Self Determination theory shows that when children's basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are being met, children's healthy development and well- being is ensured. This is done by implementing the 3 dimensions of parenting– Autonomy support, structure and Involvement. Providing structure supports competence, involvement promote relatedness and autonomy support is the guiding and defining principle of how we are involved with children and how we provide them with structure.
Autonomy support helps a child to be his true self, connecting to his inner values so that he is self –directed, the author of his actions and the owner of the outcomes. It is about giving a child a voice to self -advocate by " working with the child" to get his perspective and concerns on the table, allow him to participate in initiating and generating rules, guidelines, choices and solutions to problems in a mutually satisfactory way. This requires being empathic, understanding the child’s motivations, thoughts, and feelings. When parents or teachers have to be directive, they take the child's perspective into consideration, offer meaningful rationales and explanations for their expectations, show empathy and understanding why the child would not be so happy with their decision and try to compensate by giving more autonomy in other areas. This leaves the door open for more discussion aimed at working on an agreed solution.
Structure should be provided, not to address a parent or teacher's need for control but to support the needs of children for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Structure does not imply control. We can provide structure in a non-controlling way without being controlling or being contingent using rewards, praise, punishments, consequences, criticism and threats. Caregivers should work with children to decide what kind of family do they want, how should they work together, work out what rules, boundaries, limits, guidelines, expectations and values should inform their behavior and how problems should be solved – in a collaborative problem solving way. They provide information and help kids reflect on the possible outcomes of their actions and how they impact on others. Structure supports competence by teaching skills in the context of unsolved problems and the child's perspective, by scaffolding of demands and responsibilities so they fit in with the child's growing capacities, engaging in collaborative problem solving that not only makes a kid successful but teaches indirectly other life skills. Caregivers provide rich real-time feedback and dialogue which is informational rather than evaluative focusing on improvement, mastery rather than extrinsic performance goals. This improves the child's perceived competence and helps the child live their choices, learn from them and elevate themselves.
Involvement Many parents devote time, invest attention and resources, are caring, show love, warmth, concern and encouragement. They are engaged and enjoy interactions with the child, are informed about what's happening in a child's life and not involved out of a need for control that leads to a parent using pressure, power, dominance, demanding, being critical, conditional or even punitive to get compliance. Love and warmth are important, but what a child needs more than love is respect, taking what they say seriously, taking their perspective, hearing their concerns, seeing their world through their eyes, how they experience their world and supporting their autonomy. A high degree of involvement can make a child feel as though he matters when it is accompanied by autonomy support.
It is already established that parental involvement, structure and autonomy support are correlated with relatedness and social skills, higher perceived competence, better emotional health regulation and control, fewer behavioral issues, delayed gratification, impulse control, higher school achievement, general well-being, less depression, higher self-esteem, greater self-regulation and internalization, problem solving skills. The child's needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are being met so the child becomes more self-determined, intrinsically motivated, with an inner drive reflective of the true self, guiding behavior.
A lack of autonomy support supplants that inner drive with something else, material rewards punishments. A more appealing approach is to avoid punishments especially corporal punishment and rewards and use parental conditional regard. PCR involves using love to manipulate behavior. Attention, appreciation, and affection are given for approved behaviors, and withdrawn for disapproved behaviors. In effect, parental conditional regard's impact is within the child. It implants the parent’s will into the child’s psyche. Positive conditional regard is effective in getting compliance but children tended to resent and dislike their parents. They are apt to say that the way they acted was often due more to a “strong internal pressure” than to “a real sense of choice. Negative Conditional regard does not work even in the short run evoking negative feelings and defiance in children. It drowns out the child’s own inner voice, and results in real psychological damage, low self- worth, not liking oneself, constructing a false self that parents or teachers will like. Children are more likely to suppress emotions, less able to regulate emotions, recognize emotions in others, and less likely to share emotions with others. Unconditional regard leads to, intrinsic motivation, general well-being and kids feeling better about themselves and others.