Encouraging Experience and Reflection on Reality
Accountability Mindset: Maintain a monitoring role, but begin to allow the child time and space to feel the burden of his/her behaviors and choices. Then lead the child in honest, open-minded reflection regarding options, choices, and natural consequences. The focus is on mentoring and motivating the child with a vision that they can control much of their personal destiny by the choices they make.
Primary window of opportunity
Age 7-12: When a child begins to question the future, but is not yet hyper-aware of personal identity
Age 7+: When a child senses personal responsibility and can positively process a portion of the weight that accompanies it
Under 7: When a child spontaneously "gets" a new skill and wants to develop it, without fear or manipulation serving as the motivation
What's NEW in this stage:
Parent gradually stops bearing burdens for Child as Child's desire for decision-making grows
Parent regularly councils with Child to weigh decisions, choose, and open-mindedly reflect on natural consequences
Parent continues to set and enforce limits on matters in which Child is not yet mature
Primary Goal: Accountability
After years of Attachment and Following, you can gradually shift accountability to your 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.
With years of brain growth firmly in place, your child can more consistently discern consequences and choose actions. The developed imagination system will likely continue it's creative magic during the early years of this stage. Encourage your child to enjoy this time. Coping patterns will also continue, but awareness and understanding of coping patterns begins to arise, thus allowing your child to become more involved in managing the body’s natural defense system. In general, emotional circuits typically enjoy a more peaceful state during this tween stage compared to the highly volatile toddler years and a return to volatility coming up in the teen years.
Be mindful about taking advantage of these precious years.
After many years of nurturing an attachment relationship and leading your child by setting a positive example, your main goal now is to establish a mentoring relationship with your child where you have regular conversations about the natural consequences that are tied to various principles. There's no need to prioritize other goals like hygiene, schoolwork, manners, money management, etc. over this main goal of comprehending basic accountability. Just like in other stages, worthy secondary goals should naturally fit within the primary goal, which in this case is the establishment of a mentoring relationship where your child feels empowered to choose and experience reality.
During tween years, your child’s mind is ripe for intelligently discussing future goals and how to accomplish those goals. Assist your child in setting goals, monitoring progress, and inspiring them to keep trying. Set and control limits yourself only if your child needs specific protection, for example media use limits. In general, your child will now be able to consciously critique whether the limits you set are for your convenience and drive to control or if your limits are truly for their own well-being. Be honest with yourself and your child about your true motives.
Overall, remember that the main goal for these years is to allow your child the time and space to practice simple accountability so they are more ready to battle bigger natural consequences during the teen years.
Then let natural consequences govern your child’s choices. When goals are not met, show genuine empathy and concern, but still allow your child to feel the consequences for their actions and take responsibility to repair any damage.
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.
Parental Development: Self-control
Now that your child is more aware of how your actions fit into reality, it is time to practice a level of self-control that proves you are as wise as you expect your child to be. Any hypocrisy on your part will be detected and noted in your child's memory. This is a good thing. Be genuine and honest as well as quick to address your weaknesses since this is a skill you will be leading your child in learning. Lead by example and you will again become a better person than you were before.
Also, as your child prepares for strong feelings of self-motivation in his teen years, show him now during these tween years what it looks like to dig deep and muster up internal motivation for personal awareness, responsibility, and change. His mirror neurons are still watching and will be more prepared to act on the increased adrenaline that's around the corner for him if he sees you overcoming personal challenges now.
Are you starting to see how focusing on your child's brain development also increases yours?
Disciplinary Method: Lead Councils
A significant shift occurs regarding discipline during the Accountability stage. Rather than simply bearing the burden of decision-making and consequences for or with your child, you now will mindfully let your child feel more of this responsibility. This is done by developing a mentoring relationship with your child. You will lead family and one-on-one councils with your child to listen to their goals and concerns, to explain choices and consequences to them, and to encourage them to take accountability for as much decision making as possible. Your main goal during the Accountability stage--despite lots of worthy secondary goals like good study habits, personal hygiene, wise use of time, etc--is to give them patient, but real practice in choosing for themselves, tracking progress, and experiencing the logical process of reconciliation and change.
All of this is done, however, without controlling coercion or manipulative tactics. Do not make up consequences to control the situation just because you want a certain outcome to happen. If you do, your child (who is now more in tune to reality) will begin to accurately detect that you are an anxious and/or controlling parent and may begin to resent you or feel lower self-worth in their own ability to make wise choices. In contrast, use your advantage of years of built up attachment to continue to connect with your child and inspire them towards healthy decisions. The trust you have established in your child's heart since infancy will now give you a stronger sense of credibility in your child's eyes. And as a parent who has learned to be truly mindful during the Attachment and Following stages, you should feel experienced in knowing when you are crossing the line between an anxious parental grip and an important protective limit.
Your child should feel empowered that they are old enough to have these discussions with you. If they feel weighed down whenever you say that it's time for their one-on-one, then you're doing something wrong. Perhaps consider more time in the Attachment and Following mindsets, especially for specific issues that seem extra sensitive.
Continue discussing family expectations during family council meetings and allow each member to openly have a voice on various family rules and expectations. Listen to opinions. Become a wise and peaceful mediator. While you, as the parent, will make many of the final decisions during this stage, it should feel obvious that rules and decisions are not a parental dictatorship, but rather represent the needs of all family members.
After something has been discussed in a family council, it is then easier to gently remind your child in the moment about the expectation without a controlling demeanor. Avoid constant nagging, however. If a simple reminder doesn't motivate your child, take notes on how reality played out and revisit that issue during the next mentoring session. In a few cases, it is appropriate to use a mindful reward to help motivate your child during the Accountability stage. However, be aware that rewards can become addictive, so use them sparingly and only for a short-term skill that you know your child is capable of but doesn't yet feel personal motivation for focusing on it.
Mentor your child in a variety of topics: health and personal hygiene, family and friend relationships, financial awareness, spiritual mindfulness, intellectual progress. In many cases, wait for a child to ask a question before adding a certain topic to the mentoring list. If a child is wondering, she will pay more attention. After explaining possible outcomes and making suggestions, allow her space to choose and experience for herself the joy or weight of natural consequences. Continue to show sincere empathy--not an "I told you so"--when distress arises. Distress can be a powerful natural tool for motivating future change if your child feels that you are a facilitator in helping her analyze the stress rather than an additional part of the stress.
After teaching your child about the mature skill of self-reliance, consider giving him experience in this by offering monetary support in a way that feels like a natural consequence. For example, you might jointly agree that the completion of a certain goal that your child is working on shows self-reliance and deserves monetary reward just like in the real world of employment. Pick goals that feel inspiring to your child, not completely overwhelming. If it becomes overly stressful or begins to put a wedge in the relationship, wait until your child has a want that naturally motivates the connection between hard work and money to buy what you want. Remember that you are on your child's team, not against him. This naturally implies that you also set limits on your own willingness to buy your child whatever he wants so he can begin to feel some monetary responsibility. The goal is to allow your child experience in governing his own money without Mom or Dad exerting unnecessary control.
When disciplinary correction is necessary during the Accountability stage, use one-on-one mentoring whenever possible as opposed to pointing out errors in public--unless immediate action is absolutely necessary. Mindfully, but frankly remind your child of any natural consequences for his chosen actions. Offer support, but expect your child to handle the consequences primarily alone. Like the other stages, don’t expect perfection right at the beginning of this stage. Maturity is a slow process. Personally, we still use some mercy, particularly when we detect stress in the system, but we can also safely insert justice because our child’s brain is prepared to understand it and he or she naturally wants to handle the challenge that comes along with it.
In all of this, don't forget your personal mindfulness practice. While some emotion in a shocking moment is part of reality and is therefore perfect for your child to experience, remember to avoid the sense that your emotions are a constant over-reaction. This type of emotional control over your child can lead to undeserved shame and/or defensiveness that is difficult to recover from now that your child has a stronger conscious memory.
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), which makes mentoring much more difficult. When walls go up, try to address the underlying stress first (usually by spending at least a few minutes (or many weeks) at the bottom of the Present Parenting Pyramid again) before discussing and implementing the child’s accountability.
Benefits for Child: Personal Choice and Responsibility
The Accountability stage is an exciting time for children! Children who have advanced from Attachment to Following and now to Accountability experience a time of more brain balance than in previous years and yet still have a sense of innocence about them. They are aware of the real world in a way that helps them set and focus on simple, realistic personal goals. They will feel empowered by the freedom to choose--within mindful parental limits--a personal schedule, a monthly budget, study, eating and hygiene habits, or whatever fits the family's circumstances. And they will gain important brain connections as they encounter real-life responsibility for those choices.