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  • Writer's pictureMatt Schubert

Authoritative Parenting - How to Empower Autonomy in Children

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

Boise, ID therapist

As a therapist in the Boise area, I have seen many issues arise that stem from the fact that children are not allowed to express themselves or make their own decisions. As parents, we play a vital role in shaping our children's future. As child therapists, we also play a pivotal role in child decision-making and guiding parenting efforts. While our instinct to protect our children from the challenges of the world is natural, it is equally important to foster their autonomy and decision-making abilities. Granting children the freedom to make their own choices not only empowers them but also cultivates valuable life skills. In this article, we will explore the significance of autonomy in child development and provide practical insights on how to support your child's journey towards becoming an independent decision-maker.

Understanding Autonomy

Autonomy refers to the ability to make decisions and take responsibility for one's actions. It is a gradual process that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. By encouraging autonomy, we enable our children to develop crucial life skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-confidence. When children have the opportunity to make choices, they become active participants in their own lives, developing a sense of identity and self-worth.

The Benefits of Autonomy for Children

Granting autonomy to children offers numerous benefits that contribute to their overall development. Firstly, it enhances their decision-making skills. By facing choices and experiencing the consequences, children learn to think critically, weigh options, and make informed decisions. This ability serves them well as they navigate life's challenges. Autonomy also boosts self-confidence. When children are empowered to make decisions, their opinions and preferences are validated, fostering a positive self-image and belief in their abilities. Furthermore, autonomy cultivates problem-solving abilities. By allowing children to navigate challenges independently, they learn to think creatively and develop resilience. Additionally, autonomy strengthens a child's sense of identity. When they make choices aligned with their values and interests, they form a solid foundation for their identity, fostering a strong sense of self. Lastly, autonomy cultivates responsibility. Children learn to take ownership of their actions, understanding the connection between choices and outcomes.

Practical Strategies to Foster Autonomy

1. Age-appropriate decision-making: Start by providing age-appropriate choices. For younger children, offer simple decisions, like selecting their snack or choosing a game to play. As they grow, gradually increase the complexity of decisions, allowing them to practice critical thinking and problem-solving.

2. Encourage independence: Support your child in solving problems on their own. Resist the urge to immediately intervene and provide guidance instead. Encourage them to brainstorm solutions and explore different approaches.

3. Encourage open communication: Create an environment of open communication. Listen attentively to your child's thoughts and ideas, valuing their perspectives. Engage in meaningful conversations that respect their autonomy and encourage them to express themselves freely.

4. Establish boundaries: While autonomy is important, setting boundaries is equally crucial. Clearly communicate expectations and rules, ensuring the safety and well-being of your child. Explain the reasoning behind the boundaries to help them understand the importance of guidelines. Children will model this behavior and set boundaries for themselves!

5. Encourage responsibility: Autonomy comes with responsibility. Encourage your child to take responsibility for their actions and the outcomes of their decisions. This helps develop integrity, accountability, and a strong work ethic.

What is a good philosophy for parenting styles?

Imagine your child is on loan to you for eighteen years. At two years old the parent makes almost all the decisions for the child. Bedtime, clothing, meals, activities, and everything else is the parent's decision as their child is an infant. Now, let's take that eighteen year loan and minus two years from it. When a child is sixteen they should be making all the life choices for themselves that their parent made from them at two-years old. If we meet in the middle at nine-years old, the child and parents should be making an equal amount of decisions on daily activities. Are you an authoritative parent fostering autonomy in your child, or are you an authoritarian, permissive, or uninvolved parent?


Granting autonomy to your child is a powerful gift that fosters their personal growth and development. By encouraging independent decision-making, we equip them with essential life skills and prepare them for the challenges they will face. Autonomy enhances their decision-making abilities, boosts self-confidence, helps foster self-awareness, and cultivates problem-solving skills. Allowing children to make choices aligned with their values and interests strengthens their sense of identity and self-worth. It also nurtures a sense of responsibility, enabling them to understand the connection between choices and outcomes. As parents, it is our responsibility to support our children's autonomy while providing guidance and boundaries. Embrace the journey of nurturing independent decision-making, recognizing that autonomy empowers our children to become capable, confident individuals ready to navigate the world.


1. Bledsoe, M. (2002). Parenting with Dignity: The Early Years. Parenting with Dignity Publications.

2. Lamborn, S. D., Mounts, N. S., Steinberg, L., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1991). Patterns of competence and adjustment among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and neglectful families. Child Development, 62(5), 1049-1065.

3. Steinberg, L. (2001). We know some things: Parent-adolescent relationships in retrospect and prospect. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 11(1), 1-19.

boise therapist

Learn more about Gem State Wellness - Counseling in Boise, Nampa, and Meridian. Visit Gem State Wellness and schedule a confidential telehealth counseling session

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