Present Parenting Education

An explanation of how education can fit into each developmental stage

A month of education at the Smiths' house

Summary: A List of Lessons to "Teach"

By Amy Smith

As I've researched brain development and observed my own children, I believe there are definitive phases of development controlled largely by chemical reactions in the body that are set to take place at roughly the same physical time frame across human culture. The most obvious example is puberty. The brain/body acts very different before and after the chemical processes of puberty take place. Different personalities--coupled with different genetic make-ups--respond in a variety of ways to these chemical changes, but all people seem to transcend from one phase to the next throughout life. Study Erik Erikson's developmental stages to understand more about this.

Based on the idea of physiological stages, certain educational and disciplinary goals are unrealistic (and emotionally damaging) before corresponding developmental milestones have been met. A baby can't learn to walk before leg muscles and brain balance are developed enough to accommodate such a task. And once a first step is taken, many more months and years of motor learning still wait patiently on the horizon. Expecting a 3-month-old to walk sounds pretty ridiculous. Expecting a walking toddler to jump rope or do cart wheels is also on the unruly side. Learning to read/write/multiply/etc requires certain neurological connections as well. Same with learning to independently manage conflicts or personal time and resources. Too early or too late feels unnatural. Teachers must be in tune.

To accommodate a child's developing brain, educational techniques and disciplinary styles should technically change as well according to the child/adolescent's developmental phase. Each phase "looks different" from one another. For our family, the academic learning that is often associated with the word 'education' is secondary and centered around higher level goals that support the natural stages of our child's growth. When we prioritize our highest hopes and efforts on a traditional academic goal (like learning to read or memorizing math facts), we might accomplish that goal, but our children tend to slide backwards emotionally.

By focusing our teaching attention on the primary "lessons" listed below, learning in all other areas of life, including the academic learning that most people think of as education, comes very naturally.

Here is our list of primary lessons that set the stage for all other areas of learning throughout our child's life:

Attachment Stage (ages 0-3)

1. You have a body.

2. You belong to a family.

3. When your body gets out of balance, you are not alone.


Following Stage (ages 1-8)

1. Your unique body naturally absorbs and processes your environment.

2. The world is full of inspiring people and things to explore.

3. To find peace and balance, follow positive leaders.


Accountability Stage (ages 7-12)

1. You are responsible for how your body acts. You can control your body.

2. Natural consequences accompany your choices.

3. You can recognize and accept your strengths and weaknesses.

4. Repairing wrongs promotes progress.

5. Choosing to set and accomplish goals brings joy.


Self-Discipline Stage (ages 11-18)

1. You can plan for the future and choose your destiny.

2. Focused attention improves talents and skills.

3. Self-reliance, coupled with humility and grace, feels fulfilling.

4. Living personal values increases integrity and self-worth.

5. Seeking for and following Eternal Truth provides a life-long compass.


Independence Stage (ages 16-20+)

1. You are capable of obtaining new skills and providing for yourself.

2. You can find emotional, physical, and spiritual balance.

3. Being true to yourself and your God gives you strength and wisdom.


Leading Stage (20+)

1. You can see the people around you as they truly are and as they can become.

2. You have abilities and maturity that can benefit others.

3. True charity adds to world peace.


In general, if stages are taught out of order (ie focusing primarily on accountability with our 4-year-old or independence with our 2-year-old or 9-year-old), then when chaos comes along, stress is less likely to get resolved and thus coping patterns increase. Therefore, we don't move on to another stage until we feel a strong sense that our child has naturally internalized all the lessons in a particular stage, which doesn't typically happen until he/she chemically and neurologically transitions to a new stage (like in puberty). As they get older, we talk openly about this progression with them by explaining the green side of the Accountability Pyramid. They like it.

Of course we have a host of 'secondary lessons' as well (I've pasted a handy starter list below).

BUT...All secondary lessons must assist us in teaching the primary lessons. If not, these secondary lessons will be postponed until a later stage because a particular child needs more brain balance and development (like motor skills, analytical skills, or prefrontal cortex growth) before learning in a certain area truly progresses. And some secondary lessons can get tossed aside completely depending on the child. Each child is different.

We used to stubbornly prioritize other such secondary lessons in a way that actually jeopardized our relationships with our children. For example: when we "trained" our highly sensitive 9-month-old to sleep independently or when we isolated our 18-month-old in time-out until she stopped fussing or when we required x-number of completed workbook pages from our 8-year-old before playing outside. Back then my happiness as a parent depended on how well my "teaching" was received. We were a relatively pleasant young family, but misery built up over time until dramatic changes became necessary.

When we discovered the beauty of putting a secure attachment at the top of the list of lessons to teach, happiness returned. We had some "undoing" to accomplish with the older ones--their bodies had grown, but their emotional state was stuck, confused, and in disarray...at no fault of their own...they had just been defending themselves. When we started our older children on this new system a many years ago, we started at the bottom of the pyramid with them as well. It was challenging for me to learn new attachment patterns with them and challenging for them to truly trust that I was willing to form a stronger, more secure attachment. But we persevered at the bottom of the pyramid for a few months and then started to ascend upward. After several years, the undoing is mostly complete.

With the youngest few, we've started working on secure attachment education from the very beginning. After attachment lessons are well-learned, moving upward on The Pyramid (and adding in various "real" academic lessons) is a much smoother process...and very fulfilling.


Sample List of Secondary Lessons

How to sleep

How to eat

How to walk

How to say 'please'

How to clean up

How to share

How to take turns

How to count

How to read

How to write

How to add, subtract, multiply, and divide

How to sing

How to dance

How to dribble

How to play the piano

How to use the toilet

How to clean the toilet

How to get dressed

How to say sorry

How to budget

How to organize a closet

How to manage time

How to study

How to cook

How to pass chemistry

How to take the ACT

How to fill out college applications


How to whatever...