The word “agency” keeps popping up in articles I read or podcasts I listen to so I thought I would look a bit deeper into it. Hope you find it helpful.
Agency is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability to take action or to choose what action to take.” It is the belief that you have control over your choices and can affect change through the choices you make. How often do you feel that you have an impact on your life through the decisions and choices you make? So, what is agency?
- Unclear goals
- Emotions drive beliefs (whether true or not)
- Fear of Failure
- Lack of confidence in your abilities
- Growth mindset (you believe you can do it, maybe just not “yet”)
- Metacognition (you think about your thinking)
- See learning as a process and yourself as a learner
- Self-efficacy (belief in your abilities)
- Ask open ended questions to problem solve
Agency isn’t just important for adults, but also for children to develop. Students have been through a lot of changes over the last three years and most of them adapted quite well. Some did not do well with the challenges and the constant changes. What do you think makes the difference, between a student who is resilient and adapts quickly and those that become more needy and less capable? Is it fear of failure, lack of confidence, or learned helplessness that interferes with a child’s development of agency?
Opportunities to problem solve and figure out what steps to take next have been replaced with the answers and solutions in order to save time (Ex. Study guides instead of study skills). Think about it, when was the last time your child came to you with a problem and you told them what to do? You may have missed an opportunity to help them develop agency and confidence in their own abilities.
I was surprised to read this article that discussed the increase in a child’s anxieties when you constantly solve their problems for them or make accommodations to diminish their fears. This line jumped out at me. “Kids look to their parents to see who they are, Dr. Leibowitz notes. So, when parents reflect back to them that they are helpless in the face of anxiety, and need to be protected, that’s what kids learn to feel about themselves.” That goes for problem solving too. They question their own abilities and instead rely on a parent or teacher to “save” them.
Learning is a Process
- It takes time
- Start small and scaffold with help
- Focus on the process not the outcome
- Allow choices – develops ownership
- Self-reflection leads to metacognition
- Growth mindset (capable with effort)
- Leads to self-efficacy (belief in your abilities)
- Which then leads to agency – knowing you can impact your life through the decisions and choices you make
Encouraging your children to problem solve with your help and building on their confidence develops agency. Isn’t the goal to raise lifelong learners with the confidence to handle anything that comes their way (depending on age of course)?
As an adult, you know yourself best and should keep that in mind when solving a problem or developing a strategy that will work for the way you think. We can’t always predict what success will look like so designing an “experiment” gives an opportunity to try things out without fear of failure. Make sure to think about what could get in the way of your success. Thinking about possible obstacles and then creating a plan for them, helps ensure greater success of your experiment. Each experiment provides more data (more clues as to what will work) even if you don’t get there on the first try.
Each experiment whether successful or not helps you learn more about who you are and who you want to be. It builds on your strengths and helps you find strategies you can use in other instances. This builds your “toolbox” that you can use in other situations. In the end, we don’t set the goals or do the tasks for the “fun” of crossing them off the list, we do them to show ourselves we are capable and in control of ourselves and our actions – and that develops agency.
If you’d like to learn more about helping your children develop agency, then join our Thriving with ADHD in the Family Parent Class starting Thursday, April 27th, 2023 at 7pm ET via Zoom.