Autonomy in children

Autonomy in children
Autonomy makes daily life easier. Here’s how you can help your child become more autonomous.

Autonomy allows a child to manage on their own with everyday tasks, become more and more independent, and make their own decisions. The need for autonomy evolves throughout childhood and adolescence. Becoming autonomous means gradually gaining a form of control over oneself and one’s life. It’s an essential element of self-confidence. To achieve autonomy, children need guidance from caring adults.

Developing autonomy

Autonomy develops little by little in different spheres of life. It affects physical and cognitive ability, the acquisition of knowledge, social interactions, and emotional regulation.

As early as age 5, children start being able to plan and organize tasks, provided they are simple enough.

Every child is different. Some will have the interest and ability to develop certain skills faster than others. If you’re worried and believe that your child’s development may be delayed, don’t hesitate to consult a professional.

In terms of personal autonomy, a child can get dressed on their own by the age of 5 or 6, though they may still need help with things such as doing up small buttons. If they weren’t already, they should be starting to put their shoes on the right feet and learning how to tie their laces. In terms of hygiene, kids this age can be expected to take a bath on their own. However, they may still need supervision, as well as reminders about important steps.

By age 7, kids are becoming increasingly independent and responsible. They can start helping with tasks around the house. They’re also capable of reflection and some logical reasoning.

Although a child’s age gives an idea of their level of autonomy, it’s important to remember that every child is unique and progresses differently. Your child may develop autonomy more quickly in one area than in another. For example, they might still need help getting ready for school in the morning but be well integrated into their class group. The more you pay attention to your child’s growth, the better you’ll be able to support them and provide the tools they need.

How to foster your child’s autonomy

There are many ways you can help your child develop autonomy.

Free play: When is the right time? (video in French)
  • Offer encouragement.
    Believe in your child and express this to them out loud by saying things like “You can do it!” and “You’ve got this!” Remind them of the times when they didn’t think they could do something but ultimately succeeded. Congratulate them when they accomplish something. If they don’t succeed, remind them that they’re still learning. Point out that they didn’t fail completely because they did certain things right. Help them find ways to improve.
  • Stimulate their curiosity.
    Let your child explore topics that interest them. Encourage them to try activities they’re not familiar with. Get them excited about discovering things by being curious yourself. Go to your local library and let them choose a book about something that interests them.
  • Give them some household chores.
    Involve your child in small tasks on a daily basis. Try giving them simple, minor responsibilities. Not only will this allow them to develop autonomy and confidence, but it will also give you quality time together. For example, you can ask your child to fold napkins, set the table, or help you put away utensils. They can also get involved by packing their schoolbag in the morning and putting their lunch in their lunchbox. You’ll still need to supervise them, of course, but they’ll be proud to help you and get ready for the day. To find out more, consult our fact sheet on how and when to give your child chores.
  • Teach them how to resolve their conflicts.
    If your child is having an argument with someone, it’s best to let them resolve the conflict on their own while being there to supervise. If they always come to you when they get into an argument, listen to what they have to say. Help them name what they’re feeling. Then, suggest that they calmly tell the other child how they feel. Encourage them to think of and propose a solution.
From the age of 5, gaining autonomy is very important. However, learning so many new things and experiencing so much change may make your child feel anxious. They need to know that you’re there for them.
  • Let them make decisions.
    While there are still rules to follow and boundaries to respect, you should allow your child to make certain decisions. For example, they might choose to pick up their toys before dinner rather than after so that they can watch their favourite show after eating. You can also let them choose certain clothes, like a sweater or pants. Establishing clear rules and consequences will help your child make decisions and take responsibility for their choices. This is an important step towards autonomy.
  • Avoid being overprotective.
    It’s normal to have household rules and to look out for your child’s safety. However, it’s also important to give them some freedom to show that you trust them. This will help develop their autonomy. If you do everything for your child and are always worried about them, they’ll be less sure of themself and lack motivation. For more information, read our fact sheet on helicopter parenting.
  • Maintain realistic expectations.
    Never lose sight of the fact that your child is a child. Be patient and allow them to learn at their own pace. Encourage them and pay attention to their progress, always praising them when they reach a new milestone. It’s important to give your child tasks that they’re able to do. You may need to show them how to do it first. Once they’ve gotten the hang of it, you can slightly increase the level of difficulty.
  • Give them time.
    If you find that your child isn’t doing a task quickly enough or is having difficulty completing it, resist the urge to step in. They need to do things on their own to learn and feel a sense of pride. Consider giving them an extra 10 or 15 minutes to choose their clothes and get dressed, for instance. Your child will always need you, so be available to guide and supervise them. Share your tips for doing certain tasks and then let them practise. At the same time, accept that your child may choose a different way of doing things and still get them done effectively.
  • Be positive.
    There’s no need to harp on your child’s failures or less-than-satisfactory results. They’re already well aware that they fell short. Challenges and difficulties are part of life. It’s better to ask your child why they think they didn’t succeed. Afterwards, help them find ways to improve.

Homework autonomy

At the beginning of elementary school, your child will need constant support with their homework (link in French). They’ll gradually become more independent in managing their tasks and assignments, but they’ll still need to feel that you’re there and ready to help them if needed. Here are a few things you can do to encourage their autonomy:

  • Ask them to prepare the materials they’ll need to complete their tasks.
  • Take a moment to ask them about what they were taught in class. You can even make this a fun routine; your child will be proud to show you what they learned.
  • If your child knows how to read, suggest they read a few pages to their younger sibling, the family pet, or even one of their stuffed animals. You can also each take turns reading a page.

If you have questions about your child’s homework, it’s always best to consult their teacher, who will know how to help.

Things to keep in mind

  • Autonomy develops bit by bit and allows your child to accomplish day-to-day tasks on their own and make decisions independently.
  • Every child is different, and kids can develop autonomy in one area more quickly than in others.
  • Letting your child make decisions, providing encouragement, and giving them responsibilities are good ways to help them become more autonomous.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Ariane Leroux-Boudreault, psychologist
Research and writing: The Naître et grandir team
May 2021


Photo: GettyImages/martin-dm


Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Alloprof. “Fostering your child’s autonomy: How and why.”
  • Ferland, Francine. “Le développement de l’enfant au quotidien : de 6 à 12 ans.” Overview table. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine.
  • Institut Raymond-Dewar. “Je suis capable tout seul!” 2007.
  • Vallières, Suzanne. Guider son enfant vers l’autonomie. Ebook, 2012.