Why parents need to practice self regulation and not self control

Ashwini said, “I wish I had more patience with my child. I just lose it and then say really mean things”. 

Rahul agreed, “That’s so true. So often, when I come back from a hard day’s work, the smallest things she does triggers me. Looking back a day later, I realise it was more to do with my own state of mind rather than my child. She did not deserve that whack I gave her. She cried and I felt miserable.

Sultana joined in with her story, “Sometimes I feel like biting my tongue. I wish I had more self-control and did not lose my temper so easily with my kids”


Responding to this discussion during a parenting session, the facilitator, Asha said, “We don't need self-control. We need to learn self-regulation.” All the participants turned to her in surprise. “What do you mean. Aren't they almost the same thing?” Asha went on to elaborate that these were very different ways of dealing with the big feelings erupting inside of us.

Self-control is all about keeping our feelings bottled up and not expressing them. We are conditioned to believe that giving importance and showing our raw feelings is a sign of weakness. Hence we tend to push our feelings under the carpet saying to ourselves ‘Stop feeling like this! You HAVE to be calm and patient.” When we suppress our feelings, they do not go away instead most often they come out in unhealthy ways as anger on people around us. Some of us might bang doors, throw things, or stop talking when we get hijacked by these feelings. These pent-up emotions may sometimes adversely affect our health too. So, is trying to have self-control such a good thing?

Rahul then replied, “Yes, we get your point. But what is the alternative? If we don't control ourselves, we hurt the people we love.” Asha agreed with him and said,” That's why we all need to learn about regulation. It about not pushing our feelings under the carpet but working through them and then reaching a point of calm”. 


“What do you mean by “working through them” ?”, Sultana asked


Maybe these steps could be helpful when regulating ourselves in relation to our children explained  Asha. This whole process is based on giving oneself empathy- Self empathy 


  1. Express yourself and let it out: Find a moment to express all those angry, hurt feelings either to yourself or to a person you trust. “I am so fed up and tired. Why must this child make such a mess. I come home exhausted and see this mess and it makes me furious. How many times have I told her to clear up after playing? When she leaves her toys everywhere, I just feel like yelling or hitting”. This expressing can be done in private (maybe in the bathroom). Not in front of the child.  


  1. Name your feelings: Science tells us that naming our feelings is a very important step in helping us understand what we are going through. We may think that giving so much importance to our feelings may make us feel worse, but it doesn't!  Naming helps the brain calm down. “I am upset. I am angry. I am so frustrated. '' (again, in your head!) 


  1. Pause and regulate:” Let me calm down before I say something I regret. What will help me? Shall I take a few deep breaths. Let me drink a cup of tea before tackling this situation. Or let me go for a walk”. Everybody has certain things they do to calm down, but we don't always remember them in the heat of the moment. Refer to an earlier article in this column about ways to physically regulate: https://www.dtnext.in/Lifestyle/Wellbeing/2019/04/25022422/1115568/Parenthood-Regulation--A-tool-to-keep-us-from-losing-.vpf


  1. Be kind to yourself: Unlike self-control where you are forcing yourself to behave in a certain way, here you appreciate yourself and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. You are a good parent. You care about your child. 


  1. Change your view of the child: Once you give yourself compassion you will find that you are able to be kinder to your child as well. Tell yourself, “He is not doing this to trouble me. He is just being a child. He needs my help and support.” Shifting our view and not thinking of the child as being stubborn or difficult, enables us to approach the child differently. 


“How does this sound to you?”, Asha asked the group. “Do you see the difference, and do you think this is something you could practice?” 

Rahul said it was definitely worth a try as it gave him a way of managing his feelings and not hurting his kids. Sultana said that though it sounded like a long process she could imagine doing this very quickly once she internalised it. Ashwini decided to go home and immediately put up a list of regulation tools he could use when upset. Asha closed the session telling them that they would all make great role models for their children who would get to observe at a young age how their parents handle feelings constructively. They would grow up not letting out their anger and aggression on others in harmful ways and wouldn't that make the world a better place? 

Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.