Due to the unequal power differential, mindful parenting skills are needed for each stage of growth to support the child’s fundamental needs. Otherwise, when a child feels powerless (whenever one of their basic needs feels threatened), usually a meltdown and tears are inevitable. Sometimes this is damaging to their ability to trust.
No matter what stage of growth, empowering them by facilitating a safe, kind environment, gives them constructive options and values. None of us is explicitly taught these things. Nor are we warned of how traumatic a parent’s over-reacting can be for a child. Establishing mindfully kind habits as an adult sets a precedence for your child with grace, making it easier to be aware and manage a child’s fundamental needs that align with their phase of growth.
Dr. Laura Markham, Ph.D. is a psychologist and founder of Aha! Parenting, as well as a parenting expert for Psychology Today, The Natural Parent Magazine, and Mothering.com among others. She is also a published author of two books:
The punishment and compliance system (that most of us grew up with) is robbing parents of crucial connection, and she offers alternative forms of communication to get results that are easier and safer for everyone. Dr. Laura’s relationship-based parenting has been getting positive results for hundreds of families.
Growth Stages Overview
Babies: Attachment Phase
Babies are struggling to handle over stimulation, learn how to eat, sleep, and adjust to their rapidly growing body and brain development. The foremost aspect of this phase that makes the most difference is how the child is cherished. Not only being held as much as possible during waking hours, but the excitement level of those holding the baby builds the innate trust that they are safe.
Toddlers: Routine Phase
Toddlers enjoy predictable structure; this is their way of practicing mastering their lives. Within the routine, they are learning how to regulate their emotions, practicing potty training, feeding themselves, and falling asleep on their own. They need to be offered small choices within the structure, as powerlessness combined with feeling tired or hungry is what creates tantrums.
Preschoolers: Self-Management Phase
Preschoolers are explorers. They are exploring making friends, making art, learning to control their bodies, emotions and minds. Their cognitive ability is enhancing quickly to include more complex questions for when, why, and how things works. They are overwhelmed by emotion easily and need your empathy when you’re setting limits. Your empathy helps them to manage their emotions and learn to act with kindness.
School Age: Emotional Intelligence Phase
This is the sweet spot of your child’s experience with you. They are at their peak for having self-control, are cooperative and as affectionate as they get before their need for independence kicks in. Elementary years represent the easiest time for your influence to mold a quality relationship. Uphold patterns that acknowledge the relationship and separation in all greetings and goodbyes with warm hugs and kisses as much as possible. Match their mood and minimize distractions until you’ve fully reconnected after time apart. Your connection time is what enhances their emotional intelligence.
Tweens: Constructive Negotiation Phase
If you’ve been using a punishment model, this will work less and less in this stage. But if you’ve been approaching your relationship with your child as something to cultivate carefully, your child will be cooperative with a healthy concern for disappointing you. Then you can both practice your negotiation skills to come to fair agreements that everyone can be happy with. Being consistent with positive, gracious guidance helps your child develop into a respectful teen.
Early Teen: Emerging Independence Phase
If you’ve been using a punishment-compliance model to control, this is the age when it starts to backfire in the form of rebellion. If you’ve been cultivating and earning the connection, the emerging independence will still hold you in respect. Teens need to hear about your expectations, and be given any needed support to meet those expectations. They need help understanding reparations, that mistakes happen, and how to take action to make the situation better.
Teenager: Autonomy Support Phase
You can’t control your teen, but you can pre-coach them to prepare them for the most common things they face, for example: Most teens will try alcohol. This is a stage of needing opportunities for extreme fun and testing themselves, but they need your empowerment for following their own moral compass and having the capacity to say no when they aren’t safe or comfortable. They also need to know that if tragedy strikes, you want to help them, not punish, and it’s safe to call you at any hour if the worst happens.
Kind Parenting Core Values
A child’s primary function is to explore and discover who they are. Playing a supportive role to their discovery means being mindful of their growth phase and changing needs. Remaining receptive, mindfully kind in all your affairs, and careful not to personalize your child’s anger, because they are doing their best, and it’s enough. The more kind your child’s environment, the freer they are to develop a love of learning, cultivating their art form, and pursuing skill sets that make them happy.
AWARD INTEGRITY + ACCOUNTABILITY
Personally modeling integrity and accountability, shows your child that you are also doing your best. And sometimes, when our best isn’t enough, it doesn’t mean we failed. There are still other opportunities to own a mistake, apologize, and make amends. Then when your child makes a mistake, then show them it’s still possible to have great integrity and do the right thing. Tell them how proud and appreciative you are that they care about doing the right thing.
OFFER BOUNDARIES + SOLUTIONS
Over-reactive parenting leads children to more intense negative emotions and poor behavior. In research conducted across 361 families, modeling self-regulation, confidence, and firm boundaries helped kids to know that there are always workable solutions for both parties. This helps them to work through things constructively as opposed to over-reacting as a habit.
Empowering your child’s creativity by allowing them to get messy, and experiment is important for engaging their innovative thinking skills. Emphasizing playful process over productivity helps affirm the value of the journey rather than productivity. A deeply flawed premise that most us suffer from: “The more you do, the more you’re worth.” You can make a difference in keeping your child’s inherent value separate from any production process.
Kind Parenting Habits
Here’s a brief overview with how to practice being mindfully kind with your children given their stage of development.
Kids are very perceptive, and if your affirmations are constantly non-specific, they eventually question themselves, because they feel short on concrete examples of their value. Your specific and timely affirmations make a huge difference in the way your child views themselves and how they step into their power. When they exhibit outstanding behavior, it’s important to acknowledge that before the end of the day is over. Slow down and fully express why you appreciate their choices and actions to be kind, brave, or not retaliate because it could cause more danger. Tell them exactly why that’s the most intelligent thing anyone can do in that scenario.
- Enhanced Self Esteem
- Reinforcement Encourages More Good Behavior
- Increased Understanding For Confusing Situations
Kind Voice Tones
Because children are easily overwhelmed, angry voice tones are damaging. Always approach them with calm respectful tones, with empathy for their limited view of things, especially when setting limits. As much as possible give them respectful explanations of why you need their cooperation. This makes it easier for them to transition. “Hey, I know you like chasing this one kid around, but they are getting tired and need a break, can we swing or find other kids to play with?”
- Understanding Behavior Instead Of Demanding Compliance
- Keeps Your Ego Minimized
- Enhances Connection Capacity For Both You & Your Child
Our kids are easily confused and overwhelmed by their own emotions, growing pains, and energy fluctuations. They don’t know when they are about to crash from exhaustion. Structure is good for them and us. The reassurance that a parent is protectively in charge, and helping the child understand and master the routine builds their sense of personal security. As they grow up, different growth stages will require modification, but as long as your child understands the core ‘why’ as being for their benefit, there will be fewer power struggles.
- Enhanced Ability For Giving Kids Options Within Segments Of The Day
- More Inspirational Connection, Less Power Struggle Disconnect
- Mindfully Kind Day-To-Day Process That Maximizes Child Wellbeing
- Structured Routines Enhance Security
We know it takes mindful courage and innovation to resist the impulses of scheduling too much for ourselves and our children. Decide as a family what makes up a ‘Can’t Be Bothered Day.’ Perhaps fundamental ground rules apply such as: No scheduled appointments, no electronics, and a 24 hour peace treaty for any family members who have unresolved issues. Maybe a picnic, hammock cuddling, or making a paper mache of a rare animal together are allowable activities.
Benefits of Down Time
- Their Unstructured Play Time May Unlock Your Own
- Witnessing An Unfolding Identity Is An Underrated Phenomena
- Emotionally Supporting Their Discovery Process Is Healing For Your Inner Child
Develop Family Rituals
Families need a variety of rituals, from annual camping trips to everyone eating together for one meal a day. Connection rituals are sometimes seasonally based and something everyone looks forward to. Such as a harvest festival in the fall and making hot cider together. Family meetings with established etiquette on practicing constructive responses make a difference by including everyone and allowing them to be heard.
- Interconnection Boosting For All
- Fun To Look Forward To
- Inclusionary To All Roles In The Family & Reinforces Inclusive Attitudes