Raising a Confident Child, Locus of Control

As parents, a common hope for our children is that they will make good, confident decisions and think for themselves. Your child's perception of whether the course of their lives are controlled primarily by their own thoughts and actions, or external circumstances is referred to by developmental psychologists as "locus of control".

For children on the autism spectrum, dealing with impaired executive function or lacking a developed theory of mind , developing an internal locus of control grounded in an understanding of interconnection can be especially challenging.  This is troubling, as researchers have connected internal locus of control to positive health and academic outcomes. 

I suggest finding a competent social skills group, with a strong theoretical foundation grounded in developmental psychology who can create meaningful and effective interventions. Here are some things you can do at home to help your child develop an internal locus of control.

1-3 Years Old: Show your baby the respect you would show to any grown person. Use language to tell them what you are doing before and as you do it. "I am going to pull this shirt over your head now."

4-6 Years Old: When your child does something praise worthy, offer specific and directed praise. Instead of "good job". say something like, "you did it! I really like the way you used color and line in this drawing."

5-12 Years Old: Offer limited choices whenever possible. Instead of being excessively permissive or prescriptive, give choices that allow them to be successful. i.e. "You can either get your homework done now, or you can do it first thing after dinner."

Adolescence: Your child is struggling with identity. Allow them fluidity. It is tempting to demand consistency such as "you said just last week you hated school dances, and now you want to go?".  

Teens: Give your teen safe and consistent boundaries and an open door. In other words, make sure your teen feels safe to explore their independent self, but that they know you will welcome them any time they need to regress and just be taken care of.

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