Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Supporting the Autonomy of Young Children Increases Achievement Through High School and Beyond
"There is much evidence that the more parents support children's autonomy and the less parents attempt to control children, the better the children's achievement." (Bindman, Pomerantz & Roisman, Journal of Educational Psychology, 2015, Vol. 107, No. 3, 756-770)
Tip #2. Provide each child with a sense of belonging. Be on your child's team. Help everyone pull in the same direction towards shared goals.
A family is like a soccer team. There's a coach. There are players. Each player has a different role on the team.
When the coach helps each member of the team understand their role and supports each player to play their very best, and everyone shares the same goals, being on the soccer team is a wonderful experience!
If the coach sets up an environment where only the coach's goals matter, puts players on the team in positions they don't enjoy, and won't listen to the players' input, then the game will not be fun to play. The team is going to fall apart pretty quickly.
Effective coaches know their players. They know their strengths and what brings out each player's best. They know what motivates each player and what causes them to under perform. Good coaches know how to make practice challenging and positive learning experiences. Successful coaches know how to keep their players engaged, even when the work is hard or frustrating. When mistakes are made, inspiring coaches keep everyone on the team feeling great and wanting to come back to practice again each day. It's the coach's work to motivate the players to want to excel; not dominate by using fear, threats or punishments. Coaches who motivate the players to intrinsically want to do their best for their team get amazing results from their team members.
As parents, we are our family's coach. Our children are our team members. Without our children, there's no team! Getting clear on shared family goals is vital to creating a family dynamic where everyone is pulling in the same direction, each player doing their job well so the team is working together. Just like some players excel at being the goalie, while others love to run really fast and become stellar forwards, each family member is going to shine at certain family roles.
I love this Rick Riordan quote:
Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.
When children aren't thriving and aren't living up to their parts of family or school agreements/responsibilities, it can mean they feel some of their core needs are not being met. Those "needs" may not seem important to you, but if they are important to your child, they need to be met if you want your child's eager participation on the team.
When children are living from a sense that they are valued, supported, and getting what they need, they are more willing to live up to expectations. The work will get done when the coach keeps each "player" in their fun, autonomous zone.
For tasks no one in the family likes to do, consider rotating those tasks, or try putting on good music, try all doing the tasks together to get them over with more quickly, or (my personal favorite) maybe let that task go and it just doesn't get done. Notice how your relationship with your child changes if you choose to let go of one small thing you're currently in conflict with whenever it comes up.
One of Purpose Parenting's foundational coaching truths is this:
When parents set up win-lose scenarios, everyone loses.
This week, take time to evaluate your parenting style as if you're the coach of a team. What's working? What's not? How can you change your approach to things that are currently power struggles, sources of frustration, or situations that bring up angry feelings in you towards your child? What "needs" might your child feel are not being met and how could you find ways to meet those "needs" to get more engagement, more buy-in as part of the family team?
Look for ways to shift challenging moments into a sense of belonging and being on the same team:
Your daughter loves to dance. She hates folding the laundry. Instead of nagging her to fold the laundry, offer to help her fold the laundry. Set a timer to have it finished in 4 minutes. Then turn on the music and dance with her as long as she'll dance. Turn power struggles into fun, shared, engaging times together - set up scenarios that get the job done in ways that BUILD your relationship, not tear it down.
Your son won't get off his computer game to come to dinner. Instead of feeling angry and frustrated that he likes the computer game so much, find things he likes just as much or even more. Put a small bite of his favorite dinner on the desk. When he looks up from the computer & has a bite, invite him to come have more. Ask him how much longer the game has until he reaches a good stopping point. Set the timer for that amount of time and come over to the computer to physically "invite" him to the table with a smile & a hug when the timer dings. Remind him he can play again after eating a healthy dinner & helping with the dinner dishes. If you follow through, he will too.
Your son says he'll walk the dog each day of summer vacation, but he keeps putting it off. Check in to see if he wants that to be his summer family chore. Maybe he needs a break. If he says he wants to keep the dog-walking gig, work together to find ways to make it fun. Set an alarm that goes off at the same time every day. Get him headphones & an Audible account so he can listen to recorded books as he walks. Suggest walking later in the evening when it's not so hot outside. Invite a friend to go along. Walk with him some days and listen to what's important to him right now.
When we really listen to our kids, when we help them feel like part of the "family team" with shared goals, all pulling in the same direction, it's so much easier to accomplish tasks in a fun, easy way than "being the boss" and telling our kids what to do.
Power struggles are unnecessary. They do not foster autonomy, mastery & purpose. If you find yourself in a power struggle with your child, take a deep breath. Look for ways to be the "coach" of your team, valuing all the players' strengths, gifts & preferences, making sure they have what they need to feel supported an important member of the team.
Find ways to motivate your players towards shared goals. Be patient. Today, it might mean focusing on one skill at a time, letting other skills wait for another day, as you build up your relationship with your "players," so that down the road, they're more willing to stretch for their coach and go that extra mile for themselves AND the team!