- 2 mins
Encouraging Autonomy in Kids Through Choices
As caregivers, we are constantly evaluating options and making many choices on behalf of our children. We create routines and build reliable patterns into their lives. We decide where to live, what school they will go to – and even what time they go to bed. Even young children can benefit from having input to help shape those choices. Having a choice can be empowering! It can also be a little bit daunting as a parent to navigate encouraging autonomy in our children through choices, engaging them with understanding consequences all whilst maintaining overall control of a busy family home.
Having a say in what comes next encourages autonomous thinking and confidence.
It also builds on important life skills such as problem-solving and working together. The journey of self-discovery starts from a very young age. We can help them make stronger connections to consequences, for example, which is a concept that is very helpful to begin understanding earlier than later. Delegating decision-making to your child is also a great way for them to explore a little bit of introspection and start building their own sense of value.
This can be done through mirroring or encouragement. When we act as the reflection of a child’s interests, we are mirroring – and in turn, they will mirror back. Kids absorb a ton of information by passively experiencing our choices. Encouragement means just that – put ‘courage in them’ with supportive words, gestures and positive reinforcement.
For toddlers and younger kids:
Encouraging them to make choices based on the options available can also serve as a helpful distraction technique while we manage an otherwise difficult situation. For example, if your toddler hates getting their hair washed, enable them to make all the decisions around the event – do we want green shampoo or pink shampoo? Will the ducky toy or the pirate toy help us wash your hair tonight? Provide limited options, for example – will we brush our teeth after a bath or before a bath? There is no option where teeth-brushing doesn’t happen! Clever workarounds can support their autonomy whilst also allowing grown-ups to engage with the important things on the to-do list.
For older children:
Involve them in as much decision-making as is reasonable for their individual needs and experiences. Enabling personal choices like what to wear to school allows them to create their own identity and how to express themselves. Support them to draw up a homework schedule that they create themselves, setting goals and timing. Especially as our children get older and start learning more diverse subjects, helping them with the framework on how to use creative problem-solving to reach their goals can be life-changing!
Some top tips on encouraging autonomy in Kids through choices:
- Use a targeted encouragement model to approach decision-making. Clear goals are often more effective than blind praise
- People make choices, but that doesn’t mean they are inherently good or bad – sometimes, the choice was good, but the outcome was bad and vice versa
- Keep decisions straightforward, simple and age-appropriate
- Offer options as opposed to open-ended questions