Autonomy. Self-governance. The freedom to act independently. Awareness that my actions can direct my destiny. Human beings crave autonomy almost more than any other emotional desire (except maybe connection) and threats to that sense of independence are often met with fierce opposition. In the early years, fostering a sense of autonomy leads to a lifelong sense of competence, the confidence to assert one’s needs, and the ability to take initiative.
But how? It shouldn’t be so hard to foster a growing sense of independence, right? After all, “Do it MYSELF!” tends to become a mantra around 20 months or so. One of the ways is by nurturing a child’s feeling of power. Often for children, power is parceled sparingly – the choice of an outfit here, selecting the menu there – but overwhelmingly, the experience of our young companions is one of quasi-power. Partly, this is by necessity. Children depend on our eye for safety and routine to provide the limits that tidy their existence and allow them to flourish. But giving children regular and authentic encounters with power and choice is a formidable task. What if they use their power in a way I don’t want? Like selecting an outfit of mismatched, out of season, too small clothing? Or selecting the same piece of literature over (and over, and over!)? Or choosing not to eat their vegetables? Or selecting to leave the house in winter without a coat? Or climbing to the top of a structure that seems too high for their skill level? Where is the line between giving our children opportunities to experience power and autonomy and just not doing our jobs of keeping children safe? There is a line, and crossing it inappropriately on the side of too much or too little causes problems. In short, I believe the line is placed by each individual child’s needs and developing skills, but the more we can do to foster a sense of power, independence, and autonomy – the more we give children a chance to grow into themselves – the more successful they will be in life.
With the lifelong goals of contentment, competence, and confidence in mind, here we are playing with sticks.
Henry found this awesome stick. It is water logged and dense, so wielding it took some effort. In this picture, he is holding it up to see how tall he can be with the stick.
“Look how tall!” — sharing with his friend, Addie.
Addie was very interested in being involved. Here, the two are problem solving a way to carry this stick together.
What they had a hard time discovering was that if they each had it on the inside hand, they could walk side by side. Or, if they each held it in the same hand, they could each face forward and walk with the stick a their side. Every way they tried, they ended up facing each other, one walking backwards and one walking forwards. In the end, this didn’t last all that long.
Pretty soon, Addie found the mud puddles and was drawn away from the stick all together. Mud holds a special magentic force for all children, but Addie seems more drawn than most.
Remember how waterlogged and dense this stick is? Can you imagine the balance and coordination necessary to hoist that stick up so high?
He found a smaller stick to poke at the mud. Henry loves sensory experiences as much as anyone, but prefers to interact with all the sticky, messy materials by way of an intermediary – in this case, a stick.
Joy. Power. Autonomy. Lifelong abundance. Now that’s a beautiful thing.