The Need For Autonomy

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14 Aug 2013

fish bowl jumpingIn a previous article we discussed how hard it is to give our kids advice. We concluded that most kids respond to our sensible and wise advice with eye rolling and shrugged shoulders.

Why? Because giving advice interferes with our children‘s need for autonomy. All human beings like to figure things out for themselves, and that includes kids, especially teens. Kids and teens desperately want to do things on their own and will work to protect their independence fiercely.

It often starts with the terrible twos, where children will tantrum when they are told no. When older children feel their independence is being compromised they will lash out and say, “You are not the boss of me!” Teens are also sensitive to any type of behavior that they perceive as controlling, they are very quick to tell their parents, “ You can’t tell me what to do!”

As parents we need to encourage and support our kids need for autonomy and independence. When we do this we will see less power struggles and more cooperation.  We can do this by dispensing our advice in a respectful manner.

In graduate school, I had a mentor who liked to dispense advice, not only about my work but also about life in general. However, she would preface her advice by saying, “Here is my unsolicited advice, do what you want with it.”  I was able to truly hear her because the pressure was off. I could decide whether or not it would work for me with no strings attached. I could still make my own independent decision.

There are some more great phrases that we can use to help our kids hear our advice without interfering with their much-needed autonomy:

I am not sure you will agree with this…. but I was thinking that you might want to change from your new Shabbat shirt and pants, when you go out to play today. It is very muddy out there today!”

What do you think of this idea?…… First we go do the errands we don’t like to do and then after that get some ice cream.

How would you feel about?……. asking Sarah for the name of her math tutor?”

When we use these phrases we are doing more then helping kids hear our advice. We are also showing our kids that we have faith in their ability to solve their own problems. Kids who feel confident and capable that they can handle whatever throws at them are happier and secure. What more can we want for our kids.

Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.