Encouraging autonomy through child-led play

Child-led play, such as what we offer in our After School Club, encourages creativity, imagination and importantly enables our attendees opportunities to identify their own needs and express themselves freely. After a day at school, having the opportunity to release any energies, breathe, and regain autonomy is so important for our children and young adults.

As adults we can take autonomy for granted, but it’s so important for development that children have opportunities to have autonomy too.

What is autonomy you may ask; well… it is a person’s ability to be self-sufficient, acting on their desires, values, and interests.

As highlighted by brightwheel, the benefits of child autonomy include:

– Developed sense of self
– Improved confidence
– Command over their minds and bodies
– Critical thinking support
– Self-motivation
– Increased responsibility

We can all help encourage autonomy in children by:

– Offering choices
This could include the colour top they wear, the book you read at bedtime, or a snack from a variety of options.

– Creating opportunities for autonomy
This could include offering them the role of deciding what activity you do together for an hour. Another idea could be to offer them a variety of small achievable visual based tasks to choose from and complete.

– Labeling and validating their feelings.
Educating young people on what different emotions are, listening and validating all feelings is so important.
I truly believe that anger is a secondary emotion for all of us when we don’t know how or have the confidence to express the first emotion, especially sadness and anxiety. All expressions and behaviours are a form of communication and a child trying to get their needs met in that moment, in the way they know how or has been proven to work before… in that moment.

A great example of this is when you see a child presenting difficult behaviour; perhaps lashing out, shouting, or throwing things in front of a parent. They could be doing this for many reasons, but three important ones to consider are… have they been taught how to express difficult emotions safely and in way that enables conversation and understanding? Do you visually demonstrate how you safely manage all the emotions you feel? Is that kind of behaviour the only way they get attention from you or another caregiver? Negative strokes (responses) from someone we care about, such as a parent telling us off, can offer attention and focus for that child, that can feel better than no attention at all for some children.

– Letting them work through challenge.
Sitting alongside your child and enabling them the space to problem solve and work through their own challenges can be so beneficial for confidence, resilience and motivation. I don’t mean big challenges such as bullying, I mean smaller ones, that you know they could complete or overcome, with no guidance or instruction, but your encouragement.

Find out more about our After School Club sessions in Towcester here.

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