Autonomy and connection

"A child who has developed a strong sense of self will be less likely to blindly follow their peers into morally questionable behavior."

Autonomy is behaving and thinking independently from others. When children transition through adolescence, we want them to maintain their connection with self and mentors, while being autonomous so they can assert themselves and say no to peers.

Sounds like a parent's dream, right?

Generally, when we mentor a new skill or behaviour, we encourage the mentee to be curious, practice, practice, and practice some more.

When it comes to developing autonomy, the natural response for many mentors is to push back and unconsciously block the practice of this new skill. It's uncomfortable and often triggering to hear "no" or to be respectfully questioned. We have an expectation that we will be heard and obeyed, regardless of whether we have explained our request or the need driving it.

What's the alternative?

Let our children practice saying no.

Let our adolescents practice pushing back.

Maintain our connection and communicate with compassion.

Be honest with them, even when it feels awkward or challenging and something you want to step away from. Explain the need that is driving the request. Share the natural consequences if through discussion that no doesn't become a yes, if that is the best outcome for all.

Expecting children and adolescents to blindly conform with their mentors and push back with their peers or a threatening adult without any practice is an interesting strategy.

If it has been an unconscious strategy so far, it's time to reflect: how's that working out?

If we're open to a different way, how can we (re)connect with our mentees? 

Getting to know ourselves and others is the greatest adventure.  We are explorers of ourselves and the people we love.  Love is the ongoing process of unlocking each other and keeping safe whatever we find.  Create a Key Jar this weekend!  Thoughtful questions are the keys we use to do the unlocking and safekeeping.

Susan Stiffelman recently shared an observation that when we talk at someone when we're not currently enjoying a close connection and wanting to unlock our line of communication, we often trigger an instinct for them to push back or resist our requests. It's human nature, and can make mentoring challenging. Anyone with an adolescent in their life will relate to this!

This is where the power of connection comes into play. What percent of the interactions are positive and warm rather than focused on getting them to do something? How does it feel when we've made time to enjoy a relaxed conversation or laugh together?

When human beings feel seen, heard, and enjoyed, we are naturally more willing to cooperate. While there are many factors that contribute to resistance, strengthening attachment through connection is a great place to start with children and adolescents.

Be curious and play with the ratio of requests and warm connections you create today.

Melissa Shadforth