The Self-Regulation Lie

“My child would not self-regulate”

I hear this often and I have to say it feels like a bit of an oxymoron. When somebody is in the position of making choices for themselves, how exactly would they avoid self-regulation? They (self, check) are the ones overseeing (regulating, check) the expression of their reality.

It is, whatever it happens to look like, the very definition of self-regulating because of who is in control, not what they are doing with said control.

A person can not determine how self-regulated looks in another individual. There is no universal ideal for what regulated should look like so when a parent is suggesting that a child’s reality conflicts; what are they actually making this judgement against? Their own expectations of how much sugar, vegetation, sleep, screens, nature or whatever is valid.

So perhaps what a parent is actually trying to say is this; my child’s choices determined by their priorities, needs, goals and ideals doesn’t align with my own and that makes me too uncomfortable to consider relinquishing control.

They don’t want their child to self-regulate, they want their child to make the choices they would have enforced, without the enforcement. They’re looking to remove their guilt, not protect their child’s autonomy. Self-regulation cannot be nurtured from this corrupted motivation.

When somebody is considering removing restrictions and this is their reservation, it is very clear that what they are offering is conditional; you can be free of my control, as long as the outcome remains the same as it would be with my control.

And that just isn’t how autonomy works. When the options are either they conveniently oblige without resistance to external expectations or they don’t and their options are therefore removed, there is no space for self.

Self-regulation doesn’t apply and pretending it does is maintaining a loophole one can exploit to validate control.

If your aim is to invest in your child’s autonomous existence, you must do so fully, regardless of the outcome. You can have fears and barriers but there isn’t a “what if” that suddenly demands or justifies control. There is always another option.

These concerns are your domain to process, not the responsibility of your child to comfort by living out of sync with their own ideals. Respectful parenting isn’t I will respect you if or I will respect you until; it is I will respect you, unconditionally.

And regardless of your direction in parenting, we need to acknowledge that self-regulation is for the individual to decide. If you’re looking to judge your child’s choices, use a different phrase.

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