The ABCs of After-School

Why Children Need Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence After School.

There are three psychological needs that underlie self-motivation, self-regulation and well-being. These three needs are: autonomy, belonging and competence. When children and youth feel that they have some choice or control, feel as though they belong to a group and feel recognized for what they are good at, they are more likely to be enthusiastic, motivated and engaged. After-school programs are an ideal setting to establish these three needs. Here are several practical ways after-school professionals can empower children and adolescents in their neighbourhood:

Providing autonomy after school
Autonomy is about feeling freedom or choice over your experience.

  • Establish a community agreement with a new group. Rather than focus on rules, co-create a framework for how the group will create positive feelings and handle conflict.
  • Provide children with important decision-making choices – the daily schedule, snack recipe or design of the space. Children’s choices should not be conditional or earned, but should be equally offered to all.
  • Help children discover their interests through exploration. Show tolerance for children’s mistakes while guiding them realistically about how to overcome obstacles.

Nurturing belonging after school
Belonging is about positive connections and acceptance by adults and peers.

  • Ensure positive relationships have priority over the agenda. Start each day with a check-in to inquire how everyone is feeling and end each day with a check-out to ensure there are no unresolved concerns or questions. Also emphasize children’s opportunities to connect and care for each other.
  • Create a shared purpose that engages the whole group cooperatively. Each child may be given an opportunity to contribute and feel appreciated.
  • Find something you genuinely respect and value in each child. Your presence and attentiveness go a long way to building their sense of belonging.

Fostering competence after school
Competence is a feeling of strength and capability that is recognized and valued.

  • Children need novelty and challenge to feel mastery over skills and tasks. Children may have unique perspectives of what success means to them. Value what each child has to offer and recognize individual accomplishments.
  • Avoid evaluation whenever it is unnecessary. Feedback should focus on strengths and potential. Focus on receiving a child’s feelings rather than giving suggestions or judgment. Be careful not to hinge a child’s worth upon their outcomes; otherwise their self-esteem will be tied to their performance.
  • Children’s feeling of success can be undermined when given external rewards. Your spontaneous joy for them is a much more appreciated gift than a material prize.