Inspiring the Future by Modeling the Present
Following Mindset: Bearing the burden of each disciplinary moment for or with the child--still without expecting the child to feel responsibility--but while the child is aware. The focus is on inspiring the child, through modeling and leading, to connect the desired behavior (aka cleaning up or talking politely or taking responsibility, etc.) to health, happiness, and joy--not frustration, lack of self worth, or feeling controlled.
Primary window of opportunity
Age 1-8: When a child feels safe and is near you--even if you don't think they are paying attention.
Any Age: When a child sees something that sparks personal interest
**Parents have less influence during the current stage if the child has not experienced enough of previous mindsets.
What's NEW in this stage?
Parent intentionally models proper behavior and positive values when child is near
Parent reconciles stressful situations with Child observing and participating when Child is open-minded
Parent does NOT manipulate Child's behavior using artificial rewards or punishments
NOTE: Parent continues to bear the full burden of Child's behavior if Child is in survival mode. This models how a mature person takes responsibility, which prepares Child for the Accountability Mindset.
Primary Goal: Following Positive Leaders
During the Following stage, the main parenting goal is to be an inspiring leader because your child’s natural drive is to observe and copy everything.
The brain’s emotional circuits still dominate during these years, causing the child to seek emotional refuge by avoiding punishment and seeking pleasure. In response to stress, coping patterns are established based on genetic temperament, tendencies and learned 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, your child is very drawn to you. It's likely that during the youngest years of this stage, he may spend ~95% of his awake time aware of your whereabouts and even right at your side often attempting to do whatever you are doing like wiping a chair, “folding” laundry, or swiping a phone. This constant closeness can feel exhausting as a parent, but try to remind yourself that these precious modeling moments will increase long-term maturity.
As the years pass, your child's time away from you gradually and naturally increases and you will focus less on modeling so many imbalanced moments and instead shift your attention towards supporting her as she begins to follow other leaders. You won't need to push her away or encourage premature independence because it'll happen naturally. As she gains brain development, she will gradually choose independence all on her own. As her leader, you only need be wise in modeling positive behavior along the way until she grows into her own person.
Contrary to many parenting tactics, the Following Mindset does not expect your child to take full accountability for his 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. Placing the full burden for misdeeds on your child's shoulders before his brain is developed enough to handle it correctly--this is often done by enforcing rewards or punishments designed to teach him accountability before age 8--only activates his defense systems and increases coping patterns that will likely decrease his prefrontal cortex development and thus his ability to progress in the long run. So similar to the Attachment Mindset, do not make him fully accountable now, but rather “lend” him your maturity and lead in modeling and sharing accountability with him when he displays immature behavior.
A major sign that you are accomplishing this goal to help your child follow positive leaders is witnessing your child look to you and try to copy your positive behaviors. After experimenting with following your example for many years, your child will recognize other leaders to follow as well like grandparents, teachers, role models, etc.
After many years of innocence, your child will begin to comprehend the future with a greater sense of reality (starting around age 7), and thus taking accountability for choices is a very enticing next step. Your child will desire to accept and even want that responsibility in due time, little by little, without force.
Parental Development: Refined Values
As you parent in the Following Mindset, you will have the privilege of refining who you are for the sake of your child. Whatever you value, your child will value. Your habits will begin to be subconsciously wired into your child's brain. So if you have a child between ages 1-8, now's a great time to take a good look at yourself and decide what you want to perpetuate into the next generation. Your influence is powerful. And you will become a better person as you take responsibility for how your actions affect your child and grandchildren.
"Monkey see; monkey do" is a very literal concept that involves mirror neurons. Mirror neurons in your child's brain are designed to soak in the environment by firing both when your child is performing an action AND when your child is observing someone else do the same action. For example, if your child is watching you play basketball, the same neurons that will eventually help her make a basket some day are firing even though she's just watching you shoot. This is how mammals of many species learn difficult skills like flying or swimming or catching food in a short amount of time. Babies watch their parents.
What does this mean for every day parenting?
It's pretty simple: actions speak louder than words.
Essentially your child's brain is wired to be aware of and attempt to copy what you are doing much more than what you are telling your child to do or figure out on his own. So if you want your child to have a strong foundation of physical and emotional regulation, empathy, courtesy, and overall balanced behavior then SHOW your child what that looks like and his brain's mirror neurons will get busy firing on the inside even if he's not yet able to physically apply those skills in real life yet.
Just remember that human brains are the slowest of all mammal brains to mature. So even without considering a myriad of genetic influences, your child will need years of watching you act mature before his brain will be organized enough to have a basic level of consistent regulation. This is why this mindset should dominate parental strategies until the child naturally begins to mature more around age 8.
It is not easy to refine yourself. Don't panic. Be mindful about what you focus on. If you are motivated by a love for your child during these following years, you will not be disappointed with how much better YOU are personally when this window eventually fades into the background.
Disciplinary Method: Modeling
During the Following stage, discipline by taking accountability upon yourself to be present and model good behavior WITH your child. Let your child spend lots of time with you. Enable your child's ability to copy you as you go about your daily routine. Have child-friendly cooking utensils nearby when you're in the kitchen. Let your child help with chores or encourage him to play nearby while you're cleaning or fixing something. He'll be watching more than you think. Eat together. Take one child to the store occasionally (more than one can be a bit overwhelming ha!). Take the time to patiently help your child with a calm bedtime routine.
In short: DO what you want your child to learn. Period.
Of course you will also begin to explain values like agency, self-reliance, health, respect, work, and forgiveness. Set aside family time to teach these principles and to discuss specific family expectations with your children.
Also begin to explain how unique and special your child's body is and how it works (including Neuroscience 101 *wink, wink*). But do not make your child solely responsible for how her immature body may act. Instead, share that responsibility with her until she feels inspired to choose accountability on her own.
Because you are acting as your child's prefrontal cortex (PFC) during this mindset, continue to set wise limits on media use, food consumption, social behaviors, etc. Enforce limits by being aware and saying "no" when necessary. Then help your child redirect his attention or cope with the limits.
Play a lot, use “time-ins”, and avoid inventing consequences that isolate your child from you or that shift accountability away from you. Rely on natural consequences that directly relate to the principles you have already taught your child.
Encourage following, but do not force it. If your child doesn’t naturally follow, spend some personal meditation time putting your mind inside your child’s mind to understand her current brain. Play "backwards follow the leader" (where you focus on matching your 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 may come more naturally afterwards. If not, you may need to spend more time with your child in the Attachment Mindset. Seek further personal inspiration about how to lead and inspire that child in a positive direction. When you ponder with the right intentions, answers always come. It’s awesome.
Extra notes on “bad behaviors” here.
Benefit for Child: Movement, Communication, and Safe Exploration
The Following stage is such a magical time for children. They are inspired by everything around them. And because they aren't grown up enough to set conscious limits for themselves, they imagine that they can do anything. Embrace the innocence of this thinking!
Reassure your child that you will assist her in setting safe limits and that it's okay to feel big emotions from moment to moment. Your child is safe with you and doesn't yet have to worry about solving challenges alone if she doesn't feel ready. This is a huge relief to children. It builds a very strong foundation of trust on which true PFC accountability can then be built.
Along the way, children can look forward to learning to walk and communicate. This enables them to play, pretend, observe the world, explore surroundings, and hang out WITH Mom, Dad, close family, and friends a whole lot. What could be dreamier than that?