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and its related problems

Posted on Always Learning by Schuyler Waynforth, July 22, 2011, in response to someone describing a young boy's reaction to limitations after a long day away from home:
Imagine that you'd had a really big day and were hungry and tired and came home to be told that you couldn't do something that you really wanted to do. Something that you'd thought about in moments when you were out with pleasure and anticipation. Something that you knew would help to relax you, to wind you down. Have a glass of wine, or a piece of bread that you'd baked that morning. Watch a television show that was on that evening, read the next chapter in a book that you were really enjoying. Someone who had power over you decided that you couldn't do whatever it was that you were wanting to do because you needed to eat dinner, shower and go to bed. Would you savor your meal? Would you enjoy the feeling of the warm water cascading over you in the shower? Would you fall asleep peacefully? Or would each and every one of those experiences be tainted by the power that someone else had wielded over you, poisoned by your own powerlessness, your weakness in the face of someone else's flexed muscle?

My response to part of the same story, following a quote:
-=-I helped him to process his feelings, expressed how disappointed he must feel, and reminded him of his fun day and that the game would be available tomorrow. I gave him time to calm down and eat if he chose ( he even said how hungry he was but that he was not going to eat ). -=-
I would be really angry if anyone did that to me. If I were gone all day and someone told me I couldn't check my e-mail, and then tried to feed me, I wouldn't want that food. I wouldn't want that house. I wouldn't want that person.

No one could help me process my feelings in such a case.
Someone who didn't understand that I had been polite all day, and thinking all day of when I could check e-mail, would not be my friend. They would not be my partner. If I had a choice, I would not stay at that house anymore.

If you wanted him to eat, because of the purpose of food and nutrition, the best thing to do would have been to let him get on his game and put easily-eaten food nearby. If food is important, that would have been best. If he had been waiting to do something with which he was fascinated, letting him do it would have been best. If the relationship between the parent and child is important, that would have been best.

It's not too late to do that next time.



Posted to the big unschooling discussion list Thursday, February 2003, by jnjstau@... (in response to that first quote and related info, which was about TV, but applies to all controlling)
...I just can't feel ok about that....it makes me so angry....I am not willing to subject my children...
If you go back through this [topic] and count the number of posts that are about the mom and how SHE feels vs. those about the kids and any problems they appear to be having, it is difficult to believe that the tv issue is about the the kids.

I used to be a tv controller, diet controller, behavior and thought controller (at least I thought I was). I was trained as a child psychologist....my poor kids *sigh*. I no longer go with that philosophy and have witnessed with my own eyes that limiting is the problem, not the solution.

You don't even have to have "smart kids" for them to effectively self- regulate. Gee whiz, our dogs do it. We have two dogs that were raised in a suburban back yard. We now live on several acres, still anytime the gate is left open, those dogs take off and are gone for hours. We have two dogs that were raised on our front porch without any fencing. They never leave our yard. If a dog can figure it out, I think a child has a pretty good shot.


"Self regulate" is a problematical concept too, and this whole topic is difficult for people to consider because "control" and "regulation" have been considered virtue, not abuses, for so long. —Sandra

Sandra Dodd: But why would it be "self control" and not just "conscious decision-making skills"?

Someone else: It wouldn't be. I was just using crappy terminology. :/

Making Choices!

Someone happy about success wrote:

I have to tell all of you that after only a couple of weeks of unlimited TV our TV has even been described as boring. It is on and then off and on and then off. It is kind of fun watching them learn to self regulate..
Sandra Dodd response:
"Self regulate" means to make a rule and then follow it yourself.

They're not self regulating. They're making choices.
It's different. It's better!

Weeding out terminology we would prefer not to mean improves thinking.

A hundred times or more people have said "just semantics" and "stupid" about me saying "don't say teach," which I've been doing for years. Every time someone says "taught" or "teach" they can slip back into the whole school thing and be seeing the world through school-colored glasses. If they do what it takes, mentally and emotionally, to recast their reports and then their thoughts in terms of who *learned* something, then they can start to see the world in terms of learning.

The last holdout for some people is "he taught himself..." but maybe that should be the FIRST to go. Teaching comes from someone WITH skills or knowledge passing them on to those without them. If I taught myself to play guitar, I would have had to have known how first. I sure did learn how. I told people for years that Ymelda Martinez taught me to play guitar. She got me from mystery to understanding, in one lesson, by me asking her tons of questions and her pointing out physically which angles would be better for my fingers, and how hard and how close to the frets, and how to finger pick. And I had a chord book, and my mom played guitar (a different style than I wanted to do—she did flat-picking, and I wanted to do folkie finger-picking.

I learned from everything around me, from trial and error, from watching others and asking questions.

The information was being sucked in by me, not pushed in by me or anyone else. I didn't PUT the information inside me, I drew it in.

And so with "control" and "deciding"—control implies one KNOWS the right answer and if he's not "out of control" or "lacking self control," there will be no choice; he will control himself. Decisionmaking requires lots of data and thought and freedom and discernment.



One zen student said, "My teacher is the best. He can go days without eating."
The second said, "My teacher has so much self control, he can go days without sleep."
The third said, "My teacher is so wise that he eats when he's hungry and sleeps when he's tired."

-=- I don't assume she can't "self-regulate,"-=-

I'm glad that term was put in quotation marks. I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of "self-regulation." Regulation has to do with rules—creating and enforcing rules. I like the idea that children will find a balance. And it has helped me in moving from kneejerk what-would-my-mom-do (when my kids were babies I worked consciously to make decisions a better way) to try to avoid using phrases of children that I wouldn't use of adults. I don't say my husband self-regulates his leisure time, or that my friend self-regulates her diet or that my sister self-regulates her housekeeping.

People will come here and say "I've given him freedom, when will he self-regulate?" and I think (though I've never asked) they mean "When will he somehow do what I would have made him do if I were making him do things?" Some newer unschoolers are similarly waiting for their kids to ask to learn biology, or to wake up one morning eager to write a book report.

I think use of "self-regulate" comes from a lack of clarity or understanding. I'm going to keep thinking about it and notice how it's used. Anyone know where it might have come from originally? Is it a common term in any field like medical, maybe?

Brief bit from another discussion of the "My teacher is so wise..." quote above, November 2010, where I had been credited with the quote:

Bela Harrington sent that little story to me, and I'm not sure where he got it, but I've quoted it with joy. "Self control" is all tied up with being bad, and with failure. Choices, though, are wrapped in thought, power and freedom! (Oh, I should save that!)

(from "multimomma/autismhelp")

Ah...I was going to say something about self-regulation. Having a child with a regulation disability, I thought if you were still interested I could share about self- regulation in medical cases. :-) Self-regulation refers to the body's ability to sense needs and, for the most part, address them automatically. So if you're getting dehydrated, you start to crave water, if your blood sugar drops, you feel hungry, if your internal temp gets too high, you start to sweat. Consciously, self-regulation consists of the choices that we make when we feel hunger, thirst, sleepiness, hot, cold, whatever. In regards to tv, reading, games, play, and learning that mentioned here, I would say that SR is just another way to address the brains needs. Need stimulation, you choose what to stim it with. Studies have shown that some people have a higher need for adrenaline, some people have lesser, for example, which is how they explain people who have serious thrill issues (ha...we've been watching a lot of Nemo lately)

Part of Breanna's autism is a self-regulation dysfunction. Her brain kind of short circuits, and either she a) can't find what she needs for regulation or b) she gets stuck in a self-reg that she no longer wants, but can't stop. I'm sure those of you without exp in the autism world have still seen those in TV or movies. One obvious example is the rocking, etc. It serves a purpose for a while, stimulating and regulating the brain, but begins to interfere with walking, eating and sleeping. Sometimes the rocking happens because she needs something, but can't find a way to address that need. In her case, we've spent a long time increasing her toolbox, so to speak, so she has more ways to address her needs, and decreasing her stress so she can practice alternative stimulations.


Caren, on the UnschoolingBasics list, responded to the following doubter:

I still find it hard to believe that allowing kids full rein of electronics for months on end will actually help them learn self-control. Is there anyone that has seen the end result of it?
Not to be snarky, but... how can *you* controlling someone else teach them *self*-control? I was "disciplined" as a child - meaning someone else controlled my actions (around them, anyway) through coercion and punishment. I did *not* learn self-discipline. I learned distrust of and alienation from that parent. Perhaps most harmful, distrust of my own inner voice. It has taken years (and years and years) to regain that. "The end result" of not limiting games, TV, etc. is that my kids are learning to listen to *their own* inner guidance about how much is "too much". They are learning what *they* enjoy, not what I think they should enjoy.

And the end result, for me, is not that ultimately they'll watch or play less. It used to be, before I really understood unschooling. (and when I still demonized TV) I used to think "OK, if I "let them" watch all they want, eventually they'll tire of it and move on." Now, the phrase "let them" seems foreign to me, and I have the attitude of hoping what they're doing is bringing them joy, whether that's watching TV, gaming, building a Lego city, or playing outdoors.

It's a bit difficult to explain how that shift occurred, but the word "allowing" comes to mind. I let go, then let go some more, and in the process discovered a deeper connection with my kids than I knew was possible... and because of the inner work involved, a deeper connection with myself.

Gassho ~

I commented on "End Result" here. —Sandra

How to Avoid Trying to Control Husbands, regarding unschooling (by De/Sanguinegirl):
You can suggest a path or invite your spouse to enjoy this unschooling path with you, hoping they choose to come with you, but if you push them toward that path, you're likely to be met with resistance. The harder you push, the more resistance you're likely to encounter—to the point that the person you're pushing is likely to walk in the opposite direction the first chance they get. If you do manage to get them on the path and you point out every tiny pebble, twig, root and bump in the path, try to physically steer them away from any possible obstacle, point out when they've stumbled what they did wrong and where they *should* have gone and how they should have acted to avoid the stumble, I don't imagine they'd want to travel along that path with you for very long. It is quite easy to see every possible tiny misstep and potential mistake if you are 1) looking for them and 2) looking down at each and ever place a foot might fall. A much more pleasant and successful way to traverse a path is to give a brief, cursory look at the condition of the path and to look forward, at the horizon—to where you're going, not "looking for possible trouble" in each footstep.

I was much more likely to do this for my children: to give them a general "heads up" (the path looks muddy and a bit slippery or it's kind of bumpy here-easy for a root to snag you up) and get on with the enjoyment of unschooling *or* a literal hiking path. With Dave, I hovered... I jumped at each possible misstep, "Pick up your foot there!"; "Don't walk over on that side, it's not the way I'd go!"; "Now, see-if you'd have walked where I said, that wouldn't have happened." Ick. Not literal hiking paths—that would be silly. How I thought it was more prudent to do that with our unschooling path, I don't know. It stirs resentment, it chases the enjoyment away, it interferes with the actual finding of that person's own way. It was *so* hard for me to sit back and shut up and let my children and their father find their own relationship. Why I thought I knew how someone *should* be a father, I don't know! How I thought I knew better how their relationship *should* unfold, I don't know. All I did was interfere in it and keep it from happening—even, at times, preventing it and undoing it.

I still find the advice I found on the unschooling groups quite valid: find an outlet. Find some other way to channel that pull, that desire, that almost-instinct. Put it to *good* use somewhere where it will do good-or at least where it will do no harm. Put it toward a hobby, revive a hobby it can be used for, *start* one, for crying out loud. Find a friend who's willing to be the receptor of that energy and when you're feeling it start to poke at you, contact that friend and let it rip! Find tiny things to sort and categorize. Needlepoint. Write. Anything that takes concentration, attention to detail and that satisfies that "it must be 'just so' urge." It will be hard at first, but your partner and your kids will be happier for it, and they will make the path that is right for *them*.

January 2009
(not published elsewhere)

Response from a reader of De's writing above:
Wow. Awesome stuff. Should be retitled to "How to Avoid Trying to Control Partners/Spouses", though. Because this time last year I, the husband, was very much "hovering" near my wife, doing the exact things mentioned in this article, picking apart almost every conversation and interaction she had with my son. I was a little ahead of her in reading about unschooling philosophy (she was concentrating on infant/toddler attachment), and to understand it I needed to talk about it a lot. But my version of talking about it was criticism of *her* and of her actions. It was so very very easy to see how *she* wasn't getting/doing unschooling. Last spring we got a marriage counselor/coach, and this was the very first thing that came up in our sessions. She was feeling micromanaged and constantly monitored, and it was a very heavy issue for her. Once I understood the effect it was having on her and on our relationship, I backed off completely. When I saw her do something that bothered me, I practiced looking inside at Me first. This is something I had "known" intellectually for several years...if some aspect of someone else is bothering you, it's cluing you in to your own trigger area. But I didn't really "get it" until we started unschooling. And now it comes very easy.

Another immensely helpful piece of information was the book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. It gave me the skills to truly concentrate on ME and forget about any illusion of control over my wife. Our home is 100% more peaceful, and conflicts related to deschooling ourselves and unschooling in general are soooooo much easier to discuss and resolve. Our Trust "bank account" had nearly bottomed, but now it's overflowing.

Brad in Boulder, CO

In Between Neglect and Control

Posted on Always Learning, January 2011, by me (Sandra), linking to this page (Control):

I was asked a question by a new unschooler with another connection to me, and here's my last response:
There's a group of moms [in that part of the world] who do a kind of splinter sect (as it were... "sect" is a bad word for it...) of unschooling, and they use the terms "consensual" a lot, and "autonomy." I bet their kids are fine, but the terms are problematical for the way I (and many who hang out with me) discuss it. So it's a philosophical difference. If you meet up with that group, please consider looking further afield for other information too, because I think part of what they're doing is defending some of the parenting practices that I have seen cause unschooling to fail in other families.

Here's a piece of humor for you to consider. As with much humor, it's also dead-on for real.

One phrase from that page is "Neglect disguised as freedom" and kind of in response to that occasional condition, that group. . .seems (to me, sometimes) to practice "Control disguised as consent."

For people on this list who are new to those ideas, another link is

I think finding that balance is probably the hardest thing. It's easy to make an extreme caricature of "being an unschooler" rather than finding a way to live unschooling. Someone recently assured us she was "doing it," but having someone else say "that's it, you're balanced on that bicycle" is worthless if the bicycle falls over. There's doing, and there's being, and there's "it," and the reason this list exists and thrives is that those ideas (doing, being, "it") live in the realm of philosophy, of the examination of ideas, of the weeding out of error and fallacy.

Half of me says "bummer" and half of me says "cool!" and so at the balance point of those two, we continue to discuss unschooling.


title art by Holly Dodd

balance * choice * Raising a Respected Child * where is the edge? * parenting considerations * more on "Self-Regulation"