The Flight of a Six Year Old

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LIFE CHANGES WHEN YOUR TODDLER GROWS AND BEGINS LEARNING AUTONOMY

The last six and a half years of my life have been sprinkled with joyful experiences next to my little one. From sunny walks in the forest to lazy days at home, we’ve kept quite busy connectingcollaborating and creating. And as my child begins to tinker with the concept of autonomy my heart both cheers for him yet mourns the little boy that we’re leaving behind. I am experiencing the flight of a six year old as my six year old is learning autonomy.

This developmental stage of learning autonomy

This developmental stage of learning autonomy comes with many twists and turns and in my opinion is far more difficult to navigate than the terrible 2’s or 3’s. To me, the conniptions of a toddler are black and white. The root cause can often be attributed to hunger or being tired, while dealing with the complex emotions of a 6 year old seems far more treacherous, unmapped and at times even manic. While he wants this new found autonomy, he’s also terrified of it.  He is eager to embrace it, yet tests me constantly to make sure that I know that even though he doesn’t want my help, he still needs me. 

Flight of the six year old learning autonomy

Encouraging his autonomy requires a lot of patience and flexibility. At times I want to jump in and offer solutions (or just do it for him) but I know that it would only help to reduce my anxiety induced by his momentary struggle. I have to remind myself that my parenting choices today will impact him for the rest of his life. With this in mind, I accept these opportunities to allow him to go through the struggles and become an active participant in his development of character and I take comfort in knowing that each time he overcomes a struggle, he is also becoming more confident and independent.

Here are a few ideas on how to nurture autonomy in your little one.

Allow your child to make choices throughout the day, even if you know that they will likely choose the “hard” or “wrong” way; give them a chance to learn from the process.

Motivate them to come up with solutions for their problems and encourage them to answer their own questions, their ingenuity may surprise you.

Don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves (this, I will admit, is a hard one for me) Remember to teach and step back and give them as much time as they need to master new skills.

Give them opportunities to manage their time. For example, if they’re allowed 3 hours of screen time per week, let them choose when to use it.

This developmental stage of learning autonomy

Include them in making family decisions such as meal planning. My little one owns Thursday night dinners. He comes up with a menu and participates in the preparation.

Instead of constantly giving praise, help them to recognize how they feel about themselves. This supports the idea that self esteem isn’t built from external praise, it comes from trying new things and learning to do them well.

Allow them to expand their comfort zones. Let them try out new things even if its something you’re not sure they can do, be supportive. Success is sweet but going through the process is just as valuable.

If you have some fun ways that you help your children with learning autonomy please be sure to share them in the comments below.

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71 Comments


  1. I am working with my mom not to do things for the toddler that he can do himself. It was hard for me and I know the mindset of, “oh, I can just do this for them and it’ll be faster” is hard to ignore, but kids really do benefit from trying and failing. I have stuck to telling my toddler to problem solve and had a proud mommy moment the first time he was stuck and said, “Proby sov, Mommy!” (problem solve). It’s nice to know sometimes that they listen. 😉

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  2. I love this! I am also always mindful of the fact that the end goal is to help our children grow into independent adults who can navigate the world on their own. It can be so hard when you feel the urge to jump in and take over, though! I have to remind myself constantly of my commitment to nurturing my daughter’s independence, even though there are times that I miss the baby days!

    Thank you for sharing with us at #MommyMeetupMondays!

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    1. Your daughter is so fortunate to have a mother who does what is best even when it is difficult.

      Thank you for hosting #MommyMeetupMondays!

      Reply

  3. With my younger kids I have encouraged autonomy at 3 and 4 before they are old enough to be afraid of it. It works much better. I have a 6-year-old and she is extremely independent, and the things you are doing sound much more like what I do with my current 4-year old. The biggest things is to condition yourself to say the phrase, “Let me know if you want some help.” Then leave them to do their thing. Some will ask for help pretty quickly and some will try for eternity and never give up!

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  4. Marvelous post! We agree completely. It is a magical age, when kids start discovering their own independence and start fearlessly to begin exploring the world.

    In addition to your excellent suggestions, we would add one more way to nurture autonomy: travel with your kids. Breaking them out of their regular routine helps teach confidence that comes from inside (and from the family) rather than from external constructs like a rigid schedule.

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  5. Great suggestions! I find it hard not to do thing for my 4 year old when he’s clearly struggling and upset, but still wants to do it himself! We often talk about how he’s feeling rather than just praising, it makes him very proud of his achievements. 🙂 x

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    1. Talking about his feelings is a great way to help him.

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  6. Such a great post- my little one is only 5 months and I am trying so hard to let her do the things that she can like reach for a toy and not just put it in her hand. I know she needs to learn but I miss my little baby. I can only imagine this will become more difficult as she grows.

    Azaria #mummymonday

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    1. It sounds like you already have a great start on building autonomy.

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  7. Thanks for linking up! I really enjoyed reading this post and your tips on how to nurture autonomy. It is also hard for to not step in and do things for my girls!

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    1. Thanks, we just stopped by and shared and stumbled. Thanks for including us!

      Reply

  8. Oh what a lovely post! I can definitely relate as my eldest little man is 5 and a half and I am loving how much he grows and learns each day yet sad to see that he is no longer my baby boy!

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    1. I miss the tot stage but 5 and six year olds are so much fun!

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  9. Great post. My son is 4 yrs old and he is slowing starting to show a lot of independence. It makes me so happy but also a little sad to think he doesn’t need mommy as much anymore. Thanks for sharing. #ConfessionsLinkUp

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    1. Thanks, Amy. Thanks for hosting #ConfessionsLinkUp!

      Reply

  10. My son just turned 7 this year and he is growing and becoming more independent each day. It amazes me how much he is able to accomplish on his own. I find myself wanting to do things for him still just like you 🙂 It is hard to let go… Luckily I have a little on still. I will probably be worse when she gets older because I wont have a baby anymore.

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  11. Great post! As the Mom of an almost 8 year old and almost 6 year old I can relate. They’re independent and sometimes we know they’re making wrong choices. Its the age of “I can’t”. It would be so much easier for them if Mommy would just give them the answer.

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    1. Thanks, Erin! It is also easier for this mommy to just give the answer but I know that’s not as helpful. 🙂

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  12. what a great post!!! I see this with my daughter and she’s almost 3… Where did the time go?!? It’s definitely cute to see her becoming her own person but sometimes I miss my little baby 😉

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  13. I love this! While my little one is only 2, we have certainly worked a great deal on fostering her independence (at age-appropriate levels of course!). It is so hard to step back and watch them become autonomous beings! It’s so important to keep in mind that our job is to prepare them for life outside the nest! These are some great tips that I will be sure to keep in mind!

    Thank you for sharing with us at #MommyMeetupMondays! Hope to see you again next week!

    Reply

    1. It really is hard not to jump in and take care of things for him.

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  14. I love that you are trying to respect his autonomy 🙂 I think the biggest parenting challenges come at those transitional times, baby to toddler, toddler to child, child to teen, teen to adult. We are still in the baby to toddler phase, but it is fun to read about the wonders we are in store for in the future! #mommymeetupmondays

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  15. These are such great tips. My oldest is three, but I am bookmarking for future reference! 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Jess. It is an interesting stage in life.

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  16. My daughter is almost seven and her emotions are much more complex than my 3 yr old. I try to give her a lot of opportunities to make choices. I like the idea about choosing when to have screen time.

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    1. Ah, you almost made it through!. I found seven to be a whole lot of fun.

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  17. Great tips and it is so true about them growing up and out of the different stages. It goes by fast!

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  18. Really great tips!! We really need to cherish every moment, for sure!

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  19. These are all great; though if I left my 6 year old in charge of dinner, it would be cereal ever Thursday 🙂 I am definitely going to start incorporating these. Thanks!

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    1. Well, cereal is delicious, too. 🙂

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  20. Our four children will turn four next months, so we are not at the six year-old stage yet. I have found that I have gotten better with encouraging autonomy with time. Since ours were so fragile at first, I was afraid of them getting hurt. As they have progressed, I have learned to let them have more autonomy (while I am there to help them if they need it).

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    1. Wow, four! I can understand why you would want to be cautious.

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  21. I am so torn over the autonomy. I want my kids to be independent, but I still worry when they are just in the next room. I guess it comes with the territory.

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  22. Sometimes it is so difficult to let my daughter do things on her own. We’re always in a rush (for some reason), and I would get it done faster. But that doesn’t teach her anything. I’ve been working on my patience and enjoying watching her figure things out on her own and grow. I love the idea on having the kiddos be in charge of a meal one night a week. I’m going to have to start doing that!

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  23. Such a handsome kiddo! I admit, I have problems not taking over when I can do it faster myself, too. I’m getting better, though. 🙂

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  24. He is a real cutie! For me, the declarations of independence are milestones. They bring us into a whole new world of experiences. Enjoy the journey mama.

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  25. I absolutely love your suggestions to scaffold autonomy, give them license to choose (and make mistakes), while being there all the way. *sigh* WHY do they grow SO FAST!?!?!

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    1. I know what you mean. I love every stage but I am always sad when one stage ends and another begins.

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  26. It’s so true. They want/don’t want to be all grown up. It’s a tough balance between advising them well enough that they don’t feel abandoned and letting them be in enough control of their own lives so they learn how.

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    1. We agree. Sometimes it’s harder on us to balance helping to much and allowing them to help themselves.

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  27. Giving children choices, responsibilities, and opportunities is so important. This is a great post and such lovely pictures! 🙂

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  28. What a great reminder! Sometimes I have this tendency to overprotect my kids and this crazy need to just make sure that they are comfortable all the time that I tend to do things for them. I know this is not helping at all, we need to give them room to learn on their own even if it means they will have to stumble and fall sometimes! Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. You are so right. My first reaction is to go into problem solving mode and I have to stop myself sometimes.

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  29. “Instead of constantly giving praise, help them to recognize how they feel about themselves. This supports the idea that self esteem isn’t built from external praise, it comes from trying new things and learning to do them well.” I love this suggestion.. I never thought about this in this way before! Thank you for all the great suggestions!
    Also, your son is such a cutie! 🙂

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  30. I really like the part about not always giving praise. Whenever my son asks if I think he did a good job, I try to respond with, “What do you think? How do you feel you did.” It’s so crazy watching them grow.

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    1. I love your response to your son!

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  31. My daughter’s 18 months old, but I can at times see that glimmer of needing autonomy and I feel both joy and yet sadness, like you mentioned. I’ll be sure to watch how you cope so that I can learn from you as my daughter reaches your son’s age!

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    1. What a nice compliment!

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  32. What a great post! I completely agree with your suggestions and even try to follow through with them for my toddler, currently. Sometimes, it seems so much easier just to jump in or do things for them (and it’s definitely faster), but ultimately, I agree it’s important to let them learn, help and figure things out for themselves or with some guidance/motivation.

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  33. This is a lovely post. The cabin fever of school holidays is slowly abating and it’s great to have a gentle reminder like this about connecting consciously with the munchkins. cheers!

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  34. Excellent post. You gave me a lot to think about! Beautiful pictures too. – Theresa,

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    1. Thanks Romanian Mum!

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  35. Such a great post! It’s so difficult to give kids some autonomy as your built-in instinct is to help them. Thanks for linking up to #FamilyFriday. Do you have a Twitter account at all?

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Danny!
      No, we don’t have a twitter account yet but we will soon.

      Reply

  36. My daughter has HFA. I have enjoyed reading your blog posts. It is good to see that someone else knows how I feel! Parenting an autistic child is a whole different journey! *Visiting from Mommy & Me

    Reply

    1. Dear Carly,

      That’s so nice to hear! Have you read How to Be Human by Florida Frenz? You can find more information on our Young Readers and Social Emotional pages. Florida has HFA and is doing well in high school now.
      Parenting an autistic child is a different journey but it is a journey with a wonderful view.

      Reply

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