Read More: Developing Your Child’s Character
Why is developing a sense of agency crucial?
What we refer to as ‘agency,’ is a crucial element of a child’s development journey, and is something that starts from a very young age – from just a few months old.
Developing a sense of agency from a very young age is crucial for the development of well-rounded individuals. It contributes to one’s self esteem, identity, and well-being.
Having the opportunity to make choices and attempt various tasks by themselves, as well as taking on responsibilities, allows children to view themselves as independent, competent members of society.
Cultivating the belief that we are in control of things – that we can influence events – is an important trait to be developed at a young age in all children. This proactive personality is directly linked to career success (Seibert, Kraimer and Crant, 2001).
Read Next: Let Children Be Children
Agency is ideally developed between the ages of one and three according to Erikson’s developmental stage of autonomy vs. shame theory.
He explains, “the parents’ patience and encouragement helps foster autonomy in the child. Children at this age like to explore the world around them and they are constantly learning about their environment. … If caregivers encourage self-sufficient behaviour, toddlers develop a sense of autonomy ‒ a sense of being able to handle many problems on their own.
“But if caregivers demand too much too soon, refuse to let children perform tasks of which they are capable, or ridicule early attempts at self-sufficiency, children may instead develop shame and doubt about their ability to handle problems.”
The Australian National Quality Standard Professional Learning Programme has identified that “key learning dispositions such as curiosity, creativity and imagination, and learning processes such as inquiry, experimentation, and investigation all presuppose a degree of child-independence.”
Research has also found that children with a higher level of secure attachment relationships with their mothers have a higher level of social initiative (Chen, 2012).
On the other hand, children’s ambivalent attachment was positively related to shyness and social disinterest.
Developing a sense of agency in different age groups
When dealing with children between the ages of 1 and 5 years, these are some ways to help in the development of high agency:
Source: Image by Bessi from Pixabay
- Supporting children to negotiate a resolution rather than solving it for them
- Providing opportunities for children to set goals for learning
- Providing opportunities for children to learn through co-researching with adults
- Offering choices of experiences based on what children are keen on learning
- Encouraging children to think about fairness within the service, local community, and outside world
- Considering a more democratic system of decision-making. For example, children could explore voting on relevant issues
- Supporting children’s voice within the community and connecting with community planning and consultation in all matters that affect children.
For school-going children, some of the ways to promote agency include:
Promoting learning through leisure and play-based activities that children plan and are relevant to their interests and other learning
- Extending on peer support programmes and creating mentoring relationships
- Allowing children opportunities to assess and identify hazards as well as develop risk assessment strategies
- Supporting children to take on the responsibilities of arrival and departure including developing procedures for handling their belongings and greeting educators.
Zimmerman and Cleary (2006), believe that “[Agency] is influenced by the belief in one’s effectiveness in performing specific tasks, which is termed self-efficacy, as well as by one’s actual skill.”
Therefore, to develop agency in adolescents, one needs to focus on helping them gain confidence in their abilities to perform certain tasks well (tests, sports, manual tasks, etc.).
Personally, when I was 12, I was a horrible football player, not being able to even make my class team. During the long school holidays, I resolved to practice hard and become a top player in my school.
After a year of hard training, I made it to my school team and even had the opportunity to be coached by one of Malaysia’s legendary footballers, Mokhtar Dahari. Since then, my confidence ‒ not just in football but across many other areas ‒ has skyrocketed.
Source: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay
In our research this far, we found that agency is a key driver in decision making and a key leadership competence.
This proactive behaviour also leads to the ability to initiate and drive change, as well as the capability to initiate and drive a specific vision across small communities (what we call ‘building communities of love’).
Whilst it is great to see that many parents are already looking at developing this crucial quality in their children, it is imperative forallparents to cultivate it in their children.
This is the fifth part of a series of articles based on the Leaderonomics’ 2018 Parenting Survey. To read the other articles, click here.
Check out the podcast below for more practical solutions about how agency relates to leadership and how parents can go about developing it in their children at a young age!