Encouraging Autonomy in Childhood

29 February, 2020
Encouraging autonomy in childhood is one of the parents' main roles. It's the parents who have to teach their children to take care of themselves; it's one of their parental responsibilities. Nonetheless, teachers, health professionals, and the extended family can also do a lot. They also play a role in helping children to develop this fundamental skill.

What does it mean to be autonomous? How is this achieved? These and other questions are important when it comes to raising a child. In the end, what is the role of the parent or what purpose do they serve? First of all, encouraging autonomy in childhood requires that parents believe it’s important. It’s a slow and gradual process that takes time.

Encouraging autonomy in childhood

The construction of autonomy

In her book titled Educating Boys and Girls From 0 to 6 Years Old, Maite Vallet notes that “if in every stage of life we teach boys and girls all they need to be able to learn, they will feel ready to learn, and happy to do it.”

Vallet also states that:

“Putting things off because we are in a hurry and there is no time to wait while the child eats without help or dresses themselves, or so they can pick up their own toys, etc., makes it more difficult for them and it complicates things. If we want our son or daughter to become an autonomous person, we need to teach them all that they are ready for and willing to learn in the first stages of life.

– Maite Vallet –

Encouraging Autonomy in Childhood

The underlying question is whether we’re prepared as parents and other adults with authority in their lives. Autonomy also implies giving children the space to make their own decisions. Certainly, this should be carried out in a progressive way and according to what is possible given their surroundings.

What is progressive autonomy in childhood?

A lot of water has already passed under the bridge when it comes to the subject of encouraging autonomy in childhood. It’s something we have to train children at doing. In the same way that we don’t let a child take the bus without teaching them how to do it first, children won’t achieve autonomy from one day to the next.

It’s a sequential and gradual process, like slowly learning your sense of direction and where to get on and off the bus, for example. As a consequence, there will be advances as well as setbacks along the way.

In another of her books, How to Educate My Child During Their Childhood (from 6 to 12 years old), Maite Vallet outlines a number of activities parents could teach their children in this age group. These activities will foment more autonomy and self-regulation:

  • Organize their time: daily routines, study time, and free time.
  • Create their own personal space: This could be their room, for example. This also means the child assumes the responsibility of maintaining it by keeping it clean and orderly.

Simple? Complicated?

Sabrina Viola, an academic from the University Torcuato Di Tella in Argentina, maintains that the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) highlights how there has been a paradigm change in the conception of childhood and adolescence. As a consequence, there has also been a change in the way we think about and promote childhood autonomy.

Encouraging Autonomy in Childhood

The researcher explains that in Article 5 of the CDC, they make special reference to the subject of progressive autonomy. In addition, they establish that the child’s legal guardians should teach them and give them direction. Likewise, it’s necessary that the parents help orient the child so they learn to exercise their rights as they grow and gain in skills and abilities.

Conclusions on encouraging autonomy in children

 Article 12 in the CDC determines that:

1. “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

2. “For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.”

As one can appreciate from the provisions discussed above, the world is now a complicated place for girls, boys, and adolescents. For example, there are so many variables that come into play and that determine the opportunities they have in life. This requires new and better approximations of how to encourage autonomy. These approximations need to weigh each variable.

There are factors like the quality of education, socioeconomic status, and also job opportunities for tomorrow’s youth, for example. But we also need to consider all this with respect to protecting their rights to be children. Likewise, they should all feel safe and secure.

  • Vallet, M. (2004). Educar a niños y niñas de 0 a 6 años. Editorial Praxis.
  • Vallet, M. (2011). Cómo educar a mi hijo durante su niñez (de 6 a 12 años). Ed. Praxis.
  • Viola, S. (2012). Autonomía progresiva de niños, niñas y adolescentes en el Código Civil: una deuda pendiente. Cuestión de Derechos3, 82-99.