What Stage is My Child In?
Note the basic age ranges in each stage on the pyramid. In general, a child's brain must progress from the bottom of the Accountability Pyramid to the top in a natural process that takes many, many years. However, please keep in mind that the guidelines are not meant to be rigid--a child can actually move up and down again on the pyramid in a matter of minutes. Recognizing which mindset your child really needs in a given moment takes practice. Personal mindfulness will help you fine tune your brain's ability to discern. Until you feel experienced, don't stress too much about it. For starters, it's typically helpful to work on attachment and whichever stage fits your child's current age. Keep in mind that a wise parent will not rush or push a child up the pyramid, but will instead patiently accept the present moment and watch for windows of opportunity to progress in due time.
The stages on the Accountability Pyramid overlap in years because the human brain does not typically learn new long-term behaviors after one try. Children (and adults) dabble in and out of a new skill before internalizing it as part of their new character. When stages overlap, the previous stage dictates the majority of our disciplinary efforts. We want a very solid foundation in each stage before moving on. The upcoming stage certainly receives attention, too, but in a secondary kind of way.
Also note that stress naturally causes regression. The body recognizes stress and must find a way to “digest it” in order to return to a healthy, life-sustaining homeostasis. This usually results in crying (which can be very healthy, especially when done in the presence of an attuned caregiver), hyperactivity, anxiety, anger, or perhaps a specific coping behavior. It’s important to accept regression as normal and okay and feel comfortable nurturing a child in a lower stage temporarily due to stress. At the same time, it's important to feel confident that greater maturity is possible and still on the horizon.
Applying The Accountability Pyramid
The Accountability Pyramid has 6 stages from bottom to top. It also has 4 sides that each address one of these parenting questions:
Blue Side: How does being present throughout the various natural stages of a child's life provide potential for me as a parent to increase my own brain balance and maturity?
Yellow Side: What primary goals and maturity expectations am I accountable for helping my child learn as he/she grows?
Red Side: When my child displays immature behavior, how do I discipline in a way that appropriately shifts accountability from parent to child over time, according to my child's natural brain development?
Green Side: What do I (the child) have to look forward to as I mature? Or in other words, how does gradually learning to take accountability for my actions contribute to my overall peace and happiness?
As you study stages, also ponder how each side of the pyramid simultaneously works together to build upon--rather than replace--previous stages. The diagram below illustrates the constant cycle of using your own PFC to apply all four sides of the pyramid to address and resolve challenging issues. As you encounter difficult parenting scenarios:
Be Present: Pause to gain personal mindfulness and offer presence (blue side)
Determine Accountability: Assess and accept your child's level of accountability (yellow side)
Act on your responsibility: Choose to connect, model, mentor, or collaborate depending on child's greatest need (red side)
Reflect: Review effectiveness, make plans for teaching, and prepare to repeat the cycle (green side)
Choose a Stage to Study
Personally, we often discipline an older child in a lower stage when temporary stress is in the picture. When our children feel our empathy and love during stressful times, they trust that we are allies in their quest toward maturity instead of enemies. If a child seems particularly needy, or is acting particularly immature…it’s probably because they are immature in a certain area (or in other words, part of their brain is hyper-active while the prefrontal cortex is under-developed). When we see this, we practice mindfulness by feeling grateful for the brain growth our child has displayed compared to their beginning infant stage as well as showing acceptance for the present moment. Then, we typically start at the bottom of the Accountability Pyramid when the child is displaying that particular immature behavior. We’re always amazed at how working on attachment first and then working upward to whatever stage the child is currently in yields such positive growth.
An older child who has been raised with lots of Present Parenting moments will respond quickly to Attachment, Following, etc. But an older child who has not been raised using the Accountability Pyramid will have many defensive walls to break down, or “un-doing” to work through, as well as re-building new positive habits. We know this from experience. Helping a child fine tune the brain's natural defense system requires healing from past trauma and re-wiring negative coping behaviors into more mindful choices. It takes a long time. It entails working through many of the stages simultaneously, which is not as ideal, but is still possible. Patience on your part will be tested, but also gained.