8 Autonomy-Supportive Practices for Raising Toddlers

Autonomy support is useful in many contexts such as leadership, teaching, and parenting. Research provides indications that autonomy support by parents contributes to children functioning well, developing well and feeling good. A study by Andreadakis et al. (2019) examines how parents can provide autonomy support to toddlers in situations where toddlers need to do things that are important but not interesting to them, such as cleaning up, taking a bath, washing hands, etc.

How do you get toddlers to do important but uninteresting activities?

The researchers had parents (N = 182) describe the practices they use when asking their toddlers to perform important but uninteresting activities. Parents rated 26 potentially autonomy support practices, along with a known scale that measures the extent to which they have a positive attitude towards autonomy support.

8 Autonomy Support Practices

Through correlational analyzes and factor analyzes, 8 autonomy-supporting practices for raising toddlers were identified. The first four practices relate to empathy, the last four to other aspects of autonomy support.

  1. Hear your toddler out if s/he protests (i.e., listen to what s/he has to say)
  2. Show your toddler that you understand that s/he is annoyed by your request
  3. Take your toddler’s desires into account when making your request (e.g., “I can see you still want to play but it’s time for a bath. Why don’t you take your toy with you”)
  4. Acknowledge your toddler’s feelings (e.g., anger, fear, etc.) with a sound such as “Hmm…” and/or by naming the feeling
  5. Explain the reason(s) behind your request (i.e., say why it’s important to do it) by giving a short explanation (e.g., “You have to put your boots on because it’s cold”)
  6. If your toddler asks why s/he has to do it, explain why it’s important
  7. Describe the problem (e.g., “It is difficult to walk around with all these toys on the floor”)
  8. Show your toddler what you want him/her to do by doing it yourself as well (e.g., put your own hat on; wash your hands with him/her)