A Brief Introduction to Guiding

Parents have many different responsibilities and take on many roles with their children. They provide for their safety and physical health. They protect them and keep them safe. They teach them how to take care of themselves and do the tasks of daily life. They have fun together. They provide them with rules and discipline but also with lots of love. These are the parenting activities we are most familiar with. They are the easiest for us to see.

But there is much more going on underneath the surface. Over the last 30 years, developmental psychologists have discovered that people are not born with Dynamic Intelligence. While some people are born with more potential to acquire Dynamic Intelligence than others, even those with the highest potential will not develop Dynamic Intelligence unless the right opportunities are made available to them.

While all of the above parenting functions are important, there is one parenting activity, occurring largely under the surface and unique to human beings that is performed in every culture on earth and that appears critical for Dynamic development. Through the “Guiding” process, parents and other important family members become the primary architects of their children’s mental and neural development.

Foundations of the adult mind are developed in the first years of life through thousands of hours of active engagement with and through others’ minds. From the middle of the first year of life, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, in every culture on earth, children interact with parents and other important adults, in thousands of deceptively simple encounters, with a very serious underlying agenda: constructing the architecture of the child’s brain.

Whether or not a child’s neural centers become more integrated and learn to collaborate depends upon this process.

The degree to which a child learns to make complex decisions and solve difficult problems, depends upon whether the child will have the benefit of thousands of hours of careful parental guidance as a junior participant in authentic activity.

The difference between a child perceiving his world as challenging and embracing the world, or experiencing his environment as threatening, comes down to just a few factors:

When the Guiding Relationship is functioning, it becomes a collaborative dance between more experienced guides and less experienced apprentices, where each partner contributes to the success of the shared endeavor. Because guiding is about transferring mental tools from the guide to the Apprentice, joint engagement-a strong shared state of understanding and experiencing-is critical. In addition, the Apprentice must perceive that he is a junior but legitimate member of a collaborative partnership. The environment must provide a context where learning has meaning to the Apprentice and he experiences sufficient investment in the process.

Related: Guiding Relationship: What Experts Say

Guides serve as choreographers and managers of the learning process to make sure it is productive and ensure that the Apprentice is gradually learning to guide themselves. Starting in the first year of a child’s life, parents extend their guide role to others. Grandparents, older siblings and eventually teachers and coaches enrich the child’s mind by providing their unique perspectives and methods.

Guides provide low intensity settings, where the child apprentice experiences the safe opportunity to be curious, study problems and explore different ways of solving them, without having to suffer consequences for the inevitable mistakes and failures resulting from experimenting with new ideas and perspectives.

Guides act as a catalyst, leading apprentices to the edge of their competence and inviting them to take one step beyond, but not forcing or demanding that they do so. They view themselves as a potentiating and not a directing force.

Guides use indirect influence. They provide opportunities for apprentices to engage with new ways of thinking and experiencing, but never coerce or demand learning or performance.

Guides are careful not to unwittingly become obstacles to the apprentice’s experience of actively contributing to his own mental growth. Rather, they provide opportunities and invitations for apprentices to challenge themselves. They recognize the importance of chidlren experiencing that they themselves have made the conscious decision to move out of their comfort zone.

Guides make ongoing, as-needed adjustments and revisions to maintain an optimal state of challenge and provide a safe landing, if the apprentice does not experience success when taking steps into the unknown. Guides seek to remain on or near a dynamically changing edge of competence: Too low and the child’s existing neural pathways will handle the problem. Too high and the brain will move into avoidance or withdrawal mode.

Guides allow their apprentices to co-participate in tasks, problems and social interactions that are above the readiness of the child to master, but that provide the apprentice a way to safely and productively observe the manner in which the more experienced adult determines meaning and significance and makes decisions, without initially having to take responsibility themselves.

Apprentices rapidly learn that understanding the decision-making processes of their Guides, as they navigate various problems, tasks and interactions, is the “golden ticket” to becoming a competent, respected member of their society.

Over time, Guides gradually allow their Apprentices to take on more mentally challenging roles and responsibilities, so that they become more competent in managing the problems and tasks that are central to succeeding within their culture.

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The above article is copyright protected material written for the RDI Family Consultation Program (FCP). Please do not reprint without proper reference to the author and RDIconnect.


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