When the Guiding Relationship Doesn’t Develop

Typically developing children rely on the Guiding Relationship to provide them with a safe yet challenging learning environment for mental & self growth.  In the course of development, children, their parents and other caregivers participate together in thousands of daily tasks, conversations, playful encounters and problems. While on the surface these interactions may seem to be about one thing, such as mutual enjoyment, or getting a chore done, they actually have a much more important function that we refer to as Guiding  – affording the children countless opportunities for mental and self growth.

Guides seek to provide mental apprentices with opportunities to learn new ways of thinking about themselves, others and their world as well as new ways of using their minds. Scores of studies have pointed to the Guiding Relationship as the primary pathway for mental and self development.

When the Guiding Relationship is functioning well, it is a collaborative dance, with each partner contributing to the success of the shared endeavor. Child apprentices provide information related to their  ability to manage the tension associated with engaging beyond the edge of their competence. Parent guides through sensitive scaffolding, use this information to carefully adjust the level of challenge and support they provide. Parents raise the bar in little increments, presenting tougher problems and demanding greater responsibility to stretch the student’s mental functioning, while still providing an environment where the child feels competent and safe.

What are the consequences if the Guiding Relationship does not develop?

Children who do not receive the benefits of a Guiding Relationship go through life perceiving their world as pervasively threatening. Their innate drive for discovery and challenge is buried. Children perceive themselves as incompetent and fragile. Problems and new settings are experienced as too difficult, new information too discrepant. Their strategy is pervasive avoidance and withdrawal instead of engagement

Without the Guiding Relationship, the child’s brain fails to develop in a neurally integrated manner. Children’s minds fail to develop critical abilities needed to perceive the world from different perspectives, to recognize shades of “grey” rather than viewing situations as either black or white. The child grows up unable to speculate, preview the future wonder, or improvise. When problems do not work out as planned they have no way to adapt.

We invite you to join the RDI Learning Community for more resources about developing the Guiding Relationship with your child.


1 Comment

  1. Peter Tanguay

    Steve: I am so pleased that you have continued to pursue the fight to help persons with autism. I have valued our friendship. Keep striving! I and a number of other persons have tried to understand the neurobiology of autism. Our quest was premature. But it led us to be colleagues with you and others who have not given up helping. Keep up your great work!!
    Your colleague
    Peter Tanguay

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This