RadKid.Org: Reactive Attachment Disorder

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RadKid.Org: Stages of Conscience Development

Indicates stages of normal development. Some children do not move through stages within the time frames described below. Others seem to regress to Shame during adolescence. Attachment disordered children are often stuck in Pleasure/Pain.

  • Pleasure/Pain
    • The child does what brings him pleasure and avoids what brings him pain. The child has no inner moral code, and no awareness of other?s feelings or needs. This stage is typical of children under the age of three. Children with attachment disorder are often stuck here.
      • If I misbehave long enough, people will give up and I can do whatever I want.
      • You?re not my friend if you don?t take my blame.
  • Shame
    • The child feels bad when criticized or punished. The child feels shame. By apologizing, asking forgiveness, distracting behaviors, or a wide range of other coping skills, the child will focus on eradicating the feeling of shame, but not on changing the behavior that led to the feeling.
    • Sometimes a child will stick to one strategy for making the shame go away, whether it is effective or not. At this point in development, the child is not likely to be focused on the effects of his behavior on others. This stage is typical of children age 3 to 7.
    • Before the age of 5, children don?t understand the concept of possession. Normal kids may not understand stealing until the age of 9.
    • Children in this stage want the parent?s approval, but once they are out of your sight that?s not enough to sustain them.
      • I did something wrong and I want to make the shame go away.
      • If I think you?re watching, I?ll behave.
  • Mature Guilt
    • The child wants to live in a way that brings pleasure to himself and others. When the child hurts others, they see the effects of their behavior on on the other party, feel guilt, attempt to make amends, and change their behavior. The child tries to find another way to meet his needs without hurting others. Under good conditions, this stage is typical of children age 7 to 11.
    • Essentially honest and able to accept blame.
      • What would happen if everyone took things?
  • Basic Environmental Conditions for Emotional Health
    • A relatively stable, predictable environment in which the child knows how to get their needs met.
    • An environment in which the child can be stopped from hurting themselves and others.
    • A sense of being loved as a person, even after misbehaving.
    • An environment in which punishment or reward is based on the child?s behavior rather than the moods of adults.

Last Modified on: Saturday, August 08, 2009


  • Discipline Techniques for Each Stage of Conscience Development
    • Pleasure/Pain
      • With infants and toddlers in pleasure/pain who have little awareness of expectations, consequences, or other?s needs, our discipline approaches need to be based on:
        • Childproof environments to reduce tension.
        • Prioritize misbehaviors to be acted upon.
        • Rely on action and distraction rather than requests or orders.
        • Immediate use of timeouts after misbehavior.
          • Not recommended for attachment disordered children.
        • Continuous use of praise and rewards and other positive reinforcements.
        • Ignore minor misbehaviors when possible.
    • Shame
      • With young children who have some, but not enough, awareness of expectations and other?s needs, our discipline approaches need to be based on:
        • Communication of expectations and needs of others.
        • Restitution in order to make amends in addition to apologizing.
        • Develop a sense of empathy through constant discussion of emotional needs of others.
        • Use of logical and natural consequences to correct misbehaviors rather than punishments.
        • Continuous praise for proper decisions made by child.
        • Using invectives, surprise rewards, and tangible rewards to reinforce specific expected behaviors.
    • Mature Guilt
      • Both children and adolescents benefit when the important adults in their lives encourage discussion of:
        • Usual feelings and typical reactions to other?s behaviors.
          The effects of their behaviors on others.
        • Negotiating problems by looking at options and the consequences that might result.
        • Parental expectations that the child regulate his own behavior.
          Behavioral consequences to actions, yet avoiding the tendency to over-punish.
        • Praise to continue to reinforce expected behavior.
        • Rewards are often the inner pleasure the child receives by meeting expectations.
  • With Older Children and Teens in Pleasure/Pain, Add the Following Recommendations:
    • An environment with clear, predictable structure in which there are immediate positive and negative consequences for wanted and unwanted behaviors.
    • A short published list of rules that the child has signed and dated.
    • The rewards and consequences to behaviors are determined by the adult and the youth.
    • Caregivers who act rather than react. It may be a waste of time and energy to tell the child to do something or not to do something if the adult is not prepared to follow up with action.
    • Adults who will protect themselves by limiting the power the child has over them.
    • Adults who will find others to support their self-esteem, get away regularly, and not let the child provoke battles in adult relations.
  • In Addition to Basic Behavior Modification, Effective Approaches for Working With a Child Stuck in Shame Include:
    • Emphasize restitution to the person harmed by their behavior.
    • Adults must prepare for the child?s efforts to make them feel guilty for the punishment.
    • Using descriptive, specific praise frequently.
    • Deal with the child?s misbehaviors before the adult gets angry.
    • Disconnect how the adult feels from how the child feels. The child may be unhappy, but the adult doesn?t have to be.
    • Talk about feelings only when the level of conflict is low; otherwise focus on behavior.


Discipline Methods Based on Conscience Development for Older Children



Mature Guilt


(Extended Period of Shame)

(Cares about Others)

Proactive Discipline


Reactive Discipline

No apologies accepted. Restitution determined by victim and adult.

Apologies and restitution. Child chooses restitution, approved by adult.

Apologies and restitution. Be sure child doesn?t allow himself to be overpunished.

List of rules signed and dated.

List of rules signed and dated.

No list of rules, as they are unnecessary; child knows better.

All law and no grace.

Supervision and 2 warnings.


Natural consequences

Natural consequences

Natural consequences

Assumed to be guilty

May or may not be believed. May have to prove innocence

Generally believed

Don?t need to know consequences in advance. Use known or unknown logical consequences.

Need to know what consequences will be ahead of time. Use logical consequences, but may get time off for good behavior.

Don?t need to know ahead of time. May not need imposed consequences at all.





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