This week, I met a man at a social gathering and we described our families to each other. I talked about my wonderful kids and he told me about his kids. When he talked about the first two, he just mentioned their ages, but about the youngest, he said, “This one is the kid from hell”. I talked to him a bit more and realized that you can tell a lot about successful parenting from a parent’s ideology about whether they should control their kids or control themselves.
There is an area in the brain, a bit like a muscle, that is responsible for “self regulation”. Self regulation is the ability to control ourselves and not do things impulsively without thinking them through. People who are able to self regulate have better relationships, mange conflicts better, have more money, were more popular as kids and have less conflicts and problems in life.
One of the big differences between parents who succeed in their parenting and those who think kids are “from hell” is how big their self regulating “muscle” is and who they are trying to control: themselves or their kids.
The self regulation “muscle” has three settings: weak, medium and strong. Read about each setting below.
Weak self regulation
You do not really think ahead. You mostly think about is your current situation. Your goal is to feel something/have something/be something right NOW. You are not very good with planning for next week (not to mention for next month or next year). You are quick to make decisions and quick to say what you think. You are easily tempted and often feel out of control.
Medium self regulation
You can think ahead, but not too far. You have rough goals with a vague sense of direction. Small things can easily distract you and push you off balance. You take a bit of time to make decisions and do not say everything that is in your head. You are not easily tempted but when things appear in front of you enough times you will give in. You are in control when things are running smoothly but when things do not happen the way you want, you find it hard to keep yourself motivated.
Strong self regulation
You can think ahead and can plan a long time in advance. You have goals and they are clear. Even though things can shake you, you recover quickly. You are back up on your feet and back on track in no time. You take time to make decision and calculate your words. You are not tempted to do things once you have made a choice to do otherwise. You are mostly in control of your life and if things do not happen the way you want them to, you dust yourself off and keep moving forward.
Most of our ability for self regulation develops at home with our parents. Parents who try to teach their children control when they have a weak self regulation muscle is a formula for disaster. The children learn by example and go on to have a weak muscle. And who can blame them? It is hard to control yourself if you have lived with parents who have a weak self regulation muscle.
Join me next time for some research about self regulating.
Happy regulated parenting,