I call myself a fierce advocate for children’s agency. I like to think that I am current, progressive and contemporary in my thinking and practice.
The children in my world experience a great amount of freedom. They get to make decisions about their days that many would only dream about. <insert mental image of a child lying on a grassy green mound, staring up at the sky with a big empty fluffy white thought cloud> They get to choose when they eat, play, sleep, poop, sing, read, climb…….. you get the picture. There is an exponential amount of freedom for them. And they love it. It facilitates joy.
There are some things they don’t get to choose though. For instance – they don’t actually get to choose that they come in the very first place. Very few of them anyway. They come because the adults in their lives make that very significant decision for them. For some it is because parents are working, for some it is because parents need their own space for a time for their well-being, for some it is because parents feel they need something more and different than home provides.
While I would be so bold as to say and assume that most children enjoy most of their time with us – they aren’t really given the agency to make that decision. Don’t get me wrong – this is not a bad thing. It is because we as the adults in the lives of children sometimes have to make choices for them.
Giving children agency, does not mean that we stop being the adult in their lives.
One thing I know about me – is that I am adult. Just that. There are times when I have to help children through a situation. There are other times I need to make decisions FOR children…. in their best interests. It is my job as an adult to make sure that the children in my world are safe from harm. It is my job as an adult to ensure they know how to keep themselves safe from harm. So they don’t always get completely free reign. There are times when we have to step in. There are times when we have to direct. And there are times when we have to say no. Of course – we can also choose exactly how we go about those things too. We can certainly do it without creating a dictatorship. or making children feel inferior. It’s not about superiority – it’s just about having been on this earth for much longer, and knowing more about it – the joys and the perils.
There are several things that speak to me, telling me that no matter how much agency I wish to afford a child – I HAVE to, at certain points, be their rock.
The Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics calls me to “act in the best interests of children” and to “create and maintain safe, healthy, inclusive environments that support children’s agency and enhance their learning”.
The Early Years Learning Framework states that, “Children’s agency, as well as guidance care and teaching by families and educators shape children’s experiences of becoming.”
Whilst giving many statements around children making decisions in their lives and having control – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 3: “States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health…..”
As professionals, many of us use and promote the concepts of the Circle of Security in our work with children. The top part of which promotes a secure base for children to be in, and experience the agency of their world. The lower part creating that foundation of a safe haven for children, where adults keep children protected by their very presence.
There are many places that support agency for children, but also rule the line for the need of the existence of adults in children’s lives, and their input. And aside of all these professional directions – there is the plain old human instinct we are given. We don’t allow children to put themselves in harm’s way. We teach them that the world is not an innocent place, and that they need to be and act in certain ways to protect themselves.
As we strive in our work to allow children agency to make decisions – let’s not forget that we have a responsibility to them to keep them safe. And while I love nothing more than to see children in control of their world, there is a certain specialness allocated to us, to also be their champion, and to be the one to wrap our arms around them at the end of all that is said and done.
“Agency” and “Being the adult” to not have to be in competition with one another. There can be a harmonious balance.
“Always: be BIGGER, STRONGER, WISER, and KIND.
Whenever possible: Follow my child’s need.
Whenever necessary: take charge.”