Helping Children Learn to Self Regulate
The first two years of life is an amazing time of growth and change, both physically and cognitively. Babies experiment with and learn from the environment around them. Beyond physical, thinking, and language tasks, babies are learning about social and emotional tasks. Starting in the earliest months of life, babies have the capacity to experience peaks of joy and excitement and also feel fear, sadness and anger. Research has also shown that children’s ability to effectively manage their full range of emotions—also known as self-regulation—is one of the most important factors for success in school, work and relationships into the long-term.
By teaching skills around social emotional learning we are able to empower our youngest children to better deal with their own emotions. Social emotional learning is key to every child’s ability to manage feelings and to interact successfully with others. There is growing evidence that self-regulation can be taught in the classroom (Blair & Razza 2007; Diamond et al. 2007). Let’s look at some strategies from NAEYC for doing so.
- Teach self-regulation to all children, not just those thought to have problems. All young children benefit from practicing deliberate and purposeful behaviors, such as repeated switching from one set of rules to another or resisting the temptation to function on autopilot.
- Create opportunities for children to practice the rules of a certain behavior and to apply those rules in new situations. When children are constantly regulated by adults, they may appear to be self-regulated, when in fact they are “teacher regulated.” To be able to internalize the rules of a certain behavior, children can practice them in three ways: follow the rules, set and monitor the rules and finally apply the rules to their own behavior.
- Offer children visual and tangible reminders about self-regulation. Learning to regulate one’s own behavior is in many ways similar to learning other competencies, such as literacy or numeracy.
- Make play and games important parts of the curriculum. Not only should play and games not be pushed out of the classroom to make room for more “academic” learning, they need to be taken very seriously. Children learn self-regulation best through activities in which children—and not adults—set, negotiate, and follow the rules. These include make-believe play as well as games with rules.
Through thoughtfully prepared curriculum around social emotional learning, Wonders gives children the opportunity to enhance their self regulation skills. We recognize that each child is different and develops differently from their peers. That is why we believe in developmentally appropriate guidance for children.
It’s easy to asses when children grow physically but how can we tell if a child is learning to self regulate? A study from Vanderbilt University identified these six cognitive skills as those that are improved upon with growing self regulation.
- Attention focusing—the capacity to attend to and sustain focus on a learning task.
- Inhibitory control—the ability to suppress inappropriate off-task responses to distracting stimuli in a classroom environment.
- Patience—the ability to wait when required by a learning task and not respond impulsively or prematurely.
- Attention shifting—the ability to shift focus appropriately within a given learning task and from one task to another as situations demand.
- Organizing skills—the ability to follow directions, engage in planning, and organize sequences of behavior.
- Working memory—the ability to temporarily store and manage the information required to carry out a task.
All these learned skills lead to the emotional health and success of a child. Children with strong self-regulation skills, empathy, and social skills are more likely to be successful in school. They are more likely to feel connected to both adults and other children. They are better able to struggle, can deal with mistakes and moments of sadness, and are better able to stand up for themselves and others. These children are more likely to develop resilience, self-control, and self-efficacy – all important life-long skills.