From parenting magazine pages delivering tips for making your child independent, to National Education circulars urging students to encourage student autonomy, to report card remarks congratulating this ability or sanctioning its apparent defect, this educational standard reigns supreme. all over. During the confinement, which has forced millions of children to “look after”, families were delighted to see their child so autonomous or, on the contrary, were sorry that he was so little.
“From the nursery, I hear the word autonomy in the mouths of all parents and professionals, says Julie, 37 years old. My 10 year old son finds it difficult to concentrate on his homework and I feel that he needs my presence at times and for certain tasks. But he knows very well how to prepare his breakfast, go to college on his own, spot when others need his help, make decisions for himself, like the length of his hair… Which doesn’t prevent him from to be judged not sufficiently autonomous or too little independent ”, she laments.
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Julie has learned to take a distance from this permanent injunction that is sometimes guilty and often contradictory with which parents today are confronted: “I can see that we also want independent children to allow parents to work more and have time for them. “ She, for her part, chose a clever dosage: “I accompany him for the new stages, ask him if he thinks such a thing is possible for him and I respect his choices and desires to do or not, even if there is a risk of doing wrong. It gives him confidence “, she assures.
Autonomous but not alone
Beware therefore of a vision of the autonomous, “super-capable” child. “It is not because a child does not know how to cut his meat or how to dress that he is not autonomous”, observes Alain de Broca, pediatric neurologist at the University Hospital of Amiens and philosopher. “Being independent means knowing yourself and knowing how to get the help you need. If a teenager likes going to school on a scooter and another likes a bus, is the latter less independent? He is undoubtedly sufficiently aware of himself to know his fears or he appreciates this moment when he can daydream. This joins the etymology of the word autonomy: to give oneself one’s own law ”, he recalls.
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We are not therefore independent on our own but in a given environment, conducive or not to autonomy, just as a person in a wheelchair will not have the same autonomy if the sidewalks are lowered and public places accessible. There is no question of mixing everything up either: asserting oneself without taking into account those around you is no longer autonomy but caprice.
“Autonomy is knowing how to adapt to others, respect them, negotiate with their difference. It is being able to be, not being able to do. Otherwise, it would be enough for parents to be simple strategists, notes Alain de Broca. There is no development of autonomy without the development of the relationship, between parent and child, but also between the child and his peers. “
A sense of personal efficiency
But why, after all, is there so much emphasis on autonomy? Well, because its virtues are numerous. “That the child knows how to do by himself values him, gives him a lot of pleasure”, notes Agnès Florin, researcher in child psychology at the University of Nantes. “It develops her sense of self-efficacy and encourages her to develop efforts to achieve even more difficult things. It also makes it easier for adults. We can count on him, on his responsible participation in the group. However, in our Western societies, we hardly arouse this participation ”, she continues.
Clothilde, mother of four children aged four to ten, has found with her husband a way of juggling between granting responsibilities and freedoms, when their children seem to be ready or want it, while being careful not to skip the steps and to guarantee their safety. “Of course, with four children, it helps that the grown-ups can run a little run or go to school on their own. But the goal of all this is for them to be resourceful, to be able to drive, to take initiatives later when they are adults, to be happy. “
The task is not easy: “Bringing them up like this is difficult on a daily basis, more difficult than being overprotected. And that gives children who assert themselves … I can not imagine doing otherwise. “
A democratic goal
Agnès Florin agrees: “Parents complain that their child is not independent. But what did they do to encourage him to gain autonomy? Why not let him cook a meal from A to Z. It might just be a pasta dish, so what? “ It also invites not to stay on the surface. “Aiming for autonomy also means soliciting and taking into account the opinions of children, considering them as people, and not as unfinished adults. They are perfectly competent in the choices that affect them. “
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Driven by this democratic and coeducational vision, most popular education movements make it a strong focus of their pedagogy. “With us, children not only take charge of collective tasks but also decisions, sometimes even budgetary”, says Maurice Corond, coordinator of the Francas * scientific council. “To the question“ can we go canoeing? ”, The children are able to develop an answer: what about the weather, the level of the children present, the regulations, etc.? ? “, Much less than performance, the stake for him is to “Train citizens, included in democratic life”.
My child is flourishing, Alain de Broca, (editions Albin Michel, 2018).
Introduction to developmental psychology: childhood and adolescence, Agnès Florin, (Dunod editions, 2018).
How to avoid getting angry with the whole earth by becoming a parent?, Béatrice Kammerer and Amandine Johais, (Belin editions, 2017). Read in particular the third controversy: “Sleeping at 2 weeks, playing alone at 6 months, eating alone at 1 year … 2 years is too early to take him an apartment?” The race for autonomy. “
Encourage him without pressure
►Do not impose the steps but tell him that he is capable of such new learning, do not constantly tell him “attention” (when the situation is without real danger of course) or take it back if it is not perfect.
►Think about household chores: a child can, very young, store the contents of the dishwasher intended for low cupboards, fold socks in pairs, put his sheets in the washing machine …
►Do not compare your child to others: he may be “late” on the toilet but “ahead” in many other aspects. Listen for signs that show you’re ready or wanting to try. Encourage him if he struggles and when he progresses. Also accept that he sometimes “slows down”.
►Adapt the accommodation to the child’s objectives of independence: put their clothes in drawers or shelves at their height so that they can choose and store them.
►Allow the child to take part in adult activities when he asks for it and by accompanying him: use the drill, pass the mower … But also learn with him a task in which you yourself are a beginner, so that he understand that we can learn and gain autonomy at any age.
►Allow the child to make choices (activities, clothing, organization of the day, etc.), and respect them.
►Don’t give instant answers to all the questions children ask. Encourage their reflection, the method so that they can find the information themselves.