Performance Accountability: A New Parenting Model for 2016

Just and Compassionate Parenting: Empathy and Accountability: core high-values

Posted Jan 01, 2016

My Child Has a Face: Compassionate Parenting

The term “face” used here means recognizing and preserving a child’s dignity and integrity as a person of value with feelings who is sensitive and remembers experiences. Just and compassionate accountability in child rearing avoids using humiliation and embarrassment in any parent-child dialogue.


This essay addresses a style and strategies of parenting applicable to most families, and equally to girls and boys as well as to young women and men. Adapting these principles to the specifics of one’s unique culture, context, situation, and family makeup customizes their application and enhances effectiveness. A flow of topics will advance from the concept of the developmental point of view, to emotional life in parent-child-transactions, to ideas about applied fair and just assessments of behaviors and accountability for misdeeds. Performance accountability awareness, identification, and discussions with children and adolescents are integral to parenting. I regard building performance accountability as a whole to be a tool for both parents and children to gain traction with and navigate the vast sea of challenging behaviors. A weighty topic such as this requires a diligent discussion rather than a brief review.

I. The Developmental Point of View

Developmental perspectives include the interrelated progression of advancements in the biological, psychological, social, and environmental facets of a child’s life. The author’s term “biomental” denotes the integral processes of psychological and biological dimensions that make up every person’s life, particularly the dynamic processes in childhood. The child’s relationships with parents are central.

The childhood developmental perspective shows not merely what an infant and child can do, but also how he or she does it. This “how” reflects neurophysiological maturity and overall biomental competence. A child must first have the physiological capacity and then the environmental opportunities for practicing skills to develop in adequate ways.

Development begins with the organic changes from within. It is occasioned by environmental opportunities that can mold its plasticity. The outstanding role of the environment in providing opportunities to add, enhance, and constrain development is crucial and cannot be overemphasized. Performance accountability is an environmental enhancement.

Understanding where a child is positioned developmentally provides insight into the child’s most preferred activities at each moment, particularly when misdeeds occur. Recognizing normative tasks and supporting them with developmentally suitable opportunities to exercise and practice them fosters healthy development.

The developmental perspective is specific to the period from birth to young adulthood during which the rate of novel development is rapid. In contrast, the phrase “life cycle” denotes the entire period of successive developmental transitions—physical and psychological—from birth through death. The "biomental perspective" sees the individual dynamically embedded in the fabric of intimate interpersonal and social connectedness.

Transitions, by nature, are often stressful. Periods of transition are sensitive to disruption. The effect of disturbance may, unfortunately, impair development. The anxieties and tensions experienced during transitions increase one’s susceptibility to disruption and thus raise the level of vulnerability and proneness to misdeeds. The absence of consistent and reliable caregiving, for example, may negatively impact a child’s development. Performance accountability enriches development.

Emotional Literacy: Its Relevance in Motivation and Influencing Behavior

Emotions are a step beyond raw sensation and before cognitive understanding. Emotion is the raw truth within human beings. They are sensed, felt, and universally shared by all. Emotions can be said to be the fire of attraction and repulsion between persons. Emotions convey information and generate action. The intensity of such feelings is responsible for mating, families, and protection against predators through the detection of threat and the erection of defense.

“Emotional literacy” is being able to feel, identify, and adaptively use one’s feeling states. This emotional fluency enhances emotional self-regulation, lessens over-reactivity to negative emotions such as anger and reckless behaviors, and is the basis of interpersonal emotional modulation. Agreeableness and conscientiousness, a cooperative pausing, are enhanced. Emotional literacy is a competency that reflects one's internal capacity and ability for emotional intelligence.

As healthy development proceeds, emotional processing yields the capacity for empathy. As cognition matures, its integration with emotional literacy enables one to understand another’s perspective and to resonate with his or her feeling states. Emotional connections dynamically link one person to another. This common point of reference creates the fabric of our social lives. Understanding and using emotional literacy helps us to become who we truly are and profoundly enriches our interpersonal relationships, particularly by our developing sense of empathy. This begins in childhood.

Prehistoric generations used more implicit and less consciously intentional means to identify and transmit emotional data to one another and children. Our generation requires, if not demands, explicit teaching, and instruction. This is an integral part of performance accountability and guidance in childhood. A vital mental health aim is to decrease children growing up with a sense of affective and emotional emptiness and mood instability. Such primary prevention seeks to avoid the onset of specific diseases or disorders via 1.) risk reduction: by altering behaviors or exposures that can lead to disease and disorder development, or 2.) by enhancing resistance to the effects of exposure to a pathogenic agent or unhealthy psychological situation. For example, if one were to deeply probe sources of misdeeds, emotions such as envy, greed, and jealousy would be found as root motivations.

“Emotional intelligence” is the ability to identify one's feeling states, and understand their personal and social meaning. "Emotional literacy" is using these feelings in an adaptive manner to regulate oneself and interpersonal relationships. Temperament, motivation, cognitive abilities, and emotions are decisive elements in emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence develops over chronological and developmental time to become a realized performance skill---a literacy---when undeveloped capabilities and aptitudes are improved through practice and parental guidance. Guidance here emphasizes affectionate, caring performance accountability. “Transactional sensitivity”---key to the "biomental perspective"---is the conscious and nonconscious receptivity toward grasping and being influenced by the emotional, cognitional, and motivational state of mind of a child. It is mindfulness both active and receptive. Tempered by the fire of these intimate transactions, emotional literacy becomes more skillful; self-efficacy, leadership, empathy, and social competency also grow.

Emotions and Motivation

Understanding emotions requires an appreciation of motivation---the power of will. Motivation denotes a level of biomental activation and interest toward self-expansion reached through goal achievement and resource acquisition—both of which yield pleasurable satisfaction. The construct of motivation encompasses innate drives pushing one toward a goal, and environmental incentives pulling one toward rewards. When hoped for change is believed possible, children can become internally inspired to reach for such future success.

Motivation includes wanting or desire and effort exerted toward the desired goal. Because emotion creates an orienting arousal toward or away from a goal, motivation energizes the intensity of these pursuits. It is the force inherent in seeing past immediate challenges and striving toward a path of continued forward movement. Parental guidance offers opportunities to remind children of the future benefits of healthy behaviors in the immediate moment.

Besides the primacy of love and affection, parents can facilitate a child's development in the following way. Motivated performance is enhanced, for example, when caregivers introduce desired behaviors in an almost glaringly exceptional light so it becomes preferred over another behavior (such as lethargy or procrastination) thus making it possible for the child to see that the developmentally more facilitating behavior better meets his or her needs in a specific context. Performance accountability emphasizes this skill. It is also important to take into consideration that however much motivation may drive a person to optimize capabilities, there are built-in ceilings (valid ability and skill challenges) beyond which achievement may not be possible. In addition, factors such as resistance to change (“I won’t”) are important to uncover. Nevertheless, an inspired and hopeful conversation showing that change is desirable can trigger hope's ally--- "motivation."

A major theme of the biomental perspective is that emotional literacy establishes resiliency at all stages of life. Emotional literacy enhances both agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Emotions are akin to verbs. They are action oriented approximations. In an earlier article on, “You Are Your Child's First Verb,” how this idea (parent as a dynamic teaching model) has pragmatic meaning in parenting was discussed.

II. Fair and Just Assessment of Behaviors: Performance Accountability for Misdeeds

Fair and just assessment of misdeeds require an adaptive management evaluation style. Here, consequences typically are not punitive; rather they are corrective learning experiences---the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught. If one uses the term “discipline” for such corrective consequences, its essential meaning denotes building and enhancing self-discipline. This means conveying self-regulatory tools for emotional modulation, impulse control, pause, thinking before doing, and minimizing behavioral error.

First, since every family’s culture has a set of implicit and explicit values, values need to be identified. Values are ideas and behaviors held to be highly desirable, beneficial, and "good." Values orient people's lives and behaviors. Misdeeds (a.k.a., negative behavior, misbehavior, misconduct, performance failures, and “bad” behavior) are behaviors that are unhealthy, destructive, willfully oppositional and defiant, personally and interpersonally harmful, demoralizing, and maladaptive. These are measured both in themselves as, for example, hitting others, stealing, and breaking things, and according to a family’s set of values, for example, disrespecting parents or using offensive language.

As discussed before, the developmental level of the child is critical to consider. Children up to mid-adolescence require teaching, monitoring, and guidance. Parental direction and firm influence is greatest at earlier ages and lessens in adolescence. As long as children are living at home and until young adulthood arrives, constructive supervision is always beneficial.

Accountability conversations for misdeeds or inadvertent behavioral errors occur in a setting where the emotional tone resonates with safety and non-accusatory reviews. Tapping onto emotional literacy elicits emotionally intelligent behavior in both parents and children when crucial dialogues about behavioral performance and refining behaviors are being addressed. This is mindful transactional sensitivity.

Accountability conversations are primarily about a failure to do something (lapse), do it correctly (slip), mistake (poor choice), or intentional misdeed. Otherwise stated, accountability centers on performance. This means that behaviors---the steps within an action, themselves, are highlighted. While the consequences of behaviors are often critical, particularly in showing how consequences follow from actions, the model proposed here emphasizes performance accountability. The goal of corrective discipline is to shift thinking from who is to blame to why did the individual act and perform this way. This sets a tone for responsibility to take center stage rather than blame and guilt. Blame and guilt have their place, but this essay will not discuss these important emotional experiences.

Human performance errors (e.g., incorrect action, misconduct, misdeeds) are deviations from intention, expectation, or desirability that result in failure in moral expectation or task performance. Parents always need to make sure that behavioral expectations are clear-cut and that consequences are just as transparent. Typically, errors result from (and are a symptom of) poor motivation, lack of a skill set, unawareness or forgetting of rules, poor or mistaken choices, and the insufficient reinforcement of motivation and skill building. Given these fundamental sources of performance failures, the next step in accountability evaluations takes into consideration intent. To be clear, one cannot be completely aware of all the causes that contribute to errors; they are legion. In other words, numerous confounders--- unobserved, nonconscious exposures associated with the more obvious exposures of interest--- are also contributing causes of the outcome of errors. Taking this latent set of "unknowns" into consideration supports flexible and reasonably open-ended, creative discussions.

For the sake of schematic simplicity, three domains of intentionality in misconduct are proposed: 1.) unintentional mistakes, lapses, and slips; 2.) knowing violations or at-risk behaviors; and 3.) willful and malicious intent.

An honest mistake may be inadvertent and unintentional---the result of an incorrect choice, lack of knowledge of rules, or misunderstanding what is happening and needs to be done. A lapse is omitting a step that results in an error. A slip is the incorrect execution of a task, that is, a skill problem in correctly performing a task. For example, spilling milk while pouring it (slip) or forgetting to bring in the mail (lapse) or attempting to pet a stray dog (mistake). A knowing violation is an at-risk behavior that is a deviation from performance expectations, is intentional, but whose negative risk consequences are not necessarily intended. Examples include adolescents who stay out later than agreed upon, experiment with illicit substances, or drive five or ten miles faster than the speed limit. Malicious misconduct comprises clear-cut violations such as theft, setting fires, or destructive aggressive acts toward others.

Parental Performance: Skill and Style

Caregivers effectively parent through the joint actions of nurturance, discipline, and living example. All three presume that parents are well-intentioned and motivated. While these techniques emerge and evolve in the day-to-day transactions of family life, a thoughtful understanding of the principles of child development as mentioned can refine them.

Skills are abilities to do something well, that is, to perform effectively in a relatively sustained way over time. Skill is the more technical aspect of enduring performance; it can be learned and measured. Understanding a child’s level of development allows a caregiver to more effectively parent, exercising both parental and developmentally-informed skill sets.

Styles include form, appearance, shape, mode, method, and the implementation of how something is carried out and expressed. Styles are personalized applications of skills. Parenting styles are, in part, based on parents’ beliefs about why a child may behave or misbehave. Typically, four broad categories of parenting styles are recognized: 1.) authoritative: empathetic, fair, and responsive; 2.) permissive: overindulgent with low expectations; 3.) authoritarian: highly directive and overly rigid; and 4.) neglectful.

Authoritative Accountability Conversations: Fair and Just Consequences

Accountability discussions with children and adolescents are crucial in parenting. They model and teach values, particularly listening, respect, empathy, fairness, justice, and personal responsibility. These are vital life skill abilities. The dynamics of family systems is a crucial consideration because it may enhance or deter individual performance. While this idea is necessary to emphasize, this essay will not discuss details of the vital influence of the systemic environment on individual performance.

The messaging of authoritative accountability discussions must be carefully chosen to preserve their quality and effectiveness. Each conversation must be fresh, authentic, and inspired (exploring the "why"), not formulaic, mechanical, and cliched (merely discussing the "what"). Put differently, these vital conversations are best used either in a simpler way to teach younger children or in a more deliberate and sober manner to address older youngsters who have crossed a “red line” of acceptable behaviors. Tone of voice and physical gesture are critical in conveying empathy and transactional sensitivity.

In a family culture where authoritative accountability is a central mode of assessing behaviors, the following guidelines for managing misdeeds work best. Interventions take into consideration both motivation and abilities. Authoritative accountability reviews occur in the emotionally safe settings of accountability conversations discussed above. Honest mistakes, slips, and lapses are inadvertent and nonconscious errors requiring teaching, skill-building, and reinforcement. Empathizing with a child who errs in this way means helping to identify the error and then enumerating the steps needed to learn how to avoid such mishaps in the future. Such conversations both teach new abilities, reinforce previously learned skill sets, and enhance motivation.

Knowing violations or at-risk behaviors are more serious because they are potential hazards to well-being. Since they are defined as knowing errors, they are handled in a soberer and deliberate fashion. Risky behaviors require serious discussions that identify clearly the dangerous behaviors and then go through the steps behind why the child or adolescent would act this way. Events such as these bring to light the rebellious side of adolescents that reflect developmental strivings toward healthy individuation. Protests such as "You can't make me do that!" and "You have no right to control my life" signal to parents that the adolescent is awkwardly struggling for greater self-dependence as well as guidance.

Here, transactional sensitivity is a must. Previously learned abilities are given the opportunity to become more refined; coaching brand new adaptive behaviors is a fair consequence. These conversations are centered on the behaviors and must avoid authoritarian, controlling, forceful, or inordinately guilt-provoking tactics since these only shut down dialogue and increase resistance to learning. In such safe conversations, self-esteem and self-empowerment may be given a chance to grow. With this expansion, motivation increases.

Both honest mistakes and at-risk behaviors require monitoring, redirected support, and periodic reinforcement. In contrast, willful and malicious misconduct (not discussed at length here) is certainly less subtle and requires an essay in itself to discuss accountability and the broad levels of serious discipline or punishment that each level of the offense may require.

III. Compassionate Discipline: Using Empathetic, Corrective, and Flexible Accountability

Compassionate discipline is intelligent discipline with an emphasis on mindful transactional sensitivity. Transactional sensitivity is the conscious and nonconscious receptivity toward grasping and being influenced by the emotional, cognitional, and motivational state of mind of a child. It is both active and receptive. This resonance of receptivity, of being influenced, and of influencing through a synchronous responsiveness is its main element. This flexible mutuality fostered by transactional sensitivity includes giving, receiving, and relationship adaptation. It encompasses both the emotional and cognitive perspectives of empathy and understanding through action that is oriented in its disciplinary strategies. Transactional sensitivity is the crucible for emotional intelligence and healthy development to occur. Such intimate dialogues model emotional regulation for children to internalize and integrate.

Building performance accountability embodies compassionate discipline. In a loving family culture, warm and facilitating emotions are complemented by a parent’s work on children’s behavior, that is, how they perform at every level. This is most acute in situations when misdeeds appear. Not only must the misdeeds, consequences of performance errors, be addressed, but why and how they occurred must be examined. When parents listen empathetically, children will often "share their dreams," that is, aspirations and ideals behind the deeds they perform. Parents gain insight into their child's inner world. Patient listening models emotional literacy and fosters emotional fluidity and receptivity to adaptive change. Emotional literacy cues the sparks of motivation.

Performance accountability for children, what it is, and specifically how to use and build  this high- value tool is just and compassionate parenting. Taking seriously the ideas and steps outlined in this discussion aims to enhance children’s sense of justice, empathy, and accountability---core values in teaching healthy behaviors and modeling self-discipline. These are lifetime assets for children, their families, and the larger social world in which we live.

Basic reference:

Ninivaggi, FJ. (2013) "Biomental Child Development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting". Lanham, MD & London: Rowman & Littlefield. []

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