Show Notes: Autonomy Supportive Parenting Style Part 2

This is the second episode talking with Professor Genevieve Mageau about Autonomy Supportive Parenting. In this episode we examine what to do when children won’t listen, how to address ongoing problems, more on providing structure, and enforcing limits in an autonomy supportive manner, and the difference between psychological and behavioural control.

Listen to Autonomy Supportive Parenting Style Part 1 first.

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What if our child is not listening?

“I have found that when I engage with Alex’s game, and then ask for his help, he tunes out as soon as I change the topic to cleaning up.”

Genevieve’s advice was as follows:

  • You do not have to listen forever.
  • To help the message get through you can send a note (a fun way of getting attention), or get close, put a hand on his shoulder, and point.
  • Pick your battles – decide how important picking up the shoes is to you.
    • It is easier to accept rules that are easy to justify.
  • Autonomy supportive communication first:
    • Listen to perspective
    • Acknowledge perspective
    • Give reasons
    • Provide age-appropriate choice (e.g. do you want to clean up now, or after the game?)
  • Clearly state expectations. “We agreed that…”
  • Express your feelings “I feel … when…”
  • Help them to achieve the goal.
    • “How can I help you to…” e.g. “Would it help if I put on some music?”
  • Provide structure – if you don’t enforce your rules, why would they learn or stick to them?
  • Focus on solving the problem, not punishing the child. For example…
    • Gently guide.
    • You may need to remove distraction until the goal is achieved.
    • The goal is to solve the problem, not punish the child.
  • Be proactive by deciding on rules in advance. For example do you want to clean up after each game? Every afternoon? Do parents know the policy? Do our children know the policy?
    • Once you decide on a rule, communicate it (in an autonomy supportive way), then coach and remind.
  • Invest time helping kids to learn the rules and learn problem solving.

Ongoing or reoccurring problems

Use collaborative problem solving when everyone is calm:

  1. Listen to your child’s feelings about it.
  2. Express your feelings about it (and why you feel that way) without placing blame or accusing.
  3. Brainstorm and write down ideas without judgement (write them all down, no matter how impractical).
  4. Select different options – explore consequences and give explanation when crossing out options.

Don’t try to convince the kids that the rule is important – just providing information is sufficient.

Behavioral control versus Psychological control

  • When parents try to control psychological elements of their child, including thoughts, feelings, preferences, this leads to the most negative impact.
  • It is important to allow children to explore disturbing thoughts and opinions, listen so it can pass.
    • For example “I hate my little sister!”
    • Don’t deny it or try to convince them that it is not true.
    • React emphatically, without judgement.
    • You can try changing it a little: “Oh you are really angry at your sister”
    • This may be met with a rebuttal, in which case you can acknowledge that feeling, and extrapolate the impact of it e.g. “Oh, you hate her, that must be difficult”
  • Even with strong feelings we can put limits on the behavior.
    • Use empathy, non-judgemental information, warmth towards both children.
      • E.g. “I can see you are really angry at your sister. Sisters are not for hitting.”
    • Solve the problem. Make the behavior stop. For example,
      • Remove an object (such as a pen that has been used to draw on a wall) until trust is restored.
      • Separate children until trust is restored.
    • The goal is not to punish, but to prevent the problematic behavior.
    • Reflect the feelings of the victim and ask “What can we do to fix it?” with a curious, not accusing tone.
  • You can use natural consequences (but make sure they are natural. If you have to twist yourself in knots to describe the connection and rules – it is probably not natural).
    • E.g. At the end of routines there is time to play. The longer the chores take, the less time there is left to play.
  • Give more control within reasonable limits.
    • E.g. You can use this pen on this paper, or you can play with something else.
  • Parents shouldn’t aim to have their child happy all the time. Sometimes “no” is a loving response.

Outlook and focus

Autonomy supportive parenting comes more naturally if we focus on:

  • Solving the problem (not the child)
  • See children as learning, not defiant. We are helping them to become better people by coaching and modelling good behavior.
  • Highlight successes.
  • Creating an atmosphere of collaboration.


This series

This is the first episode in a great four-part series on Autonomy-Supportive Parenting Style. (Parts 1 to 3 are published so far).

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