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

Growth Stages (Yellow):
   Ages 0-3
   Ages 1-8
   Ages 7-12
   Ages 11-18
   Ages 16-20+
   Ages 20+
Maturity Goals for Brain Growth Stages

Much worry in parenting comes from wondering what/when/how to teach our children. From healthy eating and sleeping habits to good manners to managing money to emotional regulation, how can we cram it all in before they grow up?! Much misery in parenting comes from expectations that are too high or out of order. So what should we do?? We racked our brains for years...until we had the Accountability Pyramid. 

The maturity goals listed on the Yellow Side of the Accountability Pyramid give us a sense of priority and are based on natural brain growth. They are intended to continuously build self-worth for a child during the various stages of human development.

Attachment, ages 0-3:
Forming a secure attachment with our child is our top priority during the infant years because an infant’s brain craves physical and emotional closeness in order to accomplish optimal early development.

Brain Notes: In these early years, the brain’s simplest survival circuits dominate, causing the child to focus behaviors around seeking physical homeostasis (balancing hunger, fatigue, over-stimulation, etc.). The 5 major senses slowly come “online” allowing the brain to gain new information from the environment. Mirror neurons and exploratory circuits begin to propel the child’s learning, especially after the first year.

For us, convenient and often worthy goals like sleeping through the night, attending a nursery class, or potty training are secondary to learning and maintaining a strong attachment during the first 3 years. Expecting consistent, mature accountability or independence from our child (also common parenting ideas in our modern world) comes in later years on the Accountability Pyramid…when the brain is more ripe for it.

Helping the child form a secure attachment to Mom and Dad is our number one goal for this stage. Many, many child development experts talk about how important this is. There are dozens of tactics that build parent/child attachment. We use many of the ideas from William and Martha Sears, who coined the term “Attachment Parenting” in the 1990s. It is not necessary to use all attachment ideas out there. Instead, keep your child's need to form an attachment with you in your awareness and open-mindedly consider which tactics would best benefit your family.

We know we are accomplishing our goal when our child trusts us and therefore turns to us for sincere physical and emotional safety and comfort (usually noticeable beginning around 9 months and continuing through the tantrum years). When secure attachment occurs and continues, the parent/child relationship is prepared to Lead/Follow in the coming years.

NOTE: If I notice my body struggling (getting out of balance) to give sincere comfort to an innocent (but crying or tantruming or bullying) child, or if I falsely judge the child as annoying, manipulative, or devilish (and thus get to the end of my rope and start thinking unhealthy negative thoughts--which is normal but not a productive long-term cycle)...I try to take a deep breath and congratulate myself for noticing that my child is acting immature. But then I dig deep and make honest discoveries regarding my own Natural Defense Immaturity. I must accept my current level of dealing with opposition (or immaturity or chaos or whatever you want to call it) and at the same time accept the challenge of changing my brain chemistry so I am more prepared for future upheavals. I use this addiction recovery guide and focus on enhancing my prefrontal cortex skills to break down personal walls of frustration, guilt, worry, anger, and depression so I can become more mature and thus be free to assist my child in progressing and facing life’s challenges, as well.

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Following, ages 1-8:
During the Following Stage, our main parenting goal is to be an inspiring leader because our child’s natural drive is to observe and mirror everything her newly developed senses take in.

Brain Notes: The brain’s emotional circuits dominate during these years, causing the child to seek emotional refuge by avoiding punishment and seeking natural pleasure. In response to stress, coping patterns are established (based on genetic temperament tendencies and learning from experience). Mirror neurons are highly activated allowing for tremendous learning from the environment, often subconsciously. Memory also begins to add increased learning capabilities. Logic and imagination start to blossom around age 4, making life very magical for children.

With a secure attachment in place and because they are still working to strengthen it, our children are drawn to us and during the youngest years of this stage, they spend about 95% of their awake time right at our side…often attempting to do whatever we are doing…like holding a spatula, wiping a chair, or “folding” laundry. (This is often exhausting, but I try to remind myself that these precious minutes will increase long-term maturity…when I feel overwhelmed, I must rejuvenate—not escape and indulge, but rejuvenate with the intention of regaining energy enough to give again.)

As the years pass, their time away from us gradually and naturally increases and we focus on supporting them in their personal creative endeavors. We don’t push them away or encourage premature independence (even though lack of independence can feel irritating at times). As they mature, they gradually choose independence all on their own. We must be wise in guiding them along the way.

Also contrary to many parenting styles, we do not expect our children to take full accountability for their misdeeds during these years. The brain’s ability to truly be accountable, rather than merely avoiding punishment or seeking reward, is set to develop in later years. We’ve found that placing the full burden for misdeeds on our children’s shoulders before the brain has time to mature enough to handle it correctly, only activates their defense systems and increases coping patterns that actually decrease their ability to progress in the long run. So, instead of making them fully accountable now, we “lend” them our maturity (assuming we have it ourselves) and lead in sharing accountability with them for their immature behavior.

We know we are accomplishing our goal when our children look to us and follow our example (most of the time) and then begin to recognize other worthy leaders to follow as well (grandparents, teachers, role models, etc.). After many years of observing and mirroring a leader’s actions (instead of being held solely accountable for personal immaturity) the next level of maturity, or taking accountability for choices, is very enticing and our children choose to accept that responsibility in due time without force.

On the contrary, if sole accountability is pushed on children during the Following Stage, they must cope with a weight that their brains are not yet programmed to carry. Many children carry this excessive weight by innocently putting up protective walls (Natural Defense Immaturity), which often cause greater heartache in the long run and are more difficult to break down in older children/adults.

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Accountability, ages 7-12:
After years of Attachment and Following, we can gradually shift accountability to our child using natural consequences (not force or manipulation) because the brain’s error detection and logical circuits are humming along nicely and are ready for the challenge.

Brain Notes: With the brain’s logical circuits firmly in place, the child can more consistently discern consequences and choose actions. Also, the developed imagination system continues the creative magic that began towards the middle of the previous stage. Coping patterns continue, but awareness and understanding of coping patterns arises, thus allowing the child to become more involved in managing his/her body’s natural defense system. Overall, emotional circuits typically enjoy a more peaceful state during this stage (in comparison to the turbulent twos, threes, and fours).

After many years of nurturing an attachment building relationship and leading our child by setting a positive example, we can now establish a mentoring relationship with our child where we have regular conversations about the natural consequences that are tied to eternal principles. The child’s mind is ripe for intelligently discussing future goals and how to accomplish those goals. We assist the child in setting goals and monitoring progress. Then we let natural consequences govern our child’s choices. When goals are not met, we show genuine empathy and concern, but still allow the child to feel the consequences for his actions and take responsibility to repair any damage.

When disciplinary correction is necessary during the Accountability Stage, we use one-on-one mentoring (as opposed to pointing out errors in public--unless immediate action is absolutely necessary) to remind the child of any natural consequences for their chosen actions. We offer support, but expect the child to handle the consequences primarily alone. Like the other stages, we don’t expect perfection right at the beginning of the stage. Maturity is a slow process. We still use some mercy (particularly when we detect stress in the system), but we can also safely insert justice because the child’s brain is prepared to understand it and he/she naturally wants to handle the challenge that comes along with it.

We see our children progressing in this stage when they not only notice other people’s shortcomings, but they also notice and accept their own weaknesses without extreme shame, guilt, anger, or rebellion. They feel comfortable talking not just about their strengths, but about their weaknesses, too, because they are learning how to set goals that will turn weaknesses into strengths without as much help from Mom and Dad. That’s very empowering.

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Self-Discipline, ages 11-18:
During this turbulent, but talent-seeking stage, allowing and inspiring (as opposed to requiring) self-discipline is the primary goal because an adolescent is naturally aware of and seeking personal success.

Brain Notes: The brain begins a massive pruning process throughout the Self-Discipline Stage, but especially in the prefrontal cortex region, to weed out unused brain cells and make room for increased efficiency. The brain construction often causes a decay in moral reasoning for a time. Self-awareness and emotional circuits dominate thinking (again), resulting in adolescent behaviors centered around social acceptance and impulsive decision-making.

During puberty, a child’s brain is programmed to prepare for independence. Children naturally want more time and space away from Mom and Dad and more freedom to experiment with personal decisions.

Major emotional problems often surface during these years because small, manageable coping mechanisms from earlier years turn into bigger ones alongside a heightened hormonal response system. However, teenagers who have worked their way up the Accountability Pyramid will have a higher functioning prefrontal cortex and thus have an advantage throughout this turbulent time. More importantly, when they are truly struggling on their own, they will instinctively know how to turn to their parents for help. (And parents will instinctively know--because of so many years of being “present” with their child--what kind of help to give.)

We are at the beginning of this stage in our family.

We plan to continue a mentoring relationship with our children during this stage, but will expect them to set appropriate goals and monitor progress primarily on their own. We will enjoy hearing them report on their progress to us. We will continue to allow natural consequences to govern their behavior. If disciplinary action is necessary, we will discuss consequences one-on-one (without lecturing or nagging…assuming our pre-frontal cortex is working properly). We hope to warn and inspire them to choose maturity because it will increase their future happiness, but we will accept and respect our child’s freedom to take responsibility for personal change…or not (yikes!).

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Independence, ages 16-20+:
Giving our child complete space to self-govern while respecting the person our child is becoming is our hope for this stage because as the brain’s adolescent adjustments slow, a new found confidence propels the adolescent toward independent adulthood.

Giving our teenager complete self-governing space sounds scary...but discipline should finish shifting to their shoulders during this stage. We want our children to experience a piece of that before they completely leave the nest. After years of progressing upward on the Accountability Pyramid, we hope our children are ready to test their wings while still living under our roof...so we can observe their beauty (or not) first hand before they take full flight.

During the Independence Stage, our children will practice being an adult. And so will we. The most wonderful and most difficult part about these years will be accepting and celebrating whomever our child is…the good and the bad (or the not yet good). And regardless of what we think, he/she will continue to be that person...because the brain is primed for becoming an individual during these years.

Our ability to inspire them at this point will be strongly due to the time and effort we have already put in over the years to work our way up the pyramid...starting with attachment. No parent is perfect. We will struggle. And when we do, we will turn our Present Parenting mode on high because our teenagers deserve wise parents and we will apologize to our teenagers when our prefrontal cortex is malfunctioning due to expected, but still unexpected shocking teenage moments.

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Leading, ages 20+:
Finding ways to serve as equal partners is the natural reward for obtaining a more mature brain…together.

The brain’s prefrontal cortex finishes myelination, allowing the aware adult to use the whole brain efficiently and consistently to continue learning and re-balancing when necessary…finally. And with a mature brain, charity, above all else, provides the most self-worth at this stage.

I naturally have much less to share about this stage because in our family, we are not there yet. But I can say that I do look forward to observing the paths my children choose to take. And I look forward to connecting with them on a whole new level.

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