Facilitating autonomy in the family: Supporting intrinsic motivation and self-regulation

Document Type

Book Chapter


The goal of socialization is for children to acquire the attitudes, behaviors, and values important in society. Clearly this task falls largely on the shoulders of parents and other caregivers who live day-to-day with the children. However, beyond getting children to engage in desired behaviors and display knowledge of relevant beliefs and values, effective socialization involves children taking on and “owning” these values and behaviors – in effect, autonomously regulating them. For example, parents don’t just want their children to clean their rooms because they won’t be allowed to go out if they don’t, but rather to do so because they themselves see the value in having a clean room. For the student of child development (and for parents themselves!) the issue of socialization involves an interesting paradox. On the one hand, it is the role of socializers to introduce children to valued behaviors and ensure that they become competent at them so as to function effectively in society. On the other, if parents’ goals are for their children to autonomously regulate these behaviors, introducing them externally and pressuring children to perform them may undermine children’s engagement in these behaviors of their own accord. So how do parents socialize values and behaviors while facilitating autonomous functioning? In this chapter, we use a Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985; see also Deci & Ryan, this volume) framework to understand this seeming paradox. Among the key questions we address are these: (1) What does autonomy look like in children? How do we know it when we see it? (2) How can parents facilitate autonomy while at the same time ensuring that children develop the attitudes and behaviors they need to be competent citizens? (3) Which parenting styles and behaviors are associated with children’s movement toward greater autonomy?.

Publication Title

Self-Regulation and Autonomy: Social and Developmental Dimensions of Human Conduct

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autonomy, child development, family