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!

This was originally on the Control page.


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. I clarified that it was not me, to credit:

Choosing to Make Choices

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!)

Someone asked, in a discussion about food, one day in May 2013:
Out of interest, Sandra would you say that the use of the term 'self regulate' is useful when thinking about feelings? They are choices too. Guess you only need to self regulate when you have experienced certain foods being restricted or that certain feelings were taboo or reacted too in your own family.
Sandra Dodd:
I don't think the term is ever useful. I think the idea of "self-regulating" suggests that there are things people should, or must, or have to do, and they should learn to make themselves do them (or keep themselves from doing them).

    -=-Guess you only need to self regulate when ...-=-

I don't see that your example is any different from anything else. If a person learns to choose what to do for real reasons, and makes thoughtful decisions more and more, it becomes habit and it changes him.

Also, self-regulation can fail. A person "fails to self-regulate." And it's by other people's judgment. It's just not good.

It also removes freedom and choices, and makes people smaller.
(Original, on facebook, if it's still there.)

On the Unschooling Discussion list, someone wrote
I'm learning to self-regulate how I problem solve with my children and how I relate to my children by using this forum as a sounding board. It will take a great deal more self-discipline on my part than perhaps others to change to a life more full. Life itself takes a measure of self-discipline ie, what will I let in, and what will I let leave out, and what will I not even entertain.
Joyce responded:
While all the above can be worded that way, by using the terms self-control and self-discipline and self-regulation it keeps the thoughts firmly fastened in the idea of always having to stop yourself from taking something you want.

Self-regulating (of TV or food or whatever) carries the implication of stopping before you're done. It suggests having some length of time or some amount in your head that's proper and stopping when you reach that.

At the beginning of a change, we can sometimes fake it until we make it, but that should be a part of consciously working on ourselves to change. Faking it won't lead to making it on its own.

While people can use the term self-regulate to mean stopping when they feel satiated, it isn't the same. And it's an important distinction when people are trying to change. It's more helpful to go for self-awareness than self-regulation. The first helps us internalize the ideas we're reaching for. The second keeps us going through the motions.

Words can shape our thoughts. It's helpful to think in different ways to be different.

You might not try to decipher it, but your brain picks up more than you know.
Yes, you've described the process of picking up language. Kids hear something and then hear it again and again *in different contexts*. Eventually they pull meaning from seeing things in different contexts.

But songs don't necessarily get processed in the same way. (Or not for all people.) I'm pretty good with words, I really love playing with words, but for me lyrics get taken in as sounds that fit the music. Even as an adult I don't process the meaning unless I get curious about a song and look up the lyrics. The lyrics get heard as just sounds being used to express the emotions of the notes.

While it's not true that all kids will ignore lyrics, it's also not true that all kids will internalize the lyrics. In a mindful home it's about paying attention to your particular kids and their particular needs. If a child is happily singing some nasty lyrics it doesn't mean they necessarily know what they're singing about and, in a loving home, they won't have embraced the ideas.

So another barrier against kids getting the message of lyrics is that the environments are alien to the child. In a loving home where people don't hit each other, hearing lyrics about a guy hitting a woman just don't have the same impact as they do in a home and an environment where that's common and even accepted by peers. For a child in a loving home, someone willfully hitting someone and feeling it's good is an alien thought. It won't make a chid want to hit any more than a character in a book kicking a dog will make them want to kick the dog. (And if they do then there's something else in the child's environment that needs tended to.)

Violence on TV and video games and music does not cause kids to be violent. Kids who are in violent environments often get drawn to violence (on TV and games and music) because it can feel like a way out of a bad environment.

Parents can ruin perfectly good songs by pointing out things that kids aren't even paying attention to!

It's helps unschooling and mindful parenting to be aware of *your* kids and *their* unique needs rather than treating them as generic kids with all the worst possible traits.


Pam Sorooshian wrote:
It has helped me a LOT, in many different areas of life, to stop thinking in terms of trying to be more self-regulating or self- disciplined, but to think, instead, of making the best "choices" possible.

I've lost over 80 pounds in the past year—and seriously NOT through self-regulation, self-discipline at all. THAT kind of thinking, a dieting mentality, never worked for more than getting off a few pounds and then, when I "slipped" I'd put the weight back on plus some. Instead, I took what I learned from parenting/unschooling, and I began to absolutely revel in the joy of food. I looked at it consciously, carefully, took it seriously. I eat what I love to eat. I don't eat what makes me feel lousy. I make conscious choices. Is that piece of pie something I want enough to ingest the high fat content? Yes or no. NO guilt. If I decide to have it, I RELISH it. I eat with gusto!

The difference in outlook is astounding. My eating life is full of joy—I love food, love to eat, enjoy it FAR more than I ever did before. After every meal, I stop for a second and think, "Mmmm, that was really good."

The alternative way of approaching things, self-regulation and self-discipline, puts an emphasis on deprivation—"I will control myself and will NOT let myself have that piece of pie." Then, when I "can't resist," I have failed, I'm bad, I'm not self-disciplined enough. Think those kinds of thoughts and that becomes the reality for you. Really, you won't do "better" at things by depriving yourself, you do better by being oriented toward solutions, by "doing" rather than "not doing." Throughout the past year, if I ever noticed that I was thinking things like, "Oh, I can't have that," I would immediately replace that thought with, "OH! I CAN have that if I want it. Or I can have this alternative. Whichever I decide. It is my choice." Maybe the connection between parenting/unschooling and what I'm talking about here won't be clear to everyone, but, to me, it is exactly the same—a change in thinking that then manifests in long-term, real changes in behavior. I don't try to "control myself" around food and I don't try to "control myself" around my kids.


The full discussion can be found here (though you might have to join the list to read it): Rap Music

"Self discipline" is like "self regulation." It's still about discipline and rules. How and why should one discipline and regulate oneself, when decisionmaking in the light of compassion and goodness will work much better? —Sandra Dodd

In response to
Life itself takes a measure self-discipline ie, what will I let in, and what will I let leave out, and what will I not even entertain.
Sandra Dodd:
That can all be rephrased in terms of choices. The idea of "self discipline" isn't as helpful to understanding unschooling as the idea of making mindful choices is. It's similar to the difference between teaching and learning.



If you think of controlling yourself, and of your children controlling themselves, it's still about control. If people live by principles their choices come easily.


The full discussion can be found here: Rap Music

Sarah Carley Thompson, March 2014:
I really like taking apart the idea of "self-regulation."

One problem with it is it splits me into two people, a boss and an underling. Then I am rebelling against my own authority, creating scarcity and compulsive behavior, feeling like a failure or a praise- and validation-seeker.

Either Joyce or Pam also pointed out that, when we want our kids to "self-regulate," we usually mean "do what we think they should do." It's not internally-motivated at all. It's the equivalent of the old saw, "I'm cold, go put on a sweater."

And if they *do* develop the type of "self-regulation" we're talking about, I've given them the need for authority and self-denial that is precisely what I *don't* want them to suffer with.     (original)

Note from a discussion in February 2012:

"I totally understand the idea behind radical unschooling, that children will self regulate...."

It surprises me every time someone assures others that they COMPLETELY and absolutely understand that... and then make a statement that came from somewhere else. "Self-regulate" means "eventually do what the mom wanted, spontaneously," sometimes, and other times means that the child will begin to have "self control" and tell himself no. A lot.

It's much clearer to think of a child having choices, and making what seems like the best one, many times a day; many times an hour, sometimes. A kid surrounded by cows and mesquite might not want to go out there, again, just to go. A kid who lives in a cornfield isn't likely to run excitedly out to see that... again.

Marty's off at a park in armor, where he's gone most Sundays for five or six years (and half the Sundays of his life before that). Holly was out and about most of yesterday. They chose to be out. They weren't out because their mom told them it was better than a Wii.

—Sandra Dodd

Sometime between 1795 and 1811, Jane Austen wrote (in Sense and Sensibility):
Elinor's security sunk but her self-command did not sink with it.
It's about the character masking her emotions and responses, when another young woman was trying to make her jealous.

I wanted to add "self-command" to the list, which was up to now

None of those are as helpful as learning to make the better choice.

Control and its related problems



Raising a Respected Child

Where is the edge of unschooling?

Parenting Considerations

Photos and links for Joyce Fetteroll and Pam Sorooshian