Family of Fathers

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Developing your child’s sense of agency and autonomy

3 min read
sense of agency

A father’s perception of a child can influence their interaction with them. Fathers can seek to partner, instead of direct, the child’s learning journey. This can help the child develop their sense of agency and autonomy at a comfortable pace.

Parents (and fathers) are typically the first role models that children learn from. They adopt mindsets, and guidelines, and processes based on what and how the parents behave.

In many typical families, parents tend to be busy and split their time between family, career and chores. Active parenting is not ‘always-on’. Because of this constant switching between modes, parents might default to the parent-as-instructor mode often. Interaction with their children might start to fall into a routine of daily, consistent actions (brush your teeth, clean your toys, do your homework). This takes away the power of agency by the child, and provides a comfortable environment where the child is habituated to think less.

Many fathers need to become aware about the actions they model for their child. While their role as instructor gets the children to do things; these children are not benefitting from learning from an adult they look up to.

The parent-as-learning partner mode is much more beneficial to the child.

Children get more interaction with their parents. They also get to learn new things or test new knowledge in a safe environment before the skillset or understanding is required.

To do a good job of being a learning partner, fathers have to understand this rule – perceptions shape interactions. If the father views the child as competent learners, they will create opportunities for interactions where learning is prompted through conversation, observations and sharing. This tells the child that their thinking and opinions matter.

Learning partners let their partners lead. In this case, let the child lead and guide the father on pace as well as facilitation. Sometimes, fathers rush because we think our children should be at a certain level by a specific time. When we stop and let the child lead, it becomes about facilitation and support. Fathers can start to look at building the interest in asking questions and finding answers instead of providing the answers. The act of learning is more fun to the child then the acquisition of information.

sense of agency

To help your child build their sense of agency, there are a few areas to pay attention to.

Let your child participate in decision-making.

It is tempting – to be productive and keep to schedule – to make all the decisions for your child. Send a message to your child that their choices matter. Offer them choices and get them involved in planning – perhaps for the weekend, or what clothes to wear for a playdate, or when visiting the grandparents.

Respect that the child is only just learning to problem-solve

What might seem commonplace to fathers when decision-making or problem-solving is our years of practice in doing so. Our children are only just starting to build their problem-solving muscles. Respect the process, and let them struggle to become stronger. Provide them with both time and space to do so. Acknowledge the frustration and help them see from different perspectives. 

Provide children with responsibility

Keeping with the theme of building their sense of agency and autonomy muscles, fathers should provide their children with areas to flex these muscles. One way is to make the child responsible for something that has consequences. For example, packing their school bag and homework, or feeding the pets at home, or even changing the batteries of commonly used home appliances. This exercise can help them get used to bigger areas and eventually connect it with goals they want to achieve.


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