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I Can Do it Myself! Learning to Let Go

Believe it or not, nudging our children toward greater independence yields huge benefits for them - and for us!

Spring and summer are the seasons of autonomy and nothing signifies this better for me than the familiar ritual of dusting off ‘wheeled things.’ Trikes, bikes and roller blades are repossessed with enthusiasm and children from toddlers to teens gleefully careen down the sidewalks. It isn’t just the speed of movement that delights them. It is also the thrill of harnessing one’s own momentum; of being self-propelled, finding one’s own way and making personal choices about where to go, what route to take and at what speed. A further tantalizing aspect is the experience of being slightly out of the reach of others, even a little hard to catch. (Perhaps this is why, when I mount my trusty road bike, I feel 13 years old all over again!)

This palpable experience of autonomy is so essential for our children to have and develop. With it comes increased confidence, greater resilience and a deeper sense of personal responsibility. Autonomy also fosters a connection with intrinsic motivation, the inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to explore and learn simply because of the inherent satisfaction and enjoyment of the activity itself [Ryan & Deci, 2000]. Parents can effectively encourage autonomy in a child by tapping into this power of intrinsic motivation.


This first requires that we set aside the tools of extrinsic motivation like rewards, threats, ultimatums, approval or disapproval. In their place we can provide healthy limits, appropriate choices, consultation and skill teaching. We can empathize with the joys and frustrations associated with each of these processes and we offer what is necessary to ensure our children’s safety as their reach extends into the bigger world.

Longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures present fresh opportunities for parents to encourage autonomy. Here are a few suggestions to get started. You can adapt them to the age and developmental maturity of your child because you know your child best and what they are ready to try.


  • Running an errand (picking up or making a delivery to a neighbor).
  • Independently preparing a beverage, snack, dessert or an entire meal for the family.
  • Finding their own way somewhere (even to school) with a friend on Calgary Transit or by foot or bicycle.
  • Tending a plant or a garden.
  • Memorizing a favorite story and sharing it with others.
  • Contributing to the discussion on the family’s summer holiday.
  • Identifying preferences for spring/summer daycamps.
  • Having the adventure of an extended overnight camp experience.

They come to understand themselves as capable and competent individuals and full participants in their own lives. They discover that the world is a welcoming place and learn how to conduct themselves safely in it. When we support them to find their own way and further their own competence, they seek us out more and more to tell us their stories, share their observations and ponder their curiosities. We actually become closer in a less dependent way. Dependence gradually gives way to respect, admiration and appreciation. From such children come wonderful adults!

Dulcie is a PCI Certified Parent Coach®. For more information, visit

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