5 ways to promote your child’s autonomy
WHAT IS AUTONOMY?
It is the ability to do things by yourself. The more you practice something, the better you get at it and the more independent you become. PLAY is the best opportunity for children to practice and improve their skills. When children play, they are having fun, so they are motivated to continue playing and learning, we don’t even need to ask them!
We can help our kids improve their autonomy just by doing 5 simple things:
1. Don’t help them before they ask for help and, even when they do ask for help, encourage them to try by themselves. It is ok to fail, it is ok to make mistakes. There is no learning without mistakes, we learn from them. Even when you think they are struggling with something, give them time and space to keep trying. Without trying they will never feel capable and successful.
2. Use positive communication when you help them, especially when you are in a rush! For example, if a child is trying to zip up his jacket but you are late for school, instead of saying “let me do it, you are too slow”, you can say something like “I can see you are trying to do this by yourself, that is really great! I will help you this time and we can go to school, but when we come back you can try again and show me how you do it”. Focus on the process (the fact that they are trying) rather than the results (the fact that they couldn't do it).
3. Try to offer free play opportunities like a playground, free play outdoors or indoors, playdates, go to the library and let them choose books… free play means they can play and make their own decisions, all at the same time in any context. Making decisions is one of the most important skills to have as an adult, so the more they practice during childhood and, especially, during play, the better decisions they will make!
4. Allow them to take risks within limits. By doing so, children can discover, push and improve their skills. Some children are naturally risk takers, you can offer safe options so they can still jump, climb, run, etc. but without taking big risks, like jumping on the couch, throwing teddies in the laundry basket or climbing over and under a chair. Some other children need a little bit of a confidence boost, you can encourage them by doing things yourself so they can copy you. They will feel so proud of themselves!
5. Offer responsibilities and chores at home, like watering the plants, emptying the dishwasher, or helping to put the shopping away. These actions don’t need rewards. They can be done as games just because the kids are part of this home and family, not because they get a prize; that is not how real life works. By doing this from a very young age, they will create great habits for life. It can take time (and a lot of patience) at first, but it is so worth it in the long run!
Easier said than done, I know! But with a bit of practice from both the adult and the child, kids will feel so proud, confident, useful, and respectful. When a child feels like his autonomy is not respected and we don’t let them do things by themselves, they develop very low self-esteem (feeling useless) and lack of confidence (they do it for me because I CANT’!), leading to challenging behavior and other negative reactions. Remember, play is the key!
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