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Autonomy is critical in the early years

Are you developing your early years autonomy?

Autonomy is the ability of a person to act on their own free will. When a child has autonomy, even in small ways, it helps build his/her confidence, self-esteem and independence.

Autonomy in relation to early years means letting children know that they have control over themselves and the choices that they make.

From the activities they participate in, to how they play and interact with peers, autonomy plays a role in everything a child does. Learning how to be independent is a critical skill for early years to develop, it teaches them how to conduct themselves later in life as they take on more responsibilities.

As children become more independent, they explore the world on their own and discover how to express themselves. They also begin to understand how their choices and actions influence outcomes, and learn what they do and do not have control over. Autonomy must be encouraged in early years to help children develop a sense of self. The following are a few of the most important ways that autonomy can impact a child:

Feeling in Control

Though children cannot be expected to be in total control of all aspects of their lives, they do need to feel that they have ownership over certain parts to build confidence.

At Wriggles and Giggles we encourage freedom and choice during group sessions. We help with ideas and tips in lots of areas to help your learning journey together for all abilities.

We meet Mondays Yarm, Wednesdays Hartburn & Thursdays Ingleby Barwick/Thornaby 10-11.30 am. You can book group places weekly or monthly online at

Boosting Self-Esteem

When a child feels they are in control and can make their own choices, this builds up their self-esteem. Being able to do something on their own gives them a sense of achievement.

Cognitive Growth

When a child makes his or her own choices, they are problem-solving. Making meaningful choices is an essential part of their cognitive development, which grows as they think through choices that are presented to them.

Encouraging autonomy in early years is essential to a child’s growth and personal confidence. Parents must also provide more opportunities for their child to be independent; children are able to learn from their actions, struggles and successes. Here are just a few ways you can start encouraging autonomy at home:

Offer Choices

Allowing children to make their own choices is the first step to encouraging autonomy. When possible, set up an environment where choices are available. For example, let children decide which activity they want to participate in and whether they want you the parent to help/play or they may want to play independently. If they want you to play, keep the time with them limited to develop independent play.

Respect Opinions

By listening to children’s ideas and opinions, we can help them develop their sense of autonomy. Respecting the opinions of young children demonstrates to them that they do matter and have input on the world around them. It also helps them understand that adults recognise and respect their abilities.

Give Responsibility

Offer children real responsibilities that matter. Tasks should be somewhat challenging to help young children develop perseverance. Experiences like cooking, gardening and cleaning/tidying up are excellent tasks to assign to children to help them feel like they are performing an “adult” responsibility.

By embracing children’s opinions and allowing them to make independent decisions, parents can help them develop a sense of autonomy, boost self-esteem and encourage cognitive development. Building this independence ultimately helps children take a more active role in the learning process.


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