Building Independence Through Self Awareness And Regulation
We want our children to be as independent as possible; learning to successfully negotiate life circumstances on their own. Self-awareness (i.e., understanding what they are doing and what is occurring around them) and self-regulation (i.e., managing their own behavior) are critical skills to gaining that independence across people, places, and situations. These skills give our children the power to make their own choices, as well as self-confidence and security.
The following table summarizes questions you might ask yourself and examples of child behavior that would indicate self-awareness and regulation. Depending on your child’s current capabilities, it then provides suggestions for encouraging higher levels of independence in each area.
Key issue to consider is a child’s motivation to be independent.
As you can see from this list, there are a variety of ways we can gradually increase our children’s self-awareness and regulation, including, in particular, modeling skills and asking the right questions. Note that the strategies may be adapted for children with limited or no verbal language. In this case, we may require nonverbal responses (e.g., “Point to “) instead of words or supplement our strategies with visual cues (e.g., pictures, videos).
Guidance and support must vary
Children may demonstrate different levels and types of self-awareness and regulation skills based on circumstances. For example, they may communicate their needs more assertively with people who are close to them and resolve problems on their own in more familiar environments but shut down when situations are novel or complex. Because of this, we need to recognize that our guidance and support must vary across situations. We have to assess our children’s ability and adapt our approach as needed.
Another key issue to consider is a child’s motivation to be independent. If children get what they want and need automatically or immediately, they will be less inclined to exert the energy required to request desired items or activities or resolve their own problems. To address this challenge, we need to control access to highly-preferred events until our children are asserting themselves appropriately. It may feel better to take care of our children’s needs and problems right away, but this will not teach them the skills they need to manage circumstances on their own.
Fade out support as rapidly as possible
With the right kinds of support, children can become more self-determined and directed and less dependent on the adults in their lives. To help them achieve these goals, we need to figure out what they are currently capable of doing, provide the right level of assistance, and then fade our support as rapidly as possible. A perfect analogy for this process is teaching a child to ride a bike. We provide the training wheels in the beginning when they are very wobbly. We then guide our children until we are barely touching the handlebars, letting them feel the power and control while preventing major wipeouts. When we finally let go, it is both scary and exciting. We know that being independent is in our children’s best interest and therefore take pride in their successes.
Meme Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.