During my early days of pregnancy, I purchased a complete collection of parenting literature, believing that one of them would hold the key to mastering motherhood. Night after night I glanced at the stack on my nightstand, then drifted off to sleep without flipping through a single page. The sheer scope of available parenting styles and theories left me feeling overwhelmed. How could I determine the right approach?
Gradually, it dawned on me that there isn’t a singular correct way to parent. Through trial and error, I’ve uncovered what suits me and my family. Nonetheless, occasional moments arise when encountering unfamiliar parenting styles in social media or headlines triggers a panic – what if my approach has been misguided all these years?!
Most recently, this feeling surfaced with “autonomy-supportive parenting,” a long-standing parenting philosophy that has gained prominence in my social media and news feeds.
Defining autonomy-supportive parenting
Under autonomy-supportive parenting, children are encouraged to make their own choices and handle the consequences without excessive sheltering. For example, a toddler may be motivated to retrieve her own snack from a low shelf or permitted to brush her own teeth. (However, in my experience with a toddler, this should definitely be followed by a supervised brushing!) Meanwhile, an older child could receive a list of household chores while also having the freedom to decide when to tackle them.
Initially, instilling self-awareness and autonomy in your children might appear daunting and place significant pressure on parents. After dissecting it, however, it starts to seem more achievable.
Children raised with autonomy-supportive parenting report enhanced overall life contentment, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, improved academic performance, and heightened self-esteem. While this is promising, the real perks extend to parents as well!
Amidst the escalating trend of parental burnout, parents practicing autonomy-supportive parenting report lesser stress levels, a greater capacity to fulfill their own needs, and an enhanced overall sense of well-being. This resonates with me, as I generally feel more at ease on days when I refrain from constantly supervising my children’s every move.
A more hands-off parenting approach can also bolster the parent-child relationship, resulting in fewer conflicts. It could be as simple as allowing children to select their attire each morning or reducing the vigilance over their device usage once they have proven themselves responsible and trustworthy.
Releasing control can pose a challenge. The primary obstacle to autonomy-supportive parenting is anxiety, which can lead to controlling behavior. I can relate to this personally. My anxiety typically stems from a genuine desire for the best for my kids, yet it often manifests as rigid, overprotective behavior. Witnessing our children experience discomfort or failure as a consequence of their choices is a tough ordeal. However, enabling them to learn from low-stakes experiences involving negative emotions is crucial for their development.
Adopting autonomy-supportive parenting
It’s crucial to acknowledge that autonomy-supportive parenting is not suited for everyone, particularly for kids grappling with executive functioning difficulties, especially those with ADHD, autism, and other neurodivergent conditions. However, for those inclined towards autonomy-supportive parenting, here are a few starting points.
Demonstrate unwavering love.
Unconditional love is a vital element for children to cultivate confidence in their abilities. With autonomy-supportive parenting, we must be prepared to witness our children make mistakes at times. Yet, conveying love irrespective of their errors creates a safe environment for them to learn from these experiences and make fresh attempts.
Permit age-appropriate decision-making
Especially with younger children, this excludes matters concerning health and safety, such as crossing the street while holding hands or adhering to bedtime to ensure they are well-rested the following day. As children grow older, they can tolerate discomfort more and should be afforded additional flexibility to decide how to approach specific homework assignments or allocate time for socializing. The discretion given to your children is ultimately dependent on them – after all, you understand them best.
Foster their sense of capability and significance
For younger children, this may entail involving them in household chores, even if it prolongs the task, and expressing appreciation for their contributions. On the other hand, older children could take part in family discussions where everyone gets to select their chores for the week, allowing them to acknowledge their role in managing the household.
Use non-directive language
Rather than instructing your child on what to do and how to do it, utilize language that encourages exploration and discovery. For instance, instead of commanding, “Put away your toys,” you could say, “It seems like there are numerous toys out. How do you think we could tidy up?”
Ultimately, the objective of autonomy-supportive parenting is not to mold miniature adults, but to cultivate confident and capable children in making their own choices – fundamental skills for leading a fulfilling life. As parents, what more could we wish for our children?