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Self-determination, a common concept in the social sciences field, should be of interest to any parent wishing to raise competent, successful children. According to a 2012 report in Scientific World Journal, self-determination involves children being able to make their own choices and think independently. 

Put more simply, self-determined kids are autonomous, and “make things happen” rather than relying on others to do things for them. Teaching children to be self-determined is, perhaps more than anything else, the key to their long-term success.

Self-determination and problem-solving

One of the benefits of teaching children to be self-determined is that it helps them to become problem-solvers who are capable of setting their own goals. Self-determined people confront problems head-on and develop solutions, instead of feeling incompetent and overwhelmed each time a challenge arises. 

When met with a challenge or opportunity, self-determined kids are also able to take the initiative to set goals and determine what they want to achieve. A study in Remedial and Special Education found that children as young as five can set their own goals, suggesting that the process of self-determination begins surprisingly early.

Academic benefits

Self-determination is associated with skills such as the ability to set goals and problem-solve, which frequently leads to academic success. As experts have reported, autonomous children tend to perform better in school, and they have higher self-esteem, as well as greater interest in their studies. 

Children who are self-determined are also internally motivated to perform well in school. These qualities are useful not only during childhood, but also after children transition to college, where motivation and autonomy are especially critical. Youth who demonstrate self-determination during their school and college years will also be far more prepared to solve problems in the workplace. 

Teaching self-determination

Self-determination sets children up for success, and specific parenting strategies can contribute to this kind of behavior. One key is offering choices, so children have the opportunity to make decisions autonomously. It’s also essential to provide structure for children, to be understanding of their unique viewpoints, and to avoid an overly controlling parenting style.

Parents are the key players when it comes to setting up a family environment that fosters self-determination in children. By encouraging kids to make decisions for themselves, parents can raise children who are intrinsically motivated and capable of tackling the problems they are sure to encounter in life.