Warren and I are childless by choice, but we take our role as aunt and uncle very seriously. We want to be a safe and loving presence in our seven nieces’ and nephews’ lives, as well as another pair of hands for their amazing, but exhausted, parents.
A couple of years ago, I remember reading about how to be a safe place for kids. One of the things the article mentioned was the importance of helping children build agency. Agency, in this context, means the opportunity to have control over something. It doesn’t have to be something big, but it should be something the child is in charge of making decisions about.
One example the article gave was helping children understand that they are in charge of their own bodies. It said that, often, adults will hug a child without checking in with them first. It stressed how important it is to give children a choice in the matter by asking their permission first.
A couple of my nieces, Campbell and Ava, are total cuddle bugs and tend to be glued to my side all the time. The others prefer to keep some space between us and want to connect with me in a different way. For example, Caleb and Joe would rather connect with me by playing a game or “battling.” August wants me to listen to her tell a story. Ella wants to show me all her favorite K-Pop videos. And Gray wants me to watch over his shoulder as he plays Minecraft.
I try to pay attention to these little nuances, knowing that it is important for me to follow their lead when they are telling me how they receive love and attention.
I’ve been thinking about this idea of building agency a lot lately, during the pandemic. This year has been hard on so many kids who’ve been separated from their friends, transitioned to different ways of learning, and missed out on certain milestones. There has been so much that they haven’t had any control over.
As we head into a new school year and a pandemic that just won’t quit, I think it’s important to continue to provide opportunities to help kids build agency. What little but important thing could they be in charge of? Perhaps it’s choosing what the family will have for dinner, deciding what route to take when you walk the dog or determining what hours they will work on homework.
This article has some great suggestions on why building agency is so important and how to do it in an age-appropriate way.
Take my suggestions with a grain of salt because I’m not a mama – but I do find that being in charge of little things when I don’t have as much control over bigger things, helps me – so perhaps it could help the little ones in our life as well.
What do you think? I know there are a lot of parents, grandparents, and child/adolescent therapists out there so I’d love to hear your thoughts.