Question submitted via email:
I am having trouble with the whole self-regulation thing? My child will stay up all night, sleep all day, play video games for hours and forget to eat. He just doesn't seem to get it! As much as I love the philosophy of letting him learn how to self-regulate, it has gotten to the point where this just isn't healthy! He is only 10 years old. What do I do?
I understand what a tremendous amount of faith it takes in realizing that children can and do learn how to self regulate. Very, very few of us were raised that way so it's hard for us to just let go and see how the process works because we have never experienced it. We were raised with sets of arbitrary rules that often made no sense and didn't take anyone's needs or individuality into account. Because we don't know how it works, we are unsure of the whole process. We are left feeling like we are "supposed" to do things a certain way even if those ways don't work and cause nothing but struggle and frustration for everyone.
First of all, you have to realize that our kids are born already knowing how to do some very basic self-regulation. Babies know when they are full. They know when they need to sleep. They know how to get our attention when they need it. They are born innately knowing how to do all of this. They un-learn how to do many of this through external circumstances.
They unlearn this skill through rules that parents feel like they are supposed to enforce that in reality do not make sense for the child or for their family. Parents make their kids eat things they hate. They make their kids go to "sleep" when they aren't tired. They get them out of bed when they really need more sleep. They put them on an artificial schedule that doesn't fit with the child's individual needs, very often, from the time the child is born
They also unlearn self-regulation from seeing parents set bad examples. They see their parents push themselves to eat more than they should or skip meals. They see them work too hard or stay up too late. They see them spending way more time then they should in front of the computer. Whether they mean to or not, sometimes parents are the ones that show them how to push things further than they should.
I also have to say that even with parents that do not force arbitrary rules and schedules and those have control of themselves, there are kids that get so into something that they overdo it all on their own. Normally I would I would suggest giving it a little time if what they are doing isn't harming anyone, including themselves. To get back to your specific question, since you say it's at the point where it isn't healthy for him, don't be afraid to step in and give some guidance. Ask him how he is feeling. Pay close attention to any changes in behavior that indicate that maybe he should take a break because he isn't listening to how he his body is feeling. Is he getting agitated? Does he look happy? Tired? Bored? Tuned out? Overstimulated? Is he eating? Talking with him about how he's feeling as well as talking about what you are observing about him will help him to eventually pay closer attention to when he needs to take a break.
To use my own family as an example, two of my kids are polar opposites when it comes to this issue. Recently one of them has really gotten into an online game that he will play with his friends. He will get on Skype so he can talk to them while he plays and it's really easy for him to get sucked in for hours. However, he stops when he's hungry or when he wants to go and do something else. My other son however had a much harder time learning to stop when he needed to at the same age. He wouldn't pay attention to the fact that his eyes would start to hurt after a while of playing and I would have to step in and tell him that his eyes looked tired. He would forget to eat, which he has a tendency to do anyway and gaming would make this tendency worse. I have learned to just work with each of my kids' personalities and individual needs and help them pay attention to certain things when they needed to. They have learned to self regulate but not without gentle, respectful guidance. They still need reminders sometimes.
Things can change too! One of them may be going through a growth spurt and they need more hours of sleep than they did previously. There may be some scheduling changes where they have to be certain places at certain times that they weren't used to and they will need reminders of that. The key is to keep working with your child.
Wanting your child to learn self-regulation does not mean that you just sit back and not be a parent to them. It is knowing your child so well that you are able to guide them to do what is right for themselves.
I have received more questions on the topic and will continue to stay on the topic as long as I need to in order to answer them all. If you have more questions, don't hesitate to submit them as well!
Photo credit - fd's photostream
As a Parent Coach and Mentor, my passion lies in empowering parents to make the best decisions they can for their children and their families as a whole. As a well-trained coach, I can be your facilitator and accountability partner for long-lasting, meaningful change that has a permanent, positive impact for your family. By focusing on the values that you hold most important in your life, I can help you create and maintain the type of parenting relationship you want to have with your children, now and into their adulthood.
I am a homeschooling mom of four children in Massachusetts. I am also the author of a book called The Herbal Beverage Book, which can be found on amazon. When not coaching, writing or spending time with the family, I enjoy Hayao Miyazaki films, new and classic Dr. Who episodes, anything related to American history and a great glass of mead.
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