How to Support and Encourage Autonomy in Children

I love being a mom to my 2-year old daughter. Every new experience she goes through, may it be playing with her stuffed bears or encountering a strange food, is also me looking at it with fresh eyes. I get to see how she plays and makes her choices.

Like most parents, one of my hopes for my daughter is that she learns how to be capable and independent as she grows up. I want her to be equipped when the time comes that nanay, tatay, or any of her caregivers are not beside her 24/7, like when she starts school.

In child development, there’s actually a word for it: autonomy. Autonomy refers to a child’s ability to be independent and capable of making their own decisions. By encouraging autonomy in children, especially in toddlers, it allows them to build confidence in their actions and develop their sense of self.

Thankfully, there are ways to nurture that in our children. Let’s keep in mind however that as parents, we still need to set boundaries in order for them to practice autonomy safely. Helping your kid learn how to navigate the world is an amazing job, but it’s also a big (and sometimes overwhelming) responsibility.

Here are ways to support autonomy in our children.

Offer choices.

Choices are present everywhere. It can be in what toys they want to play with or which food they want to put on their plate and eat. Offer a limited number of choices whenever possible. It can be as simple as presenting two to three options to your child during mealtimes, when getting dressed, or even during play time.

Give tasks or small chores.

Whenever I ask my toddler to help, like in putting away things, I always beam with pride when she accomplishes it. And I know that she feels the same! Children love helping around. Give them small tasks, such as putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, bringing their used plates and utensils back to the kitchen, or even letting them water your plants. It’ll be a win-win situation because you’ll gain an extra pair of hands while giving your child a sense of control and freedom.

Label and validate their feelings.

It’s not unusual for kids to have big feelings. What’s important is acknowledging and helping them give a name to what they are feeling. Just this simple act already promotes autonomy. Parents and caregivers play a large part in observing this in children. If you notice that they are sad, frustrated, scared, or even excited, go and label these feelings and let them know that it’s ok to express them.

Let them work through challenges.

It can be difficult for us parents to see our children struggling, but letting them experience mistakes can boost their autonomy. We all know the satisfaction we get when we are able to hurdle through challenges; it turns out it’s the same with our little ones, too. Appropriate challenges, such as encouraging them to put a part of a toy, allows them to problem solve. However, when we see them already getting frustrated, we can gently guide them in the right direction.

These are just some ways to encourage kids to boost autonomy and definitely there are a lot more. Providing our support to their development can be achieved through the simplest things, but the result is having confident, self-assured children who are slowly knowing their place in the world.

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