The importance of encouraging autonomy in Little Peeps | Choose the 'Tude

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The importance of encouraging autonomy in Little Peeps

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Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on Basic Human Psychological Needs: Intentional Parenting


Autonomy is one of the core basic human psychological needs, as outlined in the study of Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT).

Autonomy means:

Autonomy refers to the experience of volition and willingness. When satisfied, one experiences a sense of integrity as when one’s actions, thoughts, and feelings are self-endorsed and authentic. When frustrated, one experiences a sense of pressure and often conflict, such as feeling pushed in an unwanted direction.

Deci & Ryan, 2000

Why is autonomy important?

Think of it this way… if you’ve taken the time to teach your Little Peeps how to be competent at a skill, such as tidying their room or putting their toys away. Now you need them to willingly take action to do so. If they aren’t motivated to take the action the competency is worthless and will diminish over time.

Human beings need to learn to function in the world autonomously to care for their basic needs and function in society. There are basic skills such as personal hygiene, preparing and eating healthy food, drinking water, exercising, and taking care of oneself essential to developing the required basic skills required to function in our world.

Autonomy is the key to saving you time. Once your Little Peeps have learnt a skill and are willing to do it (even if you have to ask them to), you can happily take that off your To-Do List. YES! That’s a win-win!

Time saving tip: Teaching your Little Peeps = a shorter To Do List for you.

Autonomy is closely linked to another of the basic psychological needs: competency. In order to be competent, one needs to have the willingness to learn the skill and take action to implement it.

Autonomy is also linked to basic psychological need of relatedness. Being able and willing to take care of ones-self and eventually others will help to build strong friendships and relationships. People like to be around other people who are confident and successful. Doing things autonomously is part of being successful at home, at school, in the work environment and in our communities.

3 ways to build autonomy

  1. Once you have taught your Little Peeps an age-appropriate skill, give them the freedom to do it themselves. They will love the feeling of success, which will motivate them to do it again next time. If they happen to make a mis-take that’s simply a learning opportunity. Don’t discourage, criticise, take over or tell them off for not doing things perfectly or you may undo the good work you’ve already done.
  2. Delegate tasks to different family members as part of their contribution to your family. Little Peeps love to show you they are capable “I can do this Mumma!” is a common phrase heard in our house, which I love, because that means there’s one less thing I have to do = more time to create meaningful moments together.
  3. You can use rewards to motivate action. This is a big topic on its own and there are some things you need to know so you don’t set yourself up for future challenges. I’ll write a post separately on this.
  4. Once you delegate, stand back or walk away. Don’t be tempted to jump in and save the day.
  5. Resist the urge to repeatedly ask your Little Peep to do something. Ask clearly once, then leave them to make a choice. Family agreements can help here – if everyone understands one of your household agreements is you do things when you are asked because that shows respect, then you have laid the groundwork.

A few words of caution

Firstly, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I don’t have time to tidy up the mess if this goes wrong” and then go ahead and do it yourself. That is sending the message to your little peep that they don’t need to learn this skill because Mum will always be there to do it for them. You make a rod for your own back if you deprive them of learning such important basic human needs.

Secondly, if your Little Peep happens to make a mistake or doesn’t finish a job properly, refrain from jumping in and fixing or finishing it for them. They need to learn how to do the job properly from start to finish. For example, if they are making themselves breakfast and spill milk on the bench, encourage them to clean it up.

I know you’re busy. We all are and that’s not going to change if you are constantly chasing your Little and Bigger Peeps to get things done. Investing a little time now will pay dividends very quickly and then you will see the benefit and reap the rewards of a shrinking to do list.

And lastly, as your Little Peep is learning, they may not be obtaining your usual high standards. Remember you are encouraging them to want to do this task on their own. Yes, they need to learn to do it at an acceptable standard, but positively encourage improvements rather than diminishing their efforts by telling them they didn’t do a good enough job. On this note, it’s not only words that communicate how you feel about their performance. If you instantly jump in and correct their work, they get the message loud and clear that you don’t think they did a good job – no matter what the words are that you use.

Other resources you may find useful:

Why do humans long to belong? Part 1 of a 3 Part Series on Basic Human Psychological Needs: Intentional Parenting

Are you raising competent or dependent Little Peeps: Part 2 of a 3 Part Series on Basic Human Psychological Needs: Intentional Parenting

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Why it’s important to teach your Little Peeps to tidy up

For those who need quick access to the ‘Tude Choosing tool!

For those who want to know how and why this works! Please note the price rises for this one in January 2022

Photo by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash

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