Having agency means “being able to make choices and decisions to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world.” (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 45).
It feels good to make a decision! Children feel good when they see they have some power over what they do. After all, by the time they are adults they will be making all the decisions impacting on their life and others.
Some choices are not theirs to make. Making it clear for children about when they have a choice and when they don’t is both tricky and contextualised. It’s easy if they are about to run in front of a car. There is no choice here. They need to hold your hand. Similarly, your child could certainly choose which colour shorts from their kindy drawer to wear.
Thinking ahead of time about when children have a choice and being clear about when it’s an adult choice can help to prevent melt-downs. Brene’ Brown, a well-known American researcher and psychologist writes extensively about kindness in clarity. I see it every day at kindy when, as the children are getting to know the pattern of the day, limited, clear language indicates when it’s time for their choice or mine.
Every day at kindy children have many opportunities to make play decisions when playing both inside and outside however It’s clear that for some parts of the day having 22 different choices just wouldn’t work. This is real life for a three and four year olds. Sometimes they have a choice and sometimes they have to accept that they have to fit in with others.
As adults I believe there are some useful questions to ask ourselves:
Becoming a capable, responsible, independent adult is a complex journey which begins when exposed as a child with many opportunities to make a choice AND to practice self-regulation and resilience when the choice is not theirs.