No one likes to be regulated. No one likes to be told what to do. No one can know what we feel or think inside. When we “know thyself”, as advised thousands of years ago, we have a chance to find happiness and inner peace. But when others step in our path, tell us to go the other way, trample on our desire to do what we want, we lose a lot. We lose our sense of self. If it happens often enough, we can lose our connection with what we think and feel. These are basic human needs, to be in charge of one’s self. Yet, we are so used to being regulated today that we have lost sight of the great joy and exhilaration that being true to ourselves brings. We are, and our children are, over regulated.
Regulations don’t work. Regulations are put in place to keep people in line, to make sure that the regulation is followed. But how often are regulations broken? All the time! Be they regulations of an out-of-control financial system which constantly breaks the law and simply pays a fine, or kids at school not following regulations, cheating, or any of many ways that regulations are hollow. When the penalty has no true consequence – as in the case of the financial law-breakers, or in school or at home when kids have no consequence for not following the set way – regulations become meaningless.
Children, and all humans, are built to be in charge of themselves. Children do not need any direct help in learning to crawl, stand, walk, or talk. Every child, given a nurturing and healthy home, will accomplish these miracles all by themselves. When we intervene, and it is always because we have good intentions, we interrupt the self-regulation of the child and hinder the child’s innate intelligence to accomplish. Even if the child accomplishes with our help, it is out of sync with the self-regulated pace and rhythm of the child, which will have lasting consequences, especially if done over and over again.
When children learn to crawl, they are developing their brains in astounding ways. The original motion of crossing the midline of the body using opposite limbs makes crawling uniquely powerful in developing the whole brain which works in opposition: left brain directs right body and vice versa. When we, with our good intentions, help and gently insist on the child standing up and walking, we are taking the bread out of the oven too early. The brain isn’t done yet; it needs more time to fully form.
When we regulate children’s hair, dress, ways of talking, etc, we are not allowing the child to develop their own sense of style and their unique way of deciding what to wear and how to speak. We send an overriding, if mostly unconscious signal that the child isn’t good enough yet to make these decisions for themselves. This undermining of children is a constant in our regulated society.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have children that knew how to walk in order under self-control, without the need for a single file line? Well we will never get there if we impose a single file line from the beginning. And yes, we must be willing to tolerate a little chaos in the process; children’s’ innate sense of order is different than adults. But ultimately children love order as much as adults do; disorder and true chaos disturb children and scare them, they want order, just in the way they need it, in their own way.
Anyone who reads Dr. Maria Montessori comes face to face with her powerful message to allow children to decide their lives for themselves, from what and when they eat, to when they sleep, how they dress, etc. – it is shocking how much the great doctor of child development suggested we allow children to live for themselves. Yet, she understood that when children regulate themselves they become good citizens and caring people.
We live in an over-regulated society in a culture of experts and endless schooling. When do children really get to live their own inner desires? A career path of what one loves to do is a path toward self-fulfillment. A career path toward the practical job, or the job mom and dad want us to do, is a path away from the self; many consequences will follow.
I suggest we begin to make the change away from following others’ advice and make our own decisions and raise our children by allowing them to do the same. In this way children will self-educate, and that is what is needed; regulations do not educate, they create rigid rules and laws. If we can build a society where children make their own decisions we will have true diversity and self-responsibility as main ingredients in the recipe we follow for living. If we follow a recipe, let’s make sure it has an open-ended clause that allows for spontaneous decision making.
In theater children are free to improvise and practice self-regulation most often, so there is only a need to intervene when their self-control isn’t working effectively. Children in the performing arts, as well as the fine arts, discover lots of self-regulation and the arts are therefore a wonderful balance to their regulated daily lives.