Step 2: Promote Self-Determination
Step 2: Promote Self-Determination
By Kelly Bonner
In Part One of this series, we discussed self-image; if you haven’t read that step, I encourage you to begin there. This month, we will pick up where we left off and discuss Step 2: Promoting Self-Determination.
In my college course, I teach on the Seven Dimensions of Wellness. They include physical, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental and financial wellness. The concept is that in order for and individual to be “well,” they must be so in each of the seven areas. This is because each area overlaps and is interrelated.
Within these seven areas, self-efficacy, or how much control one feels they have over their life, is mentioned at length. One can have an internal locus of control, which means they feel like they control the majority of things in their life, or an external locus of control where they feel like someone or something else has the majority of control in their life. This someone or something can be a parent, teacher or even one’s disability. Having a higher internal locus of control positively affects one’s state of wellness and self-determination. In other words, the more control someone believes they have over something, the more empowered they feel to have the ability to change it or other areas in their life.
Let me give you an easy example: a woman who is in a relationship with an abusive man and has an external locus of control will feel like the man controls her. Even if she wanted out of the relationship, she would think that she is not able to leave because he controls her, her money, or her kids. On the other hand, a woman in the same scenario who has an internal locus of control will be able to do whatever it takes to get out of that situation because she believes that she is in control and can make those decisions. Do you see how life-altering that locus of control can be?
Now consider this concept in terms of disability. A child with a disability who has an external locus of control will accept what society or anyone else hands them. If their physical education teacher tells them they would make a great score keeper, they will accept that position because they don’t feel like they have the control to change it. On the other hand, a child with an internal locus of control might challenge that teacher and perhaps say, “I don’t want to be the scorekeeper; I want to play!” This is just one example, but think of all the other scenarios that could occur as a child with a disability grows up.
In order to help develop a higher internal locus of control in your child, he or she has to be given the opportunity to make choices. Typically, children get to choose things like whom their friends are, what sports they want to play, or even something as simple as what toy they want to play with at a specific time. However, kids with a disability may not get to make these same choices for a variety of reasons. As parents it is imperative to provide them with choice-making opportunities. When they are young, these may be very simple choices like which pajamas they want to wear to bed, but as they age these choices will become more important and play a larger role in their self-esteem. For example, eventually they may need to choose what type of mobility device they want to use, if they would rather go to physical education class instead of physical therapy or if a child with a visual impairment wants to go to a mainstream school or a school for the blind. These are all very big choices and ones that can have a huge impact on who they are and will also help promote their self-determination. If they know that they can fix or change one aspect of their life, it will carry over into other areas of their life as well.
There are other ways to build your child’s self-determination; for example asking questions that empower rather than giving a command. Even when trying to make our children have more self-determination we often give them commands to do so. Command statements often invite a defiant response or at the very least it discouragement for self-determination. For example, my niece hates talking to other adults especially if she doesn’t know them and when it is time to order food at a restaurant she will often rely on another family member to tell what she wants. However, when she is with me I have been known to tell her she has to order herself. Now obviously this is just common courtesy to speak when spoken to, but depending on how I ask my niece could hear it as just another command. I need to think about ways that I can address the topic and empower her to want to give her meal request instead of just commanding her to do so.
In closing, self-determination leads to self-advocacy. If properly instilled in children early on, they won’t need prompting to advocate for themselves in life. Self-determination and self-efficacy can help your child control how their disability affects them for the rest of their life, and that is a skill worth learning!
1. Begin this week by implementing some specific choice-making opportunities for your child. Then, start to think of some you will need to make in the next few months and years. Make sure to write these down to for your own accountability.
2. What are some commands that you have been giving your child that you could change into a more empowering statement? Try putting some of those into play this week and see what effect you get.
Where are some areas you allow your child to make their own choices? Leave a comment below and let’s start the conversation!