still very focused on the emotional need to feel almost constantly connected to their parents. It takes practice to mindfully choose which stage to focus on during the ages of 1-3. Be observant, non-judgmental, accepting, and thoughtful about how to help your child progress.

During the Following Stage, we discipline by leading. This means we continue to take primary accountability for their immature behavior upon ourselves because they do not yet have a strong prefrontal cortex to process the full burden of accountability wisely on their own. However, during these years, children do have a strong drive to mimic behaviors around them.  So by modeling accountability in a calm and responsible way, our children begin to copy our behavior, which then primes them to gradually and willfully take real (vs pretend) accountability for their actions naturally when their growing prefrontal cortex is more ready for it (during the Accountability Stage).

During the Following Stage, we begin explaining valuable principles like agency, self-reliance, health, respect, repentance, and forgiveness. We set aside family time to teach these principles and to discuss specific family expectations with our children. We practice being fully present with each of our children during both positive and negative moments and we focus on our own ability to model good behavior WITH our child during those mindful moments.

We begin to explain how special our bodies are and how they work (including Neuroscience 101 *wink, wink*), but we do not make our children solely responsible for how their immature bodies act. We share that responsibility with them until they feel inspired to choose accountability on their own. We politely manage our child’s healthy choices, relationship issues, and a small $$ allowance. We play a lot, use “time-ins”, and avoid inventing consequences that isolate our child from us or shift accountability away from us (Defensive or Offensive Parenting Styles). We rely on natural consequences that directly relate to the eternal principles we have already taught. 

If a disciplinary moment catches us off guard because it's new or we haven't taught it yet (perhaps hitting or teasing), we will likely feel vulnerable ourselves. This is an excellent time to put personal mindfulness skills to the test. In these moments, we are learning to endure what IS, mindfully take as much accountability for the moment as we can, and then make a special effort to teach natural consequences (someone gets physically and/or emotionally hurt) for such incidences to the child in a way and time that the child's brain cares to learn it. This requires being in tune to the specific child and being open to inspiration throughout the teaching and learning process (which almost never happens overnight).

We encourage following, but do not force it (unless we’re in a bad mood…doh!). If a child doesn’t naturally follow, we spend some personal meditation time putting our mind inside our child’s mind…to understand her current brain. We play Backwards Follow the Leader (where we focus on matching the child’s mental level and mimicking her general actions) for at least 30 minutes every day to make a stronger connection with her. This alone builds such a strong bond that leading the child in improving basic immature actions comes quite easy and natural afterwards. If not, we seek further personal inspiration about how to lead and inspire that child in a mature direction. Answers always come. It’s awesome.

Ultimately, we want our child to mimic our example and follow our lead when learning to cope with stress/conflict and life in general. This happens when we let them spend tons of time with us and mirror our responses to stress.

Extra notes on “bad behaviors” here.

Example of Disciplining using "Lead" during the Following Stage:

The Bumbo Battle: How a Tantrum Enhanced my Day of Peace and Rest

Back to Top

Guide, age 7-12:
Discipline by mentoring my child in taking accountability, tracking progress, and practicing repentance/forgiveness.

By the time our children approach the age of 7 or 8, they know exciting changes are on the horizon. We talk about the Accountability Pyramid enough that they know their brains are maturing and they feel excited to test out what it's like to take a step away from mom and dad's protective umbrella. They feel anxious and ready to have more control over their choices and to accept the responsibility for the consequences of those choices. They know we will carry less of the weight for their negative choices and they view this as a loving step towards growing up.

So, at this stage, we review schedules, expectations, and natural consequences alongside our child during family council AND regular one-on-one mentoring sessions. Then we let them think through and make personal choices. We give them space to govern their own free time and expect them to record and review with us the choices they make, particularly in regards to technology use. We begin to give monetary support as a natural consequence for self-reliance and allow our child to govern his own $$. We mentor our child in health and relationship issues. Essentially, we monitor the child in his or her life experiences and explain possible outcomes of their choices and make suggestions, but allow him or her to choose and then experience the joy or weight of natural consequences. We continue to show sincere empathy when distress arises.

NOTE: When a child has NOT experienced years of the Attachment Stage and the Following Stage prior to the Accountability Stage, he/she likely displays many coping behaviors and may be quick to use defense mechanisms (usually subconsciously), making mentoring almost impossible. When we see walls go up, we try to address the underlying stress first (usually by spending at least a few minutes (or many weeks) at the bottom of the Accountability Pyramid again) before discussing and implementing the child’s accountability.

When the child has had plenty of years of Attachment and Following years, then starting at around 8 years old, they will still display lots of Natural Age Ignorance, but will generally be teachable rather then defensive in taking accountability for these behaviors.  

Back to Top

Guide Less, age 11-17:
Discipline by taking a step back and allowing our child to experience the thrill and defeat of personal government.

We maintain a positive mentor relationship with our child regarding future goals, but make fewer suggestions and expect our child to think independently, setting her own goals, managing her own schedule, and tracking her own progress (without Mom peering over the shoulder). We find joy in listening a lot. We refrain from nagging and lecturing. We allow natural consequences to govern our child’s behavior as opposed to setting up consequences as a way to manipulate her behavior and we let them feel the weight of their choices.

For example:

  • studying can lead to better grades from teachers, not more money from parents
  • better grades leads to more college or specialty degree choices
  • spending lunch money on something else means less money for lunch
  • saving lunch money by bringing food from home means more money for something else
We genuinely accept our child’s current immaturity and the natural outcomes that occur. We offer love and support. We meet with our child regularly to hear her future goals and discuss progress. 

Back to Top

Walk Beside, age 16-20+:
Discipline by letting our child BE.

We allow our child independence in setting goals and following through. We encourage our child to inform us of goals and outcomes out of love and respect. We give support when our child asks. We show love and confidence in whom our child has become. We do not manage consequences for our child and we support disciplinary action and natural consequences that other authority figures may need to enforce. We seek for ways to inspire our child by maintaining a loving connection with him. Monetary support from us is significantly reduced (though we still support them in their schooling) because our child is capable of increased self-reliance.

Teens who struggle dramatically during this stage are likely suffering from a teenage body that is “stuck” in a lower mental stage (ie attached to unhealthy habits, following inappropriate leaders, weary from forced accountability...essentially suffering from an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex and strong Natural Defense Immaturity behaviors that block progress).

Back to Top

Serve, age 20+:
Discipline by simply seeking for ways to co-lead alongside our child as we mutually make the world a better place.

Back to Top