As we reach to touch our future, a future of greater developmental capacities, wiser social structures, as yet unattained spiritual states and deeper understandings of the human mind, humanity’s reach into its ultimate destiny relies upon today’s parenting. If we are to build a wiser culture, a deeper soul, a brighter mind and greater spiritual capacity, we need to invest in the intergenerational passage of wisdom. This wisdom cannot be taught in books: it can only be discovered in experience. It is the spiritual task of parenting to wallow in the mud with the unwieldy untamed human psyche of the wild child and provide the environment for this delightful monster of the marsh to rise to pro-social living, post-conventional awareness and eventually, spiritual wisdom.
This paper presents a model for how we can go about this parenting task with empowered wisdom and grace.
To accomplish this heroic task, it is helpful for parents to be able see three aspects of parenting:
- The child’s developmental stage
- The parent’s stage of parenting development
- The parenting tools
These three create a very sophisticated complex dynamic that has significant impact upon both parent and child. This article provides an overview of them, so parents can be effective as parents. Each parenting tool must be adapted to the child’s developmental level.
Overview of child development
This overview of child development focuses on the child’s key functional learning tasks at each developmental stage, and the basic parenting features that help them at each stage. In this I am interpreting and applying the STAGES model developed by Dr. Terri O’Fallon Ph.D. to both child and parenting development.
Stage 1.0 Developmental level
When children first enter this world, they are helpless. The parents’ task at this stage is to make this experience of helplessness safe and loving. The child’s core challenge is to be completely helpless in this world and be able to trust well enough to be able to feel the love coming in… well enough to establish bonding and attachment. The key parenting task at this stage is to provide a safe, loving and engaged environment for the child, an environment safe enough that the child can receive this world through their senses of sights sound, touch, taste, smell and movement without having to become fearful during any of these experiences. The parent/child relationship must be sufficiently engaged and sustained through the senses that the child can bond to someone. Parents are developing the core love bond… loving so the attachment becomes pro-social. Parents provide an environment of loving kind gentle attentiveness.
Stage 1.5 Developmental level
At about 12 months (the precursors to this having started at about 6 months, and it being in full swing at 18 months), children are transitioning from helpless beings to active toddlers. Their core challenge and excitement are to discover their own power in this world. The parenting challenge is to provide a safe place for children to discover and explore their personal power without causing harm to self, other or the environment. Children need an open place where they can run and explore safely and a comforting place to come running back to when the world gets too big for them. If parents are too restrictive, children lose that light of spontaneity. If parents are too lax, children cross boundaries that lead to harm to self, harm to others, or destruction of the environment. Finding a good balance is the art of the wise parent.
Stage 2.0 Developmental level
At about 4 to 6 years children are transitioning from a first-person perspective (everything is about me) to a second-person perspective (the we matters). They mature in this perspective at about 12 to16 years of age. The child’s challenge is to learn the basics of pro-social behavior (taking turns, fairness, reciprocity, etc.) The parenting challenge is to provide the social exposure for the child so the child can explore their social self. The balance parents must navigate is to provide social experiences with enough freedom that children can explore their own social skills, and enough boundaries so they don’t run amok. Children at the later part of this stage are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure, so managing the social environment is important. But over-controlling the exchanges within this environment limits children’s social growth. This balance needs systematic adjustment by parents as their children grow from 6 to about 16 years of age. Finding and adjusting the balance between these two is the art of the parent at this stage of the child’s development.
Stage 2.5 Developmental level
At about 13 to 18 children move into understanding and internalizing principles. These principles grow to become more important than spontaneous exchanges with peers. Peer pressure begins to recede behind the power and stability of principles. The parenting challenge is to provide continued exposure to a principled lifestyle which may include theology and/or philosophy. The art for the parent at this stage is to provide enough exposure and modeling of a principled lifestyle without becoming so dogmatic that children do not feel they have no freedom for self-development, and self-exploration of their own emerging principles. This process begins much earlier, when parents model the values and principles they want their child to adopt. However, it is at this age that children don’t just follow parental modeling: they integrate the modeling into their own character.
Stage 3.0 Developmental level
At about 16 to 24 children begin to discover their more unique self. While they still hold to principles, they can see where rigid application of principles in all situations can cause harm. In doing this, children often reject their parents’ viewpoints and values as they seek a space free of those influences so they can discover their own unique self. The parenting challenge at this stage is to support their child to explore the nuances of their unique selves: alternative thoughts, feelings, values and moral orientations are part of the child’s exploration at this point. They are making them their own, not just because someone told them this is way things are. If parents notice their child is exploring their own values, morals and philosophies of life at this juncture, parents can enter into non-judgmental discussions with their child, while they explore their unique orientations on life.
When adults see their child develop to new stages, they may also notice that these stages get longer as the child becomes older. The first stage is only about 18 months, the second 3 to 4 years, the third 6 to 8 years, and the fourth 8 to 10 years.
Stages of parenting developmental skills
It is not only children who have developmental levels. Adults do too, both as adults and as parents. Adults may remain in one stage of development for their whole adult life, or they may move only one stage over that time.
It is important for many reasons for parents to understand the core tasks and challenges of their own developmental level and how that impacts upon how they view parenting. Each stage has its own world view, its own tasks and its own blind spots. When parents understand their own developmental level, they can identify and enhance its gifts, give them to their children and minimize the consequences of their blind spots and biases.
Knowledge of these basic parenting developmental levels allows parents to see their leading-edge gifts and blind spots, while also helping them see where they will often crash to under stress. However, earlier levels contain fewer options for parenting. Watching what, when and how they get triggered into a crash in their own developmental level and skills, is as important for parenting as learning all the cool tricks of the trade on how to parent. With this knowledge, parents can develop better parenting skills for the best of times and the worst.
This is but a brief description of parenting styles.
Stage 1.0 Helpless Parenting
Being at this stage is the result of a stress crash for most parents. Stress crashes occur when people get over-stressed and operate from a much earlier level than normal. It happens when parents get way too burned out, tired, and want to quit and just have someone else take care of them. It can also happen, if parents suffer from a severe illness or severe addiction. Some parents get stuck here and live out their lives having their own child care for them, while the child raises themselves to adulthood. The parent’s gift is that child learns the power to nurture and self-manage. The deficit is that the child become over stressed playing the adult role and never learns to have the freedom of being a care-free child. These children often create either a rebellious, disconnected or co-dependent oriented self-identity.
Stage 1.5 Parent-centered Parenting
Being at this stage is also usually the result of a stress crash for parents. In parent-centered parenting, the parent gets from the child what the parent wants. The parent has little concern for the child and the key issue is that the child does what the parent wants for the parent’s own benefit. In contrast to Stage 1.0 parents, Stage 1.5 parents are demanding of the child rather than just passively in need. The parent’s gift in this stage is modeling of personal power. The parent’s blind spot is blatant unawareness of their child’s needs in the moment. This often leads to either a rebellious or a slave oriented (obedience-based) self-identity for the child.
Stage 2.0 Norm-centered Parenting
Parents in this stage get focused on their child fitting in. The child needs to behave, look, act… that is appear to be what is required for fitting in. There can have two aspects to this. These parents may want their child to fit in with other children, or they themselves may want to fit in with their own group based upon how their child behaves (i.e., these parents control their child to make the parents look good to their community, so the parents can fit in). The parents’ gift from norm-centered parenting is social awareness. The parents’ blind spot is the judgementalism that derives from an overly social norm-focused worldview. Their children become either hyper-confirmative, which leads to an external locus of control and as a result, severe susceptibility to peer pressure; or the children develop a more oppositional orientation, in which they reject the social acceptance they desperately need and behave in ways that embarrass their parents.
Stage 2.5 Principled Parenting
Parents in this stage lead a principled life and provide principles for their child to live by. The moral life becomes paramount. The parents’ gift is to provide basic morals and principles to live by that can guide their child to a better life. The parents’ blind spot is that they can become rejecting of their child, if they do not live up to the moral environment the parents expect them to live by. In other words, when morals become more important than accepting and loving their child, parents cause damage… even while they think they are doing something for their child’s own good. Their child may develop principles, but those principles are often applied without concern for the genuine wellbeing of others. To clarify: the child, just like their parents, uses moral principles to humiliate and harm people rather than live out their morals in a way that truly helps people. However, the child may also live a life that actively rejects their parents’ principles and even mock them. If parents can lead with their values but hold them lightly, so they hold their love for their child paramount, then they can soften the rigidity of moralizing that can come at this stage of parenting development. This will help their child to develop principles to live by without having to beat others over the head with them or be led them to rebel to get some space.
Stage 3.0 Professional Parenting
In the professional parenting stage parents get to be very open to learning new ways to make themselves better parents. Professional parents want to be the best parents ever and are willing to study diligently to become that. As a result, they often do become very good parents. They learn a great deal about what works and what doesn’t, and how to parent better from various professionals. They are open to getting help when needed to make things better. Professional-oriented parents are parents 110% and give themselves fully to their parenting. The concern with this style of parenting is that parents can become overzealous with their new learning and swing from one new perfect parenting program to the next. The drive to perfection can also be transmitted to the child via the parents’ expectations and direct modeling, so their child can get the idea that they are not ok unless they are perfect. If parents can rejoice in their perfectionism, yet hold it lightly so they lead from love, then their child will be free of that haunting feeling that they are never perfect enough and be able to benefit from their parents’ detailed perfection.
Stage 3.5 Achievement Parenting
In this parenting stage parents want their child to achieve at everything they do. Success is paramount and success in their every endeavor is paramount. The gift offered by this parenting style is the development of success patterns that will serve the child for life. The blind spot is that the parents can become so obsessed with achievement and success that they don’t see they are driving their child into high levels of stress. These parents also inadvertently send the message that their child has to achieve to be ok, or loved, or acceptable. Instilling the importance of group norms is also a weak point for this parenting style. The result is that the child can develop either a highly individualistic competitive personality that misses out on the joys of bonding in egalitarian friendship, or a rebellious nature which gives up on achieving and becomes lazy or self-sabotaging.
Stage 4.0 Intimate Parenting / Egalitarian Parenting
In the intimate parenting style, parents focus on developing an intimate relationship with their child. The gift of the intimate parent is that they are able to establish very close relationships with their child that supports and serves the child for a lifetime. The child learns to be their authentic self and feels loved unconditionally. The blind spot is that these parents can be so focused on allowing the pure spirit of their child to emerge in this intimate environment that they don’t set important limits. As a result, these parents often inadvertently create an indulged child pattern that actually causes more harm to the child than if hard limits had been set. Indulged children have little skill for developing truly reciprocal relationships and end up being rejected by peers or becoming controlling of them, so they never enjoy the beauty of the reciprocal relationship the parent is so deeply trying to inculcate in them.
Stage 4.5 Adaptive Parenting
In the adaptive parent style, parents can generally see the benefits and consequences of all the previous styles and are in the best situation for being able to be the parent in the moment that is best for the child/parent/community system now and into the future. The problem with this type of parenting is that it’s more sophisticated and therefor takes longer to learn. It also requires a perspective that most parents are yet to develop, as it generally occurs later in a person’s lifetime. (This can lead to an understanding of the benefits of grandparents and elder-mentors for both parents and children.)
If parents notice their parenting style and are aware of the gift they are providing because of it, and are careful to soften the potential problems it can create, they can use that to help themselves and their child to create the best parent/child relationship possible.
It is likely that parents will be able to see multiple parenting styles in their own parenting.
This overview of the developmental understandings inherent in the various parenting stages will serve parents as they investigate parenting techniques. All the parenting techniques used by parents exist within the perspective of their own parenting developmental stage, and in turn, are received by their child in their own specific developmental stage. Consequently, how parents use parenting techniques does matter.
Parenting tools – 10 tools for optimal parenting
Now, we will turn our attention to the tools and techniques of parenting. In this, parents can consider their primary style of parenting, notice how they resist certain parenting tools and over-rely on others. These tendencies are partly the result of their developmental level.
- Environment management
Everything occurs within the environment we inhabit. Some environments are a set up for chronic conflict and others for smooth operation that allows beautiful relationships to unfold. Noticing and attending to the environment, physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially, will make a huge impact on the overall tone of the parent/child dynamic.
Everything in parenting comes down to relationships. The nature of how parents craft that relationship with their child will determine the joys and sorrows to come. Relationship-based parenting is not myopically focused on just the child. True relationship-based parenting helps parents to consciously craft the parent/child relationship in a way that benefits the whole family. Leadership and co-discovery can co-arise in the parenting dynamic. Co-discovery is about exploring with the child how the world works; it is an egalitarian approach where parent and child bond over a mutual passion. Leadership is about taking charge of a situation from a wise, strong and loving perspective; it involves skillful use of any or all of the tools listed here. Leadership and co-discovery are two poles of the bonding experience between parent and child. Healthy attachment requires both.
Modeling occurs when parents behave how they want their child to behave. Parents do this by using the same visual cues, verbal expressions, behavioral actions and attitudes they would like their child to have. Children naturally learn by modeling, so much so that they will tend to learn more by what their parents do than by what their parents say. Consequently, one of the most powerful methods of parenting is for parents to become the person they want their child to be like. As parents becoming healthier, that feeds back into the quality of their relationship with their child. The quality of that relationship provides the basis for how their child learns to interact with others for the rest of the child’s life.
What we notice tends to grow. If parents keep noticing misbehavior, they will tend to believe that their child is a misbehaving child… and children absorb what their parents believe. Children tend to live up to what their parents believe, so if parents notice misbehavior, their child will tend to give them misbehavior. On the other hand, if parents notice kindness, helpfulness, and other skills, then that is what the parents will see, and they will inculcate these traits into their child. Noticing is not denial, nor is it seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, and it is definitely not seeing their child as better than everyone else. It is seeing into the positive traits, skills and capacities in their child even in the midst of problems. By doing this, parents teach their child that their positive traits do not disappear in the face of challenges, and that in fact, they can be drawn upon to overcome hardship.
Wondering is a gentle yet powerful tool that helps parents direct their children’s learning in key areas that may be helpful or need attention. What parents wonder about out loud attunes their child to that same kind of wondering. Wondering helps parents and their children to discover and co-discover together. It also helps set the stage for learning and education.
Educating is a gentle form of parenting that parents use to guide their children in directions and lessons they want them to learn. This is different from forced teaching and lecturing. Forced lessons and lecturing are not education. Education involves parents clearly understanding the lesson they want their child to learn and providing the information in a manner so that their child is likely to absorb or receive it. Education is filled with empathy and a generally cooperative engagement in the learning process.
Sometimes parents just need to make a direct request. When parents ask, they should do that with the attitude that they are asking for a favor. Children do not have to do what they say… as every parent who has taken their two-year-old into a grocery store has well observed. Commanding and asking are two different things. Parents should ask first.
Negotiating is a great tool for teaching children to be able to speak up for themselves. If parents overuse negotiating with their child, it leads the child to using it as a manipulative tool; but if parents use it at the right time and place, it will teach their child interaction skills that will be useful throughout their lives.
Offering choices to children is another powerful parenting tool. It helps narrow the field for children, effectively reducing anxiety and providing direction for outcomes that are more desirable for all. By offering two positive choices (or more depending upon the situation), parents can help their child move in one of two directions, both of which are acceptable to the parent and situation. A third choice, often unstated, always exists and that is that the child might choose to not choose one of the parent-provided choices. Sometimes children want the parent to choose, sometimes they refuse to choose, and sometimes they choose something that is not an option. The latter choice may lead parents into the parent/child dynamic of behavioral management.
- Behavioral Management
Behavioral management comprises three sub-phases: Discipline, Consequences and Punishment.
Parents use discipline when they actively apply a behavioral management program to their child. This one has five steps
10.1.1 Parents make a clear concise statement of expectation
10.1.2 Parents make a clear concise statement of consequence
10.1.3 Parents make a clear concise statement of the time stamp, i.e. when the action must be completed by to prevent discipline.
10.1.4 Parents follow through on the agreed upon response… what people often call a consequence.
10.1.5 Parents debrief with their child by going over the lesson; or revising it to increase its success and either terminate, change or continue the plan.
Consequences can be either natural or logical.
10.2.1 Natural consequences:
Natural consequences are those the child will suffer from because of their own actions unless their parents rescue them. With natural consequences parents don’t have to actively implement a behavior management tool… they just allow the natural course of events to provide behavioral feedback to their child. The parents’ job is to stop themselves from rescuing or being co-dependent.
10.2.2 Logical consequence:
Logical consequences are based on logic and relate to the topic at hand. For example: if a child uses the car and stays out after curfew, the car was not used in the expected way, so removing access to the car is a logical consequence. On the other hand though, if a child does not do the dishes because they are playing on a gaming device, removing the car is not logical – the logical consequence in this case is to remove the gaming device.
Punishment is the parents’ use of tools that harm their child in an effort to get a desired response. This often leads to short term success with long term consequences. For example: when parents yell at or spank a child for not doing what the parent asks, the child’s immediate response may be to do what the parent says. However, the long term trend will usually be that the child takes less notice of the parent and that the parents will more frequently employ yelling or spanking.
There are a further two follow-ups parents can use in behavioral management.
The first follow up is for parents discuss the incident and the disciplinary/consequences/punishment to ensure the lessons are learned as intended and to explore alternatives to having to go into these experiences in the future.
The second follow-up is for parents to re-engage the child into a positive parenting relationship, i.e. return to relationship-based parenting, modeling, and healthy co-discovery. This keeps the relationship functioning at optimal levels. Ideally, parents never really leave relationship-based parenting, but when they go into discipline mode, sometimes a child does not realize this. As a result, it is a good idea for parents to make a marker, some shift in attitude or behavior, that indicates to the child that they are ultimately in love with their child and the child is invited into that space with them.
It is important that parents use these parenting tools in the given order. They have been specifically sequenced so that parents can create the most beautiful, healthy relationship with their child possible. If parents use these tools in reverse order as many parents mistakenly do, then they start out with the most constricted parent-child relationship and they may never get to the most beautiful parent-child relationship available to them.
The developmental level of parents has a unique and powerful impact upon their child’s developmental level. For example: if parents are coming from a Stage 3.5 achievement oriented parenting perspective, they will tend to promote their child’s individual achievement. This can be good if the child is in Stage 1.5 and attempting to discover their personal power. However, when the child moves to Stage 2.0, the child needs to background their individual achievement in order to bring forward the beauty and intimacy of the collective. The very same parenting perspective can be beneficial for a child at one developmental level and actually harmful at another. Every parenting style has a different impact upon each of the child’s developmental levels.
Every child operates within a developmental level that shapes what the child can see, what the child can’t see and what the child needs. Every parent operates within a developmental level that shapes what the parent can see, what the parent can’t see and what the parent needs. How each tool in the list of parenting tools is used by a parent will be shaped by the parent’s developmental perspective at that time. If the parent is in a stress crash to an earlier developmental level, even the most beautiful parenting tool might come across negatively to the child. In addition, every time a child receives a parenting intervention, the child receives it within their own particular perspective. If parents notice which perspective their child understands, that can help them to craft a tool skillfully for communicating what is so important to their child at that time.
When parents understand their own developmental level, their child’s developmental level and use the sequence of parenting tools in the order listed above, they can craft the most beautiful, healthy parent/child relationship possible.
About the Author
Kim Barta is an internationally recognized psychotherapist and speaker. He works with the entire spectrum of human development from infants to the elderly and specializes in working with advanced developmental level individuals. Kim conducts workshops internationally on human development and the evolution of consciousness. He focuses on practical, embedded, experiential, embodied exercises that make a real difference in people lives, bringing the mystical to the ordinary for everyday bliss.