In this blog post I want to talk about building connection with your child through personal agency. Connecting with your child is the most vital component to building a healthy, trusting, and fulfilling relationship. It is when you connect with your child and they connect with you that your relationship can feel more harmonious and meaningful. It is through connection that you and your child can move toward a higher purpose and a higher self.
How to build connection with your child is deeply nuanced and specific to the child and their age however in this post you’ll find ideas that can foster connection no matter the child or his/her age.
What is Personal Agency?
Personal agency is the capacity to express your own personal power and independence. It is one’s ability to act in any given situation. Your personal agency may be expressed through your thoughts, feelings, or actions. It looks like the freedom you have to think for yourself and feel in charge of the decisions that you make knowing that these decisions will shape your life. For that matter, with agency comes responsibility. When you create words out of your thoughts that you want to share with others you will see that what you say impacts those around you and with that you find a sense of responsibility to speak responsibly. You are held accountable for what you do and say.
Why is Agency Important?
One basic psychological need that all humans have is personal agency. Our children deserve the right to be free agents and have a sense of personal agency over their lives because it is, in fact, their life, not ours. In fact, developing a sense of agency is critical to their developing sense of self. It fosters confidence, leadership, a strong sense of self, and contributes to their overall health and well-being. People who have a strong sense of agency over their lives become strong, confident leaders.
Here is an abbreviated list of what I write about in this blog post on how to build connection through supporting your child’s sense of agency:
- Know what personal agency is and recognize a child’s powerful learning capacities
- Ask good questions that give your child the opportunity to lead their own learning
- Listen to and validate your child’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, and actions
- Ensure that your child has choices and that they are able to make valuable, authentic contributions using their own ideas with their interests being reflected in the everyday activities
- Promote independence and self-reliant skills by allowing your child to have flexible rhythms that are child-led, not adult driven and experiences that are dictated by their own cues and needs rather than the clock
How to Respect Personal Agency
Sometimes we loose connection with our children when we attempt to exert too much control over them. Our children are sovereign beings who are fully capable of being in the driver’s seat of their own lives in an age appropriate manner. Here is what you can do to respect and foster their personal agency:
1. Understand– Learn what personal agency is. Personal agency is the power we all have to make choices over the decisions that we make. It is knowing your own power and knowing one’s ability to take action.
2. Recognize– the next step to building connection by supporting their personal agency is to recognize that our children are capable. Fully knowing and accepting the fact that our children are born with exceptional learning and imaginative capacities is critical to building their sense of identity. You as the parent has to recognize that your children can and should be able to control their own life. This way, your child comes to understand how much they are able to control their life.
3. Listen– Listen with respect to your child’s voice, their ideas, and their suggestions. When we listen to our children and respond to their ideas with consideration and thoughtfulness we communicate to them that their thoughts, ideas, and feelings matter. We communicate to them that they are worthy and valued. It sends the message that they are strong and capable with capacity to make decisions for themselves. Always be willing to see the world through the eyes of your child.
4. Ask good questions– Using inquiry to understand your child and re-establish a lost connection can also foster deeper learning. A sophisticated question can expand our minds, inspire new ideas, and strengthen the bonds we have with others. Instead of commanding, requesting, or directing, you might try a question: Instead of: “please eat your vegetables” you might say: “do you think that eating vegetables is important?” Or on another occasion you might simply ask questions such as: “how did that feel?” “how was that?” “I wonder why that happened?” Ask questions that give your child the opportunity to lead their own learning.
5. Validate– validating a child’s feelings is essential for their social, emotional, and cognitive health and development. Explicitly saying to your child that is is normal and healthy to feel and express a wide range of emotions is necessary, especially when they are having challenging moments. Saying things like “it is normal to feel upset or sad.” Or, “I love you, even when you are sad/mad” communicates clearly that strong feelings are nothing to be ashamed of. Expressing feelings means that you are human – a healthy human.
6. Empower using Choice– Respect their personal agency by never forcing children to do something that they are not comfortable with. The problem with forcing your children to do something that they do not want to do is that you are communicating to them that they are powerless without choices. When you mold or shape them into what you want them to be or believe that they should be you unjustly strip them of their true identity, uniqueness, drive and self-preservation instincts. Offer your children choices or give them invitations to engage with the world in ways that they prefer. They will not always choose to engage with the world they way that you might prefer.
7. Speak with Respect– The way you speak to your child matters — A LOT. Your words, tone, and volume determine if you child feels safe and respected in your presence or threatened and afraid. Talk to your children the way that you would like people to talk to you.
8. Manage Your Expectations– You cannot tell another person how to feel. We cannot actually control another person’s feelings and people are not predictable, emotions do not follow rules or laws. If you expect to be able to have control over your child’s thoughts, feelings, and actions then you may find this belief to be intoxicating and may lead to a false sense of power. While you might believe that your attempts to control your child’s feelings as a way of being caring and loving, in reality to care is to leave space for feelings, accepting feelings and validating the feelings of others. So temper those expectations for it is with expectation that you often fail to see what good, whole, and valid right in front away. It is with expectations that you view the world from a place of lack and from a place of being without. It is in this place that we tend to block the bounty and the abundance that already exists.
9. Give time for unstructured play– unstructured play free from adult direction gives children time and space to develop necessary social skills, exercise their imaginative capacities and increase their self awareness. And while we sometimes call play unstructured, play is actually inherently structured. The structure in play is the purpose that exists within the type, style, and function of the play. Plus, any type of play is learning! It support children in developing their social, emotional and intellectual regulations. One’s ability to self regulate and become self aware directly impacts their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and in turn their development of personal agency.
10. Model for children that their own physical boundaries are worthy of our respect. If we don’t respect the boundaries they put up around physical comfort and affection around safe people Help our children understand and truly believe that their no means no and others’ no means no. Never force a child to be affectionate or take on an experience or role that they are not comfortable with.
Download Your Free Guide to Building Connection through Personal Agency
Use this guide as a way to build connection with your child through developing their personal agency. Know what personal agency is and how to support it in your everyday interactions with your child.
These ideas on how to develop your child’s sense of agency are meant to inform and empower you and your child. How does your way of life reflect these values already? Where do you see potential roadblocks? Or, how will you incorporate these ideas into your relationship? I would love to hear your thoughts!