A Primer for Parents and Educators on the Consciousness of Children

Hurt and wounded people make hurtful and wounding decisions. This is the inevitable conclusion of a century of incisive psychological inquiry and several millennium of enlightened spiritual philosophy. Instead of looking at the consequences of bad decisions such as stupid wars, environmental degradation, or a seducible citizenry which can only induce palliative responses, it is imperative that we examine human consciousness itself. Appreciation of consciousness allows us to take the deliberate, responsible steps towards optimal well-being.

It is time for a change. Imagine what this world might look like if adults didn’t spend most of their time reacting to the wounds of their childhood.

The premise of this road to social justice is straightforward.

  • The only pollution is the pollution of the human being, the human mind. Humans make the decisions that lead to social justice. Hurt humans make hurtful decisions. Humans living in optimal well-being make just decisions.
  • Appreciation of human development provides the blueprint for optimal well-being.
  • Human development is a natural process. It unfolds according to natural principles.
  • The field of inquiry into human development crosses disciplines. It includes the science of wholes—Emergence, Chaos theory, Relativity and quantum theory, and evolutionary biology; cultural and physical anthropology; brain research; and spiritual philosophy—East, West, North, South, contemporary and ancient. Educators have contributed mightily. Humanistic, transpersonal, and family systems discourses in psychology complement the inquiry into human development by providing rich details and direction for further research.
  • Humans develop as whole beings. All human capacities including psychological, spiritual, ethical, emotional, social, intellectual, and motivation develop synchronistically and synergistically.  Though on the surface this appears to complexify development beyond comprehensibility, in fact it makes understanding easier.
  • Capacities are innate and humans develop in relationships to others and to environment. Human development is bi-directional—the child influences the adult and the adult influences the child.
  • Creating the relationships that nurture the innate capacities brings optimal well-being and, by effortless extension, social justice. Those living in well-being are most likely to be fair and just in society.
  • Nourishment includes recognition and gratitude for one’s contributions as well as recognition of opportunity to learn from others.

On the Consciousness of Children
A meaningful description of the consciousness of children must include that which is measureable, such as behavior, affect, and cognitive mapping, and the immeasurable, such as aesthetics, ethics, and spirituality.  It must cover the range of human experience and expression. To be truly effective for parents, teachers, and anyone who interacts with children it must be relatively easy to understand and apply. To be the response to our problems it must include family and community. To be accepted it must be deepen self knowledge in both parent and child.

The Organizing Principle
During childhood, consciousness unfolds in recognizable life stages. Each stage is governed by an organizing principle. The organizing principle is an innate capacity to receive, organize, and respond to the psychological and physical environments in ways that maximize well-being. In each of the sequential stages of childhood there is an organizing principle that governs the general ways in which human energy, capacities, inclinations, and interactions are structured and act.

The organizing principle is a psychological faculty inherent in every human. It has a locus, a purpose, and the means to accomplish that purpose. The locus, or space, that it occupies is similar to that for all psychological faculties. Memory, for example, does not have a form in the same sense as a concrete pillar, yet no one denies that memory exists and occupies a psychological space. That space is known by its function; to recall something from the past is to use one’s memory; to organize the world, one perceives through the organizing principle. Recall is the means memory uses. A purpose of memory is continuity. The purpose of the organizing principle is optimal well-being, and it uses the means of actualizing the biological, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual capacities of the developmental moment.

Therefore the organizing principle is a natural psychological faculty and is known in the same way as other psychological faculties such as memory, perception, abstraction, affect, and concentration.
When the organizing principle is nourished all the child’s capacities—including the immeasurables— optimally develop. That is conscious relationship with children.

The Essentials of Natural Learning Relationships
What is the organizing principle of each stage of development? How can it be nourished? In this article we can only present the bare bones of NLR. Nevertheless, even bare bones appreciation of the organizing principle and nourishments opens the door to the child’s consciousness and will be sufficient to suggest meaningful applications for social justice.

Josette and I, following the protocol of the profession, have chosen names for the stages which indicate their chief characteristics. Therefore, each stage ends with the suffix “being”, which means nothing essential is missing. The prefix points to the dominant characteristic of the stage. The secondary organizing principle, described below, provides the necessary conditions for the primary organizing principle to become viable. As you read, think about the nourishments the same way you think about diet. All children need protein, vitamins, etc. Yet every family has their unique way of supplying these needs and everybody has their own need level. In the same way every family can supply the nourishments described below. How each family or school does it is their choice specific to their culture, as it should be.

The first stage, BodyBeing (0-8), indicates that learning occurs primarily through the body.

  • Rightful Place is the primary organizing principle. All capacities are used, all experiences decoded for their value in establishing where and with whom the child belongs. Only from the basis of Rightful Place can the environment be optimally explored and ingested.
  • The secondary organizing principles are the ability to create boundaries and to develop personal strength. Only by knowing boundaries can the child know her place. When she knows her Rightful Place she is strong and able.
  • The nourishments that nurture the child to access and develop these capacities are: loving touch, security, flexibility, warmth and nourishment.
  • The language of BodyBeing children is sensation. It is the medium by which they both receive and transmit information.
  • BodyBeing’s key attributes include egotism and the ability to make “sensation-based” maps of both the physical and psychological environment.
  • All the marvels of this age, such as language, fine motor skills, the ability to make the body adapt to its social and physical environment, naturally unfold when the organizing principle is nourished.

FeelingBeing (9-12), the second developmental stage, indicates that learning is primarily through feelings.

  • Trust is the organizing principle of FeelingBeing. Learning centers on the ability to decipher personal feelings and the feelings of others. Social and interpersonal relationships are paramount.
  • The secondary organizing principle is Reciprocal Cooperation. This refers to cooperation of all parties. If others are not trustworthy the child often resists cooperation.
  • The nourishments are: feeling mentors, honesty, fairness, adventure, adaptability, and justice
  • The language of FeelingBeing children is feelings. The key attributes of this stage are community relationships, awareness of personal mortality, awareness of conscience, and the ability to be inspired.
  • Ultimately, the proper developmental diet yields a deep, trusting connection with self, family, community and nature.
  • When a child trusts, she has an excellent ability to easily perceive the feeling world of others in any given situation and she cooperates in the name of genuine relationship.

IdealBeing (13-17), the third developmental stage indicates that learning takes place through the exploration of ideals.

  • The primary organizing principle of this stage is autonomy. Autonomy means self-governance and includes social ability and skill in relationships. It is not about isolated individualism.
  • The secondary organizing principles are identity construction, freedom and personal power. The child is taking responsibility for the development of self.
  • The nourishments are sensitive respect, the ability to express and act upon ideals, peer contact, respect of personal space and challenges within the realm of success. Sensitive Respect means that we support the child’s idealistic exploration into her core nature. It also means that we respect the identities that are “tried on” during this search. Sensitive Respect includes boundaries when the exploration might be harmful.
  • The language of this stage is inquiry. Inquiry is the best tool elders have for understanding the child’s ideals.
  • Key attributes include an unceasing exploration of self, intense insecurity, and a growing awareness of personal responsibility. IdealBeing children try on many identities and experiment with them until a match with their core nature is satisfied. An identity naturally drops away when the child decides it is not serving their nature. They often swing between freedom and responsibility, between ideals and shadow exploration, between assertion and insecurity, between risk taking and the need to experience success, between individuation and peer conformity.
  • Ultimately, the proper developmental diet yields a solid sense of self, which provides the power and freedom to forge ahead in the now recognizably uncertain world.

The fourth developmental is ReasonableBeing (18-23). This name reflects that learning takes place through an ability to participate in multiple perspectives without losing connection to oneself.

  • The primary organizing principles are interconnectedness, humor and humility.
  • The secondary organizing principles are intentionality, incisiveness and systems creation.
  • Mature Recognition is the nourishment for ReasonableBeing. It has four aspects: recognition of commitment; recognition of equality; recognition of achievement; recognition of recognition. The last refers to the ability to self observe and to accept ourselves as responsible for the meaning of our life. It is the basis for a comprehensive self knowledge.
  • The language is dialogue.  The dialogue is toward holistic logic and often has informed research as a basis. Research can be into anything, i.e., travel, relationships, academics, etc.
  • Key attributes include a fully mature relationship to both past and future and the ability to know and monitor the well-being of the capacities developed in the previous three developmental stages. ReasonableBeing children also have the ability to crunch data into systems and through those systems operate on and change the world. They explore all forms of knowing, from the scientific to the artistic to the spiritual. Genuine reasonableness acts only in accord with the developed capacities of the three previous stages. It is not merely intellectual.
  • Ultimately, the proper developmental diet yields self-knowledge that is interconnected with all aspects of the known universe. This both provides self-confidence to create systems and leaves the child humble and aware of how extraordinary life is.

You can also find this in chart form here.

To continue your reading check out the Social Justice and Children page.


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